While sportscasts across the continent got a great deal out of pleasure showing Jonathan Quick allow arguably the worst goal of his career so far, they certainly aren’t making fun of the 9-5-0 start for the Los Angeles Kings.
While they finish the month of October with a winning record, the Kings and their fans certainly haven’t had the easiest ride to kick off the season.
After opening the season with a 3-2 shootout win in St. Paul against the Minnesota Wild, the Kings then dropped their next two with the latter coming against Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers.
Leading up to said game, the contest was labeled as the battle of the two top netminders in Quick and the aforementioned Lundqvist. Despite having yet to win a Stanley Cup, the Swedish backstop was perceived as the better of two goaltenders and after Jonathan Quick allowed that dub of a goal which I previously alluded to, all doubt seemed to be lost as to who the best goaltender in hockey was.
But the Kings (and especially Quick) moved on. Despite surrendering a three-goal lead next game, they were able to defeat the Ottawa Senators in overtime and regain their momentum.
In October, Los Angeles was able to go on a three-game winning streak starting against Ottawa followed by wins in Carolina and Florida. Unfortunately for the times the Kings fell short, too much seemed to go wrong.
On October 15 in Tampa Bay, the silver-and-black seemed lost from the opening faceoff as they lost to the Lightning by a score of 5-1. Even Jonathan Quick was pulled en route to the defeat. Conversely, credit has to go to the Lightning who displayed so much speed and skill up front between Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis and even Teddy Purcell, the ex-King, was able to score against his former team.
In the goals-for department, the Kings finished October close to the middle of the pack (18th overall to be precise) with 2.57 goals per game. Their goals-against average was also 2.57 but ranked a little higher at 11th. The latter coupled with their 81.7% penalty-kill (14th overall) proves that while Los Angeles isn’t nearing any danger defensively, they certainly could do a lot better.
The absence of defensive specialist Rob Scuderi, who returned to Pittsburgh in the off-season, is certainly conspicuous. In the four seasons Scuderi was in Los Angeles, the Kings allowed an overall average of 2.35.
During that span, however, the Kings also average of 27.98 shots allowed per game, finishing third-overall in three of those years and fifth-overall in the other. So far this season, the Kings sit third-overall in shots allowed with an average of 26.9. So, while they have been allowing a few goals more than they’d like to admit, the Los Angeles Kings defenders are certainly as sound and attentive as they have been in the previous few years – although their total blocked shots amount of 69 has them currently ranked 27th overall.
Willie Mitchell, who didn’t play last season due to injury, hasn’t missed a beat despite a hiccup every now and then. He currently leads his team with 29 blocked shots followed by Matt Greene with 28. The next closest on that list is Drew Doughty with 14, which explains the 27th-overall ranking a little further.
Speaking of defense, it’s a case of, if you will, Jekyll and Hyde with the Kings thus far. While Mitchell and Greene have contributed nicely and Doughty has picked up his offensive game (4 goals, 3 assists, +1 in 14 games), the Kings have had their share of difficulty being defensive so far. As far as most fans are concerned, the jury is still out on Jake Muzzin who is still learning the ropes of his team’s defensive structure while Alec Martinez, whose game has fallen off a bit in the last couple of years, is back in the fold with some fans forgiving of his lacklustre play prior to this season.
On the physical side, the Kings are dishing out the punishment as early and as often as usual. They currently lead the league in hits with a whopping 446 while the Toronto Maple Leafs are in second with 428.
Speaking of the Leafs, we turn to goaltending where Los Angeles’s former backup Jonathan Bernier has found a new home in T-Dot. While he is sharing starting duties with James Riemer, Bernier has already made quite the impact on Leafs Nation having gone 6-4-0 with a shutout. Bernier’s great play in Toronto has left some fans in Los Angeles longing for No. 45, especially after Jonathan Quick’s inauspicious start to the campaign. But, the Kings did get goaltender Ben Scrivens in return for Bernier and so far, the first-year King has played admirably in the limited time he’s seen the ice. Scrivens so far is 1-1-0 with a shutout and even made 30 saves in a losing effort earlier this week. Quick, meanwhile, has bounced back from his slow start going 8-4-0 with a 2.56 goals-against average and a save percentage of .903. Those may not still seem like spectacular numbers but it’s a long season, thus a lot of room for improvement.
Individually, Anze Kopitar is up to his old habits leading the Kings in scoring. While he only has two goals, his 10 assists have certainly helped his team geared in the right direction. Of his two goals, the latter came in overtime last game against the league-best San Jose Sharks, a game the Kings needed to close out October with as much momentum as possible.
Justin Williams and Jeff Carter are each tied for the goals lead with five while Mike Richards is contributing significantly with eight assists and even Dwight King, who underachieved last season, scored a hat-trick en route to a win over Phoenix last week.
While there may some holes that need a bit more filling (go ahead, insert jokes at will), there is plenty going right for the Los Angeles Kings so far in 2013-14. Unlike when they wrapped up the campaign’s first month last season, the silver-and-black have a lot more time to fix what needs fixing and to stay consistent on what doesn’t.
Los Angeles’s special teams, for instance, needs work on both sides. While they went through a stretch with nothing to show for their power play, the Kings did capitalize on the man-advantage quite a few times this past month. Their penalty-kill didn’t look the greatest most of the time but then again, the Kings’ inability to stay out of the box for stretches at a time didn’t exactly help their cause.
Overall, while there is something to build on, the Kings are certainly in good shape entering November. More consistency, more discipline and a couple more blueliners to help the aforementioned Mitchell and Greene to help carry the defensive load will definitely work wonders for the Kings in both the short- and long-term pictures this season.
October was a wild month but now it’s over as we look forward to November and wondering what it has in store for the Boys in Black.