The Kings actually passed the 41-game, halfway mark of the season on Saturday, but in the past couple days I’ve finally had some time to sit down and come up with some thoughts about each of the key areas (forwards, defensemen, goalies, coach/GM). So I’ll go through each of them today, and please feel free to share your thoughts as well!
After a strong start, and some balanced scoring, things started to break down for the Kings’ forwards when the second line stopped its torrid production pace. In the first few weeks of the season, Jarret Stoll, Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams arguably made up the Kings’ “top line,” even though Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown — and the spinning wheel o’left wingers — was also producing. The Kings, with scoring lines that were essentially 1A and 1B, were hard to match up against, and both lines had players capable of being on the ice for 20-plus minutes per game.
The problem came when the second line dipped a bit, and was broken up by Terry Murray. For the most part, Brown and Kopitar kept scoring, and Smyth has exceeded expectations, but Williams has been uneven after a white-hot start and Stoll’s numbers have essentially fallen off the table after an outstanding first six weeks. Plus, none of the players the Kings have tried plugging into top-six roles — Brad Richardson, Wayne Simmonds, Marco Sturm, Andrei Loktionov, Dwight King and Alexei Ponikarovsky — have been able to stick for more than a few games at a time. Reaching for something, anything, Murray has now taken two players who would ideally play on the third line, Kyle Clifford and Michal Handzus, and plugged them into second-line roles.
The positives? Brown is on pace for a career year, in terms of point production, and Kopitar, slowly but surely, is showing that he has the potential to be an elite NHL center. Kopitar has played with no fewer than nine left wingers this season, yet is consistently putting up points. Smyth has a chance at his first 30-goal season since 2006-07, Williams has stayed healthy and mostly productive and Clifford has been far better than most could have hoped, with an outstanding work ethic and attitude and sharp play. Give the forwards credit, also, for their role in limiting opponents’ shots on goal. The Kings are one of the best teams in the NHL in that area, and Handzus, in particular, gets a thumbs-up for that. The power play was a clear weakness at the start of the season, but the efficiency numbers have been in steady improvement of late.
The negatives? The Kings could produce a reality show about their search for a first-line left winger. The summer plan, already a bit rickety from the start, basically collapsed when Scott Parse got hurt, and the Kings have yet to find a workable backup plan. A team’s strength, it is often said, is through the middle of the ice. In terms of consistent point production, it’s been a big dropoff from Kopitar to Stoll and Handzus. Wayne Simmonds, a head-turner in his first two seasons, has been noteworthy only in brief spurts this season.
What’s next? Unless the Kings think Sturm’s goal production is going to jump dramatically, and/or they think Parse is going to have a dramatic, highly successful return, this unit could certainly benefit from outside help. It’s tough to swing an in-season trade for an impact player, but it’s a safe bet that Dean Lombardi will be looking, hard and long.