With 12 games under the Los Angeles Kings’ belt, we’ve finally approached the time of the year where not every observation comes with the small sample size asterisk.
And while there have been some middling offensive efforts – Anze Kopitar and Tyler Toffoli are among those looking to add some additional production to their generally strong 200-foot play – one of the more positive developments of the first 12 games of the year has centered around the so-called third line, and Dustin Brown’s contributions on the scoreboard.
That “third line,” which over the last two games has matched Devin Setoguchi with Brown and Nic Dowd, has for the most part provided sturdy minutes. The actual production is a bit misleading, because neither of Dowd’s goals, nor Brown’s one goal, were scored in five-on-five play. But Setoguchi did put a spike into the line’s scoring when he potted two at even strength against Calgary in Saturday’s 5-0 rout, a game in which the Flames were not leaving their own zone crisply and fluidly. In terms of the advanced metrics, they’re all in the black possession wise, though their CF%-Rel rates are a touch in the red.
“Turning pucks over on the forecheck is I think a pretty good key for our line,” Brown said. “For me personally, if I’m in on the forecheck and I get sticks on the pucks, then I’m getting there on time and getting in to the right areas.”
While he was discussing his play without the puck, there were also good signs of what he’s been able to do with the puck on his stick. Now on pace for 48 points – he ranks second on the team with seven points (1-6=7) – Brown lowered a shoulder and made a nice power move to the front of the net on TJ Brodie, which earned him an assist on Setoguchi’s first goal.
“I think there’s still a lot of room to grow and to get better but I feel good on the ice,” Brown said. “We’re starting to generate some more offensive opportunities and that’s what we need to kind of provide there on the third line or whatever you want to call it. We’re trying to create a mismatch.”
That mismatch might not be as easy to summon on the road.
“We’re coming off St. Louis-Chicago, where some of our young guys were not ready for that challenge,” Darryl Sutter said. “As a coach you can sort of get guys matched up a little better at home, meaning third line-third line or third line-third pair. It’s a little different on the road. It cost us last trip, so that’s the challenge. It’s not what they did at home. You’ve got to be able to change the jersey and match the performance.”
Since its rise at the beginning of the decade, the team has generally been a strong road team, though the 2012-13 and 2014-15 seasons wouldn’t necessarily support that thesis. Because of the team’s possession and cycle game, and because they had the talent base necessary to win the Stanley Cup twice over that span, they’ve more often been able to transfer their home performances to points in arenas elsewhere.
This year, however, they’re 1-4-0 and have been shut out twice away from Staples Center.
“I mean, it’s really no different,” Brown said. “We’ve just got to find that consistency on the road, and we haven’t had it. We’ve been much more consistent with I think our game at home in general, and that normally comes down to making those little plays. [Our] wall play and our passing is much better [at home]. I think a lot of it is just preparation on the road.”
Anyone who has followed this team closely knows that scoring depth was pinpointed as an important area that could swing the pendulum of success in a forward direction. With Dowd serving as an effective and productive third line center on most nights, Brown getting off to a strong start and Setoguchi finding his scoring touch in the most recent game, this road trip will serve as an interesting gauge of where the club’s secondary contributions are at.
On Monday, Drew Doughty also spoke about the team’s power play, which currently ranks 25th in the league with an 11.4% success rate.
Drew Doughty, on what he’s seeing or not seeing on Los Angeles’ power play:
I’m not seeing any goals, that’s a good one. I thought we moved it around pretty good last game. When it was 5 on 4 we had a few good chances, mine probably should have went in. We just need to score more goals for our team, I thought last game it kind of gave us a little bit of momentum actually, so that’s important, too. Obviously it’s important to score goals, but to give your team momentum is important too. But yeah, we have some great pieces on the power play obviously, but we kind of all just have to come together, get more shots, I think net presence could be a little more on our power play, and then, yeah, just more shots.
Doughty, on what an early power play goal on the road can mean:
We look to our power play to score some goals. Us guys on the power play obviously know how important it is, so we need to kind of get things together and start scoring some goals for our team because a few of those losses we had, the power play could’ve made a difference and we probably could’ve won a few of those games. We know that we’re not performing to the ability that we want to, so going on this road trip we’ll look to improve upon it.
Doughty, on the team going winless in Toronto for the last two years:
We haven’t won in Toronto? Oh, I didn’t know that. Yeah, I don’t know why we don’t win there, we should. I know a lot of the boys are from around there and we’re all pumped up to play, maybe we get a little too over-pumped, I don’t know, maybe that’s the problem. We obviously want to get a win there. Toronto is I think a much better team this year and will be a tougher opponent then they were the last couple of years, so we need to play better, obviously.