If you look at where the Los Angeles Kings stand now as opposed to where they stood after the regular season’s first-half, you’d initially have reason to be sceptical. Through the first half, the Kings accumulated 26 points with an 11-7-4 record while sitting 2nd in the Pacific and 4th in the West. Through the second half, the Kings gathered just 21 points while sporting a modest 9-7-3 record. With that, they currently sit 7th in the West but only one point out of top-spot in their division. Overall, it’s really not as bad as it looks.
9-7-3 may not be a record to write about but considering the Kings started with a 3-7-0 record, it’s really something to hang their hats on. The Kings have been through a significant change having fired head coach Terry Murray back on December 12. At that point, nothing had been looking up for Los Angeles. Not only had they lost four straight but no one had been scoring. It also didn’t help matters that leading goal-scorer Mike Richards was sidelined with a concussion. The decision was made and assistant John Stevens took over for the next four games. Although he was satisfactory, the Kings didn’t look any better under Stevens as they went 2-2, with one-sided losses in Boston (3-0) and Detroit (8-2) and while beating lowly Columbus and the bipolar Maple Leafs.
After Stevens’ brief stint as head coach, Darryl Sutter was brought in as the permanent replacement to mixed reviews. Lombardi and Sutter had worked together in San Jose and, although he guided the Sharks to five straight years of improved records, Sutter was deemed, like Murray, as an old-school coach who can’t keep up with the times. Not known as a long-term fix, Sutter got to work right away with his new team and although the Kings haven’t gotten out of their scoring funk, players like Kopitar, Brown and Doughty have burst out and become bigger leaders on their team, even if they’re not on the scoresheet every night. In fact, the increase of communication between the coach and his players is as clear as day. Sutter is seen taking Doughty by the shoulders and instilling confidence in him and taking less-used players like Jonathan Bernier and reminding them how important they are to the club. Such a tactic may not break a team out of an offensive slump but it does do wonders to an individual’s confidence and that was one thing no one saw when Terry Murray was behind the bench.
While the aforementioned have played better, guys like Trevor Lewis and Dustin Penner continue to struggle offensively. You can argue that Lewis is better as a penalty-killer than a goal-scorer and that’s fair. Penner, although he is trying, just can’t seem to find a break. He did score his first goal of the season at the beginning of December against Montreal but overall, just can’t seem to find a comfort zone, which is unfortunate considering how hard he does try on most nights.
The Kings have suffered some setbacks from losing Mike Richards to injury and not being able to score more than two regulation goals in 17 of their 19 games in the second-quarter. Despite that, the Kings continue to be competitive, even if they don’t win. Mike Richards even returned to the lineup without missing a beat as he scored two goals in his first two games back. I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that the Kings boast a league-worst 2.07 goals-per-game, they currently rank 4th overall with a 2.15 goals-against-per-game rating. The latter certainly does justice to a Kings’ defense that has been second-to-none thus far.
As impressive as Los Angeles’ defense has been this season, it almost pales in comparison to the job Jonathan Quick has done in goal, having posted three shutouts in the second-quarter to hold the league-lead in that category with six on the year. Even Jonathan Bernier has played great, albeit rarely.
Whichever way you look at it, you can say that the Kings were worst off this quarter or better off. I think they were better off and look strong as they close in on the All-Star break at month’s end. For a team who struggles so offensively, I’d be throwing red paint all over them. In Los Angeles’ case, they don’t have much to worry about considering how solid their defensive game is. That’s not to say that the Kings don’t have to score any more goals this season but at least when the going gets tough in one department, they can feel at ease in another. That’s been a theme in Los Angeles this season and it should, for all intents and purposes, continue.
Photo: Courtesy of sportsnet.ca