Third line a key to success?
There’s been plenty of talk — and rightfully so — about the Kings’ need to score more goals, but a look at the statistics reveals something interesting. Regular top-six forwards such as Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Ryan Smyth, Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams, are all on track for equal — if not higher — point total, compared to last season. Take a look at the third line, though. Michal Handzus and Wayne Simmonds are both on pace for 10-point reductions this season, and none of the rotating left wingers have come close to Alexander Frolov’s production as the regular winger on that line last season. Frolov, Handzus and Simmonds combined for 55 goals and 133 points last season. This season, depending on which player — Kyle Clifford, Alexei Ponikarovsky or Brad Richardson — you choose to substitute in for Frolov, that line is on pace for 31-35 goals and 73-83 points. That’s a significant dip, and the Kings tweaked the third line again today, hoping that the combination of Ponikarovsky, Handzus and Simmonds — who started the season together — can get something going. Ponikarovsky’s fortunes have been headed north of late while SImmonds has taken a couple steps backward. Today, Terry Murray was asked about the change, and those two players in particular…
MURRAY: “I liked the fourth line the way it was set up, with Clifford and Lewis and Ponikarovsky. I think they’ve given us very good energy in the last half-dozen games. Important shifts. They’ve actually, I feel, turned some games around and broke a game open, when we follow up with that kind of intensity and energy. There’s good, physical play. Poni, he’s responding to a challenge. He’s working very hard, playing pretty physical and getting those bumps whenever the opportunity is there. And you get a reward for that. So there’s probably a different look for him tomorrow. He gets moved up to a higher line, to play with Zeus, and hopefully he responds and keeps going, actually. Not responds, but keeps going with the same kind of intensity and the same kind of purpose to his game.
“On the other side, with Simmer, I’ve moved him around a little bit. He’s been playing with Kopi, and gives us some really good looks. A little bit of a drop-off, which has been addressed with him. The area that seems to surface, consistently, is not moving his feet. He ends up gliding, and once you start to do that, then a big part of his game goes away on him, which is that dot-to-board game. Tomorrow, he will end up with Zeus, and I don’t look at that as any kind of demotion, at all, from Stolly’s line. That’s a very important line for us, playing against the top lines of the opposition, and I just need him to keep focusing on the attack part of the game, moving your feet, be a power forward, be tenacious, get to the net, get some of those ugly goals that we’re talking about.”