State of the Franchise: Los Angeles Kings
March 30, 2011 Leave a comment
In the 2009-10 season, the Los Angeles Kings finally snapped their playoff drought with a 101 point season, but fell to the heavily talented Vancouver Canucks. Despite the loss, the Kings organization had reason to believe that better years were ahead of them with all the young talent flooding the professional ranks in the City of Angels. With six games left in the regular season, the Kings have an opportunity to improve on their record last year.
However, the Kings may also boast the most difficult remaining schedule in the NHL. All six of their remaining games are lined up against teams either in the Western Conference playoffs or three points outside of the top eight. That includes a game remaining with the top-seeded Canucks plus a home-and-home with the seventh seeded Anaheim Ducks to cap off the season. Regardless, sitting seven points ahead of the ninth place Dallas Stars with only six games to play, it would be a colossal collapse if the Kings were to find themselves not playing in post-season games.
As far as the on-ice product is concerned, the Kings possess one of the youngest teams in the NHL with talent at each position. 23-year old Anze Kopitar has established himself as an absolute star. He averages just under a point a game for the Kings (73 points in 75 games), which includes his 25 goals and 48 assists. Those figures are good enough to rank him 11th in the league in points and tied for seventh in assists. Unfortunately for the Kings, Kopitar fractured his right ankle Saturday and will require surgery. He is not expected to begin a skating program until the middle of the summer, ruling him out for the upcoming playoffs.
Making matters worse, the team was already playing without their second leading scorer, right winger Justin Williams. Williams dislocated his right shoulder in a game against the Calgary Flames are will require about three to four more weeks of rest before he can start playing in games again. For the season, Williams 22 goals and 35 assists all while averaging over 17 minutes of ice time a night. In order for Williams to return to action this year, the Kings will most likely have to advance past the first round of the playoffs.
In the absence of Kopitar and Williams, the team will rely heavily on the scoring touch of winger Dustin Brown. The 26-year old native of Ithaca, NY leads the team in goals with 27 and has contributed 27 assists as well. Also needing to pick up in the scoring end will be the team’s most veteran presence, 35-year old winger Ryan Smyth. Smyth is the only other healthy player to have scored 20+ goals with the Kings. At the trade deadline, the team acquired winger Dustin Penner from the Edmonton Oilers. Penner had scored 21 goals and recorded 39 points in 62 games this year with the Oilers, but has been less than impressive while in Los Angeles. He’s recorded only two goals to go along with six points in his 13 games. Without Kopitar and Williams in the line-up, a lot more will be expected from Penner.
Luckily for the Kings, much of their success has been derived from their strong play on the blue line and in the crease. Behind Kopitar, the Kings two most talented skaters are defensemen Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty. Johson, 24, has come into his own the last two seasons. An offensive facilitator on the power play, Johnson’s 36 assists are second only to Kopitar on the team. Doughty, 21, plays alongside Johnson on both the five-on-five shifts and on the point for the power play. Doughty is a sharp shooter, providing 11 goals, 11th in the NHL among defenseman, and plays gritty defense as evident by his plus/minus rating of +14. Both players have benefited from playing with the likes of Rob Scuderi, who won the Stanley Cup while playing with the Pittsburgh Penguins and defensive-minded center Michael Handzus.
While Johnson and Doughty provide a safety net for the Kings along the blue line, the play of goalie Jonathan Quick. The 25-year old enjoyed a breakout season in 2009-10, starting 72 games for the Kings while recording 39 wins and four shutouts. This season, Quick has won 33 of his 54 starts, all while posting the NHL’s fourth-best goals allowed average of 2.19. He’s also posted a career-best save percentage of 91.9% and a career-high six shutouts. The playoffs are usually about who has the hottest goalie to carry the rest of the team through. With Quick in the pipes, the Kings boast one of the top-five goalies in the NHL and greatly improve their chances of making a deep run in April. With Kopitar and Williams out for at least the first round, that’s exactly what they’ll need to succeed.
At the end of the day, the success this Kings team can have come down to the scoring power of Dustin Brown and the brilliance in the crease of Jonathan Quick. With the injuries to two of the teams top offensive talents, its hard to predict this team doing anything spectacular in the post-season. But, again, the number one absolute requirement to playoff success is how hot your goalie is. There’s no question Jonathan Quick ranks in the top-five goalies in the NHL alongside New York’s Henrik Lundqvist, Boston’s Tim Thomas and Vancouver’s Roberto Loungo.
Can Quick stay dominant deep into April? Only time will tell.