Waking up with the Kings: February 4

Dustin Brown referenced the team’s lack of emotion both on television and with reporters last night, though it’s not completely clear whether the emotional involvement is a pervasive issue continuing to plague the team, or whether it was simply vacant from the team’s performance in the 4-0 loss at Washington on Tuesday. I’m leaning more towards the latter, and again, in sounding completely like a broken record in this column, the Kings’ challenges are related more towards personnel than any other singular issue. And as it is always is when things aren’t going well, it’s a collection of issues, some bigger, some smaller, and nothing singular. Yes, there is an emotional component that has been drained from a club that has played a lot of hockey over the last three seasons, and in certain games this year, Los Angeles – like any team – hasn’t been able to completely summon the full capacity of its thrust and determination. But more than anything else, the Kings, who were thinner defensively heading into the season than they were in 2013-14 due to Willie Mitchell’s departure, lost a defenseman in Slava Voynov who earned over 22 minutes per game due to an indefinite suspension, thus moving players who may have been more comfortable in third pairing assignments into more of a second pairing, and bringing toolsy-but-raw Brayden McNabb, who was expected to open the season as the team’s seventh defenseman, into a regular third-pairing role. This leads to match-up challenges on the road. It is somewhat similar to the 2012-13 team’s travails when Mitchell was lost for the season and Matt Greene missed all but five regular season games, and the team, partly due to match-ups, lost 16 of 24 road games. With Mike Richards getting waived and with Tanner Pearson’s extended injury, there are offensive depth issues that allow opponents to zero in completely on the team’s top players, leading to the struggles by Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter when the team isn’t able to dictate match-ups away from Staples Center. This is what leads to an alignment such as the one used in Boston on Saturday when the club balanced its scoring throughout all four lines, with Kyle Clifford joining Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, Marian Gaborik joining Jarret Stoll and Trevor Lewis, and Justin Williams joining Nick Shore and Jordan Nolan. “We’ve been able to manage it at home, but a little bit more difficult on the road,” Darryl Sutter said after Tuesday’s loss.

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A development that has the potential to deplete the team’s emotional reservoir is the constant need to fight from behind. The Kings have been a poor first period team this year, having been outscored 46-36 in the opening 20 minutes. It is an issue that has been exacerbated over the last eight weeks. Los Angeles has played 21 games following the win at Ottawa on December 11, and they’ve scored the first goal in eight of those games. In the nine road games over that span, the only game in which they recorded the first goal was the 5-2 loss at St. Louis on December 16. There have been thrilling, emotional comebacks from deficits of at least three goals that earned the Kings two points (St. Louis, December 18) and single points (Nashville, January 3, and Winnipeg, January 10), and of course there have been the garden variety one-goal deficits in Kings wins over Arizona, San Jose and Chicago, and the two-goal deficit in the win at Vancouver on New Year’s Day. In the 21 games since the win at Ottawa on December 11, the Kings have trailed at some point in all but four games: the 2-0 win over Toronto on January 12, the shootout loss to Anaheim, and the two overtime losses to Calgary in which they never trailed until Mark Giordano and Dennis Wideman’s overtime goals.

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