“I keep using the word depth. The ability to roll four lines and trust all four, in any given situation. That’s always an easy word for coaches to use when they’re winning. If it’s not going well, everyone’s talking about the lack of depth or the lack of goalscoring or whatever it might be but we do have that going for us.”
Early in the 2023-24 season, what’s perhaps been most impressive about the LA Kings is the notion that production is coming from everywhere in the lineup. The above quote from Todd McLellan speaks to that.
The Kings are as productive, 1-18, as we’ve seen in recent memory in this organization.
As the wins have piled up, the goals, the assists, the point have come from different parts of the lineup on any given night. As noted yesterday, if you take the most recent road trip, 16 of the 18 skaters in the lineup picked up a point. All 18 skaters have collected at least three points on the season, making the Kings the only team in the league that has accomplished that. The Kings are also the only team in the NHL with 16 skaters at 4+ points and one of four teams across the league to have at least 12 skaters with 5 points.
To get to totals like that, it requires contributions from all four lines and from the six defensemen.
As far as the forwards go, we’re seeing the Kings flow more consistently through the lineup than we’ve seen in previous years. There’s less of a focus on matchups than in seasons past and with four lines that are consistently scoring, the Kings like their group of lines when they get rolling the way that they are.
We’ve noted the breakdown of goals between lines this season and while it’s not identical across all four lines, even-strength scoring has generally been pretty balanced so far this season. No line has fewer than six goals, none more than 10. Balanced indeed.
“Throughout the lineup, [we’ve been] strong and reliable and that’s why we’ve been having a bit of success lately,” forward Anze Kopitar said this morning. “It’s just rolling four lines, everybody’s contributing and having solid games.”
Among the forwards, it’s come from three different groups of players.
There’s the usual suspects, the players who were last season who are producing at similar rates of point production as they did last season. That applies to a guy like Anze Kopitar, who is the model of consistency at the 1C position as much as it does to Blake Lizotte, who has continued to contribute offensively in a 4C role. Then, there’s the players who were here last year but are now producing as more of an impact player. Looking specifically at Quinton Byfield and Arthur Kaliyev, who are reaching new heights in the early stages of this season. Then, there’s the additions, led by Pierre-Luc Dubois, as well as Trevor Lewis and Alex Laferriere. Seven goals between those three and while not a staggering total, it’s an important output from those who are still settling in.
11 of the team’s 12 regular forwards have multiple goals and getting offensive contributions has not been an issue in the early stages of the season.
“We’ve brought some guys in and we have pretty much every line producing right now, which is a good thing for us,” forward Adrian Kempe added. “That hasn’t been an issue for us this year, the goalscoring.”
To hit numbers like 16 or 18 skaters, though, it naturally requires the blueliners to get involved as well.
This season, we’ve seen active defensemen who are not only willing to join the rush, but that have shown a shooting mentality from the point in getting pucks through to create offense. As a result, combined with the strong showing from the forwards, the Kings are getting more production in terms of points from their defensemen than they have in seasons past.
“Everyone’s contributing, doing what we need to do,” defenseman Mikey Anderson added. “It’s a fun stat, that means we’re scoring a lot of goals, but it’s good, obviously we want to keep scoring. From the back-end perspective, we want to help provide some offense, so if we’re able to do that, it’s great and as long as we can keep the goals against limited, we’ll be in a good spot.”
Anderson is not necessarily the guy you think of when you talk about a point producer, but he’s got seven points (1-6-7) through his first 11 games played, the most amongst the Kings blueliners. Anderson’s one goal came by activating in transition and driving the net in Arizona, but he’s collecting assists both through a willingness to shoot the puck in the offensive zone, and by setting up more shots while on the ice.
The volume of shots with Anderson on the ice is currently higher than any season of his NHL career, pointing to a wider shooting mentality amongst the group.
“If I look at it from the backend’s perspective, guys like me or Engy – I’ll categorize as the two, since we’re more defensive than everyone else – we’re able to throw some pucks at the net, make a breakout pass and the forwards either clean up a goal or are able to score off the rush,” he added. “Maybe we’re not making the big, flashy plays, but they’re able to produce, whether it’s a line rush or in the o-zone.”
After ranking no higher than 17th in points from defensemen over the last five seasons, the Kings are currently inside the NHL’s Top 10. An important step when considering the depth.
Now, the Kings are focused on keeping their depth going as they approach a trip to Vegas this week.
In terms of even-strength goals in the early goings, no team has scored more goals 5-on-5 this season than the Kings, who have 33. The Kings have gotten multiple even-strength goals from 11 different skaters, the most in the NHL. Included in those totals are all three members of the team’s fourth line – Carl Grundstrom, Trevor Lewis and Blake Lizotte – who are in many ways what makes the depth as strong as it is.
Even last season, the Kings didn’t trust their fourth line every night in any matchup. When you see McLellan use the fourth line to start a period, or with two minutes remaining in the game and the Kings leading by a goal, you know that trust is there. The fact that the line has produced offensively, on top of being a trusting uni
“I think you look around the league, there aren’t a ton of fourth lines that are as trusting, or I guess as productive, this year,” Lizotte said. “If you look at Carl, he’s got four goals, Lewie has a couple, myself a couple and it’s not even just about the goalscoring for us, we’ve got guys that can score 30, 40, 50 goals in this league……I think for our team, we’ve been able to truly roll four lines and teams always say that, but I think this year is a little bit different.”
If the Kings see any sort of drop off in either area, they should have other areas in their game that could pick up the slack. The Kings top power-play unit hasn’t clicked as it’s capable of just yet and the line of Dubois, Fiala and Laferriere has been the team’s lowest scoring, though it consists of a pair of 25-goal scorers and an offensively gifted rookie. It’s a long season and while we likely can’t expect every area of the Kings game that is currently flying to fly all season long, there are other areas more than capable of picking up where they left off.
Practice day tomorrow, Insiders, before the Kings depart for Vegas later on in the day. Full coverage from tomorrow’s skate, as well as Wednesday’s morning skate in Vegas, to follow.