Despite losing Jonathan Bernier, Dustin Penner and Rob Scuderi over the summer, the Los Angeles Kings still have their nucleus intact. Players like Brown, Kopitar, Doughty, Richards and Jonathan Quick will be sticking around for a long time while the team’s younger talent such as Slava Voynov and Tyler Toffoli – the latter will start the season in the AHL – the Los Angeles Kings are primed to contend for their second Stanley Cup title in three years.
After an offensively disappointing 2011-12 campaign which saw the Kings finish 29th overall with 2.29 goals-per-game, the silver-and-black picked it up a notch last season climbing to the 10th overall in said category registering 2.73 goals per contest. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that skeptics (and believe me, there are plenty of them) would be quick to dismiss any impressive team stats last season due to the abbreviated 48-game schedule. If that is the case, though, we can chalk up Chicago’s Cup win this past spring as luck given that Marian Hossa was able to stay healthy – but I digress.
The Kings enter 2013-14 with a mission. While they did what few defending champions did in recent memory by advancing to the Western Final much less just past the first round of the playoffs, no one in Los Angeles was satisfied. While Jonathan Quick dropped in production during the regular season last year, he stepped up his game in the postseason registering a 1.86 goals-against average and a .934 save-percentage.
While they didn’t have enough in the tank to take the Blackhawks to the distance last year, the Los Angeles Kings of 2013 were in some ways a lot better than the team who won it all the previous spring.
In the opening round, the Kings fell behind 0-2 in the series with a potent St. Louis Blues lineup only to win the next four. In the second round, the Kings showed the most character by going the distance with their despised rivals from San Jose ousting the Sharks in seven games.
While the Kings have accomplished plenty individually (more on that later), enough can be said about the overall team success over the last two seasons.
It has been repeated ad nauseum how the Kings squeaked into the playoffs in 2012 before rewriting history – but it never gets old. As previously mentioned, they were ranked second-to-last overall in team offense during the 2011-12 regular season and only the outstanding play of Jonathan Quick got the silver-and-black into the playoffs. Had it been under any other circumstance, the Kings likely would have been eliminated from playoff contention by New Year’s.
Last season, Los Angeles got off to a slow 0-2-1 start with the most heartbreaking of losses coming in Edmonton when rookie Nail Yakupov scored in the dying seconds to tie leading to one of the most popular goal celebrations in recent memory. Even Jonathan Quick was shaky early on which led skeptics to put the Kings right on the hot seat suggesting that because it was an abbreviated season, the Kings had no room for error – yet they made the playoffs and finished three spots ahead than the previous year.
After finishing 17th overall in 2011-12 with a 17.0% rating, the Kings’ powerplay rose to 10th overall last season at 19.9%.
On the man-advantage, what the Kings need this season is for Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown and Mike Richards to be on the ice as much as possible. Last season, Carter and Brown tied for the team lead in PP goals with eight while Richards was a close second with six tallies. Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin were arguably the two best defensemen for the Kings on the man-advantage last season with each scoring three times.
As a team, the Kings allowed just one shorthanded goal against, which was one better than their total in 2011-12.
In terms of individual point production last season, the Kings only had one player who eclipsed the 40-point plateau (Anze Kopitar with 42) which, in comparison to other teams, pales in comparison. But I don’t include this stat to show detriment towards the club but a testament to how well the Kings play as a team.
So far removed are we from the days of watching the Kings rely on the likes of the Gretzkys, Robitailles and Blakes as we are in an era where every player donning the silver-and-black will chip in offensively regardless how many goals he’s capable of scoring whether it’d be one or fifty-one.
For six straight seasons, the aforementioned Kopitar has led the Kings in scoring in points and don’t expect anything different this coming season. While in recent years he’s had games were it seemed as though he didn’t show up, the Slovenian always manages to set an example on the ice with his offensive prowess. He may not run away with the distinction this season but look for Kopitar’s name to top the list in team points.
In his first full season in Los Angeles, Jeff Carter led the club with 26 goals while being the only King to reach the 20-goal mark (again, a testament to Los Angeles’s team-playing ability). While he had just seven assists in 2013, Carter’s naturally goal-scoring ability put the Kings miles ahead in offense than in previous years. In addition, his renewed chemistry with former Philadelphia linemate Mike Richards was something to behold during the latter stages of the lockout-shortened campaign. Despite a painfully slow start, Richards finished off the season with 12 goals and 20 assists, with many of those helpers coming from goals by one Jeff Carter.
Watching Rob Scuderi leave for Pittsburgh this past summer meant a blow to Los Angeles’s defensive core.
Having led the Kings last season in blocked with 66 during the regular season and 39 in the playoffs, a hole left unfilled by a textbook defenseman of Scuderi’s caliber is a tough hole to fill. Fortunately, the one King who finished ahead of Scuderi in blocked shots during the regular season and playoffs in 2011-12 is back.
After having missed last season with a knee injury, Willie Mitchell will be back and ready to go for when the Kings open the regular season in St. Paul this coming Thursday.
In 2011-12, Mitchell’s 139 blocked shots during the regular season was 23 more than Scuderi’s total and his 55 playoff blocked shot where 21 more than Los Angeles’s now-departed No. 7.
In regards to Mitchell, however, the main concern is rust. Having not played since the Kings hoisted the Cup some 16 months ago, it will be interesting to see how the 36-year-old fares back in the swing of things.
Speaking of defense, Slava Voynov proved that the so-called “sophomore jinx” is just a myth as he scored six goals and added 19 assists to go along with a +5 rating last season. He even contributed nicely on the power play scoring one goal while averaging over 22 minutes per game overall. Defensively, Voynov was just as impressive blocking 48 shots (second only to Scuderi) and recording 83 hits, second to Drew Doughty among Kings’ D-men.
Speaking of Drew Doughty, expect big things from him this season. With this being an Olympic season, Doughty should have extra incentive to elevate his game to not only show Team Canada they’d be crazy to pass on him but that he will give it his all to prepare for competition in Sochi.
He may be more of a lock to make the Canadian team this time around than he was in 2010 but nevertheless, Doughty should have a breakout year as a result of what’s down the road.
Captain Dustin Brown might be streaky but he’ll get the job done and lead his team whether it’d be some timely goals, leadership or big hits, something the Ithaca native lacked last season. But no need to worry as it is fully expected that Dustin Brown’s physical game will reappear in full-force this season.
Despite lacking defensive ability last season, Jake Muzzin led the Kings with a +15 rating. The abbreviated season was a learning curve for the rookie last year. While he won’t set the league on fire, expect the nascent blueliner to have a better season on the defensive side of his game. After all, with Scuderi now gone, some Kings will be expected to pick up the load in said department – and Muzzin should be one of those players.
In goal, there needs no introduction. While he is coming two previous postseasons where he put up videogame-like numbers, Jonathan Quick had a shaky regular season last year by Quick standards.
In 37 games last season, Quick went a modest 18-13-4 while posting a goals-against average of 2.45 and a not-so-spectacular save-percentage of .902. In all fairness, a bit of leeway is deserved for a netminder who not only came off a newly-signed 10-year contract extension but back surgery, which is major for any netminder, I don’t care who you are.
But with 2013 out of the way, those excuses will no longer be justified. Jonathan Quick will need to improve his numbers this regular season and while no one doubts what he’s capable of when the playoffs roll around, the better the 27-year-old fares until then, the better for everyone around him.
In addition, Quick doesn’t have Jonathan Bernier to back him up anymore as the native of Laval, Quebec was shipped to Toronto in the offseason. But just because he doesn’t have Bernier doesn’t mean that Jonathan Quick doesn’t have a reliable backup – as he does with Ben Scrivens who came over from the Leafs in said deal.
He may not see the ice as much but I referred to Scrivens as the “wild card” of the Bernier trade for a reason. While his numbers in Toronto weren’t spectacular last year, Scrivens’s efforts helped the Leafs reach the postseason for the first time since 2004 – and remember that the netminder played behind a so-so defensive unit in T-Dot. That won’t be the case in Los Angeles – not by a long shot.
Of those who left Los Angeles this summer, the Kings received a great addition aside from Scrivens. In fact, he arrived with Scrivens from Toronto. Matt Frattin is one player I have always enjoyed watching for an otherwise-ho-hum Leafs squad.
In 25 games last season, Frattin scored seven goals and added six assists for a +6 rating for Toronto while getting defensive with 55 blocked shots.
Kings fans may not know everything about him just yet but look for the 25-year-old forward to contribute in a significant way for the Kings this season assuming of course he can stay healthy.
In terms of placing, I expect the Los Angeles Kings to finish second in the Pacific division and fifth in the Western Conference. In terms of winning the Stanley Cup, I do expect the Kings to win it this season but only if they come forth with a much better playoff effort against the Chicago Blackhawks should they meet in the postseason.
While there are a plethora of up-and-coming teams in the West like the Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators and Edmonton Oilers, I don’t expect any of them to be a serious threat for the Kings’ championship aspirations. In fact, if any aspiring playoff teams should prove to be any sort of threat this season, I expect it to be Los Angeles’s old division rivals, the Dallas Stars. With an experienced new coach in Lindy Ruff, a seasoned executive in new general manager Jim Nill and the addition of young talent up front like Tyler Seguin, the new-look Stars may give the Kings the most trouble this coming regular season.
Besides the Blackhawks, two of Los Angeles’s biggest rivals in the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks will prove to be obstacles in the Kings’ quest for the Cup. But when it’s all said and done, look for experience to reign supreme as the Western Conference crown will come down to a showdown between the Kings and the Blackhawks – and you can be certain that the silver-and-black will be as determined as ever to redeem themselves from last spring’s playoff exit in the Windy City.