Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Same Old Kings

Jonathan Quick = Fail
Jonathan Quick Has Struggled In January
I‘m with every other Kings fan that’s frustrated with this team’s inconsistent play this season.  I decided to look at some monthly splits; hoping that the stats would shed some light on why the Kings have looked so terrible.  Instead, I found something a little more interesting: the team’s statistics through 46 games this season fall right in line with last season’s averages.

The Kings had some expectations going into this season.  The next Chicago Blackhawks was repeated more than once by the so-called 'experts.'  DL failed to acquire an impact forward.  Instead, he made a couple lateral moves/slight improvements looking for ‘the right fit.’  He replaced Frolov with Ponikarovsky.  O’Donnell with Mitchell.  And proclaimed that Scott Parse was the next Kris Versteeg.  Nothing ground-breaking. He put it on the ‘core’ group to improve and take their games to the next-level.  It looks like they’ve decided that they’re comfortable with where they are: Middle of the pack.

They are who we thought they were!  I still think the Kings make the playoffs and finish anywhere between 6th and 8th but all the Stanley Cup contender talk was a bit premature.

2009-10: 25-21
2010-11: 24-21-1

Kings Win
OD And Fro Are Both Gone But It's More Of The Same
2010-11: 2.82 (9th)
2010-11: 2.83 (13th)

The Kings replaced Alexander Frolov with Alexei Ponikarovsky.  Poni has three goals in 27 games battling multiple injuries and spending a good amount of time in Terry Murray’s doghouse.  He’s exactly who we thought he was: somewhere in-between Alexander Frolov and Fredrik Modin. Inconsistent.  A second/third-line player.  Another ‘right fit’ acquisition Marco Sturm has four goals in 15 games.

DL can acquire as many secondary pieces as he wants but the gaping holes on both sides of Kopitar are only growing.  He’s failed to lure impact forwards like Gaborik, Hossa, or Kovalchuk and it’s showing again this season. Kopitar is the only first-line player on this roster.  Kopi’s surrounded by a bunch of second-line talent.  It’s not hard to figure out.  The Kings need more scoring up front.

Anyone that says the Kings ‘lucked’ out when they didn’t land Kovalchuk is a fool.  New Jersey has bigger issues on that team than Kovy.   And as bad as things have been this year for the Devils; Kovalchuk is still going to end up with 30-35 goals.

DL will wait for a full season of Brayden Schenn before he even considers making a move for an impact player.  Schenn will play next season as a 20-year old.  A lot of ‘experts’ compare Schenn to Philadelphia’s Mike Richards especially after his breakout performance at the 2011 WJC.  Keep this in mind, Richards also debuted for the Flyers as a 20 year old.  His breakout year came three years later when he scored 75 points in 73 games.  Just saying.  Four more years is a longtime to wait.

2009-10: 2.57 (9th)
2010-11: 2.54 (8th)

Terry Murray has brought structure to this team whether fans want to admit it or not. The Kings essentially replaced Sean O’Donnell and Randy Jones with Willie Mitchell and some combination of Davis Drewiske, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez, and Peter Harrold.

The signing of Mitchell looks like a miss so far. He’s managed to play in only 21 of the Kings first 46 games this season.  Fans were worried about his concussion; should have been worried about everything else.

Alec Martinez has been a pleasant surprise this season. After really struggling during his NHL debut last year; he returned to L.A. this year with a lot more confidence and poise.

2009-10: 29.1 (22nd)
2010-11: 29 (23rd)

These stats can be a bit misleading. San Jose is leading the league with 33.9 shots a game.  The Minnesota Wild are 30th with 26 shots per game.   But none the less, the Kings find themselves in the bottom third of the league.

The Kings don’t have much elite talent up front.  With that said, they need to value puck possession. Too many times you see the Kings start out from their own end with a pass through the neutral zone and when the puck gets there; it’s a dump and chase into the zone.  Then they’re put on the defensive again. Possess the puck and get something out wide and to the net.

2009-10: 27.6 (3rd)
2010-11: 27.7 (2nd)

Once again, a prime example that Terry Murray’s structure works at limiting opponent’s shotsThis statistic doesn’t necessarily show the quality of chances given up.  Keep this in mind as well.  The Thrashers have given up the most shots per game at 34.4 while the Devils have given up the fewest at 27.6. New Jersey is currently 30th in the NHL in the standing so you be the judge. The Kings shot differential for the season is +1.3; while last year it stood at +1.6.  The NHL leader last season was Chicago at +9.0 shots.  San Jose leads the league this year with a +5.3 shots per game.

Jonathan Bernier
Bernier Hasn't Challenged Quick Much This Year.
2009-10: .907% (18th)
2010-11: .907% (16th)

Maybe the Kings biggest question going into the season was who would emerge as the Kings #1.  As much as Quick has struggled in January; his SV% still sits at .919% for the season (well above his .907% last year and more in line with his 2008-09 numbers).  He’s still susceptible to giving up a softy and it can become quite an adventure when he decides to stickhandle the puck.

Jonathan Bernier’s first full season in Los Angeles has probably disappointed quite a few fans.   Most (including me) had him pegged to grab the starting job away from Quick by this point of the season.  His 3.08 GAA and .893 SV% have been pretty underwhelming.

One good thing: Bernier has already started 12 games this year.  Erik Ersberg (2.40 GAA, .906 Sv%) started seven games all season last year.

Jarret Stoll
Stoll Managed To Hit The Net Here
2009-10: 20.8% (7th)
2010-11: 17.5% (19th)

Can you blame Drew Doughty for the struggles of the PP this season?  The Norris Trophy finalist from a season ago had 9 goals and 22 assists on the man-advantage in 82 games last season.  He’s got one goal and six assists in 40 games this year.  Jack Johnson’s success on the PP (3G, 18A) has helped to offset Doughty’s lack of production.

Bottom line: The Kings setup and execution is flawed.  Kopitar needs to shoot the puck.  Doughty needs to shoot the puck.  Jarret Stoll should not shoot the puck.  Jarret Stoll is a faceoff specialist. Guess what? So are Zenon Konopka, David Steckel, and Manny Malhotra but you don’t keep guys like that out on the PP.  Especially, guys that can’t consistently hit the net.

Jamie Kompon continues to setup in an umbrella formation.  Doughty at the blueline setting up Kopitar and Stoll along the boards for one-timers.  It doesn’t work if Stoll can’t find the net with his shot.  He shoots it wide.  He shoots it high.  It just doesn’t work.  Kopitar and Doughty are the Kings two most dangerous weapons on the PP and they need to assert themselves.  Jarret Stoll needs to find himself a cozy spot on the bench and park it.

I might be in the minority but I miss Alexander Frolov and his wraparound attempts.  Who on the Kings takes it to the net on the PP?

Sheldon Souray can help this team.  Yes. I am a broken record.  He is still only two years removed from a 53-point season that saw him record 12 goals and 11 assists on the man-advantage.  12 PP goals would have been second on the team last year.  Is he great in his own end? No but even Marc-Andre Bergeron carved himself out a spot on the Habs blueline as a PP specialist and Souray is more defensively responsible than him.

Worst case scenario: TM dresses seven defenseman and sits Westgarth…

Willie Mitchell
Mitchell Helps The PK But His Health Is A Huge Question
Penalty Kill Percentage:
2009-10: 80.3% (20th)
2010-11: 82.7% (11th)

The Kings PK (75.9%) in January has been horrendous. They overachieved in October, killing penalties at a nearly 90% clip but everyone should have known that wouldn’t last.  The saying goes: your goaltender is your best penalty killer.  Quick’s .891 SV% in January says it all.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

2011 WJC Review: Schenn, Forbort, & Kitsyn

What A Game
I don’t blame you if you don’t care much about the IIHF U-20 World Junior Championships.  Canada is the only country keeping this tournament going.  With that said, you owe it to yourself as a hockey fan to watch the Gold Medal Game between Canada and Russia.  And read this article.  

The Kings had three players at this year’s tournament: Brayden Schenn, Derek Forbort, and Maxim Kitsyn.  Check out Dean Lombardi's comments on the kids.  I’m no scout but here’s my impressions of the three Kings prospects and how they fared at this year's WJC.

BRAYDEN SCHENN (Canada) 5th Overall, 2009
The pressure was on Schenn to lead Canada this year.  One of only four returnees from last year’s squad (and the only returning forward); Canada relied heavily on the 19-year old to carry the offense.  He responded with one of the most dominating performances in WJC history; recording 18 points (8 G, 10 A) in the tournament, tying Canada’s all-time record in a tournament.  He was selected as the tournament’s MVP, Best Forward, and earned a spot on the tournament’s All-Star Team.

No Taylor Hall.  No Tyler Seguin.  No Problem.  Schenn-sational.  Schenn was by far the best player at the tournament.  His two-way game and ability to play in all situations for Canada should have Kings fans extremely excited.  His vision, poise with the puck, and playmaking ability are NHL-ready.   He led the tournament with eight goals; opportunities that were being denied during his eight-game NHL stint earlier this year were finding the back of the net in Buffalo. The majority of his eight goals came from outworking defenders in front of the net for rebound opportunities.  His four-goal performance against Norway was impressive but three of the goals went right thru the goaltender (which you see a lot in a tournament like this).

They’re saying Schenn will miss the next two weeks to recover from a separated shoulder suffered in Canada’s victory over the Swiss. Where Schenn continues to play this season is anyone’s guess. There’s been widespread speculation that the Kings would prefer that Schenn be traded from the last-place Wheat Kings.  Schenn’s hometown Saskatoon Blades currently sit atop the WHL standings; adding Schenn might guarantee them a spot in the Memorial Cup.

You have to appreciate everything about Schenn’s performance.  After being in limbo for nearly a month in Los Angeles, traveling to Manchester for a two-week ‘conditioning stint’, being returned to Brandon, and then responding with a record-setting individual performance while playing through an injury speaks volumes about the character makeup of this kid.  The possibilities of having Kopitar and Schenn down the middle for the next decade should have Kings fans extremely excited.

DEREK FORBORT ( USA) 15th overall, 2010
Forbort had a pretty uneventful performance for the underachieving Americans.   I tuned in to watch Forbort in the USA-Sweden Bronze Medal game and couldn’t find him on-the-ice.  The WJC rules allow for teams to dress 20 skaters (as opposed to the usual 18) which means an additional defenseman and forward on the bench.   Forbort seemed to slip on the depth chart as the tournament progressed.  For a player to dress for six games and not record a single statistic: SOG, +/-, PIM is quite a feat.   I actually had to go back to the archives on TSN to get a glimpse of Forbort.

When the tournament began Forbort was consistently paired with Nick Leddy, an offensive-minded D prospect for the the Chicago Blackhawks.   Forbort was Leddy’s safety net. The more I watched Forbort; the more I thought I was watching Rob Scuderi.

At 6’5, you’d like to see Forbort be a more physical force on the blueline.  Instead, he utilizes his long reach and an active stick to stop attacking forwards.  He skates well for his size although his first stride is always back towards his own net; he never strayed too far from there.  Hence, he was always well-positioned in the defensive zone.  He didn’t show much of an offensive game, often choosing to chip the puck off the boards instead of skating it out of the zone himself or trying to hit a streaking forward with a pass.

When the competition ratcheted up against Canada; Forbort was a bit more exposed.  Somewhat of a gentle giant, he consistently lost battles along the boards against the more physical Canadians.  Dean Lombardi is obviously high on Forbort’s upside; DL gave up one of his coveted second-round picks to move up four spots in last year’s draft to select him.   With that said, I was more impressed in the tournament by the forwards drafted with the Kings original draft picks: Nick Bjugstad (19th overall) and Jason Zucker (59th overall). But as the line always goes: It takes longer for defensemen to develop.  Being the second youngest defender on Team USA’s blueline, Forbort will get an opportunity next year to take on a bigger role for the Americans.

MAXIM KITSYN (Russia) 158th overall, 2010
Drafting Kitsyn in the 6th round (158th overall) at last year’s draft was an absolute no-brainer for the Kings.  Kitsyn’s KHL contract probably scared off a lot NHL GM's but after watching Kitsyn’s impressive WJC performance; there are more than a few GM's kicking themselves for passing on this kid.  Kitsyn gave North American fans a glimpse of his promise back in November by leading Team Russia to victory in the 2010 SUBWAY Super Series. Kitsyn led the series in scoring with six points (4 G, 2 A) in six games.

At this year’s WJC, Kitsyn took more of a supporting role behind his highly touted linemates Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The two first-round picks carried the play for Russia but Kitsyn didn't look out of place one bit.  The Russian Trio combined to form the most dominating forward line in the entire tournament. The line combined for 31 points in seven games (13 G, 18 A, +22, 77 SOG). Kitsyn finished the WJC with nine points (5 G, 4 A) in seven games.

At 6’2, Kitsyn skates very well for his size and possesses good offensive instincts.  He has an obvious knack for scoring.  He was consistently buzzing around the net all tournament long banging home rebounds and passes from Kuznetsov and Tarasenko.  His hands and ability to finish around the net reminded me a lot of Alexander Frolov.  It’ll be interesting to see how Kitsyn’s game looks when he’s not skating with two gamebreakers like Tarasenko and Kuznetsov.

The speculation began in early-December that Kitsyn would stay in North America following the WJC and join the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors of the OHL.  It was confirmed on Thursday that he will in fact suit up for the Majors.  Ironically enough, Kitsyn will be playing for Dave Cameron, the head coach of Team Canada’s WJC team.  The Majors are currently the top team in the OHL and hosting this year’s Memorial Cup.  His career path may remind a lot of Kings fans of another Russian prospect Andrei Loktionov who joined the Windsor Spitfires in time to win the 2009 Memorial Cup.

Dimitri Chesnokov confirmed on Hockey Night In Canada Radio that Kitsyn would join the Majors for the remainder of this season but also speculated that a possible agreement had been reached between Kitsyn’s KHL club, Novokuznetsk Metallurg and the Majors that Kitsyn would be returned back to the KHL at the end of the season. Only time will tell but it should be exciting to see what Kitsyn can accomplish over the next four months in the OHL.