Can the LA Kings score goals? Not exactly. In their last six games, they’ve notched totals of 2-0-2-2-3-1. Can they score goals with Marian Gaborik in their lineup? Better question. But still, the answer’s no. The great catalyst of the 2014 playoffs is just back after having missed eight games to injury. In his first return contest, he played under 14 minutes. In the second, he got in about 17. Thursday night against the Islanders, it was 16:47. He got one shot in the first game, four in the second, and none in the third.
It takes time, he said in the media in LA this week, to get back to the feel of the game. His linemates at the start of the Thursday tilt versus the Isles were Kopitar and Jordan Nolan. That latter name represents a player who has not been in every game this year, though he has been in most, and who is not typically on the first line. What’s he doing there? He’s replacing an injured Justin Williams, who took a stick up under the visor to the eye this week against Dallas and has blurry vision.
But really, Nolan? One knowledgeable Kings watcher said this on Thursday night: “That’s Sutter’s way of making a statement to someone.” Perhaps to his entire offense. By the third period, Dustin Brown had taken the spot on the top line. Still, they produced nothing.
How’d Nolan do while his tenure with the top two of Gaborik and Kopitar lasted? It’s hard to describe. He’s decently fast, but he’s prone to chip pucks into the offensive zone without measuring the distance-speed equation that it takes for his linemates to get them back. This happened twice alone in period one versus New York, and only on the second try did Kopitar manage to come up with the loose puck, and even that, not in direct relation to the play Nolan had made. The puck had by that time rimmed around behind the net and been touched or passed by a couple of players from either team.
Nolan, by the way, was suspended for two games this week for boarding Darren Helm in Detroit last Friday. He’s a tough player, but not typically dirty, so this is an aberration. Anyway, he played four minutes in period one, but had eleven to finish the game, which tells you what happened in period three. Sutter did not comment on the matter in his postgame press conference.
What else is going on in Kings-land? Tanner Pearson is the NHL’s rookie of the month after coming storming out of the gate with seven goals and two assists in his first eight games. He has since cooled off, not having scored a point in the next five games. He barely qualifies as a rookie, having played to the limit of games last year (25) and then, as is well known, starring in the playoffs to notch an additional 24 games. Reports said that he doesn’t actually get anything for the prize, except, of course, the knowledge that he’s a house on fire amongst the youngest players in the league.
Here’s a quick capsule of his play against the Isles: thirteen minutes exactly, with about two of those on the power play. One shot. One blocked shot. He got a feed on the power play late in period one and couldn’t find the handle to get a shot. That would have made the game 2-1 instead of the 1-1 tie that it was and that it remained until the Isles won the skills contest after OT.
Trevor Lewis is back after having been hurt and missing nine consecutive games. He played in the team’s opener, then was injured, taking three weeks to recover from what the team called an “upper body injury.” In his and the team’s opening loss, he notched a team-high six shots. Not recording a point. In his first game back, he got an assist, and in his third, he scored a goal and added another assist. The goal, just to make him more dangerous, was a shorthanded tally.
He is averaging about 13 minutes thus far. Against the Islanders, he played fourth-line duty with Kyle Clifford and Jarret Stoll. This, for those unfamiliar with what’s going on out West, is the kind of “new” fourth line that is now becoming popular with the demise of the fighter.
Lewis is fast and good on faceoffs. Still is fast enough, and also a faceoff ace. Clifford can fight if it’s required, but is not such a one-dimensional player that he’s a liability in other aspects of his game. The line notched an average of about 15 minutes of icetime. They were responsible for six of the Kings’ eventual 29 shots.
Drew Doughty is carrying the mail for the LA defense. His ice time ranks at the top of the league with 30 minutes or more in four games and next to 30 in many others. His average, for the statistically minded, was 27:59 coming into Thursday. He was actually second in the league. His point total, and this is a woe of the team and the defense, who are not scoring, is just two assists. In terms of the bigger picture, it’s hard to believe, but he’s now over 450 games (456 exactly) and will thus break the 500 mark this year.
On Thursday, Doughty found himself paired with Jake Muzzin in playing the Islanders. He said after the game, “I thought we played really well tonight again. I had a penalty in the third period and a turnover, which, uh besides that Muzz played great. We didn’t give up much. I thought the Taveras line played well and didn’t get much, and that was what our job was tonight and I thought we played well.”
Doughty again logged half and hour of icetime (30:28) and was responsible for two shots. His partner, Muzzin, took five. Each missed two, and Muzzin blocked three to Doughty’s one. They were on the ice for the LA regulation time goal, as was Doughty for the Isles’, but that was a power play goal, and so Doughty ended up plus-one for the night.
So just to put a bit of a capper on the ins and outs due to injury and other causes, the following have missed time thus far for the LA team: Kopitar, Gaborik, Lewis, and Muzzin. Voynov, as the world knows, remains suspended. Nolan lost two games as noted.
Thursday, Dwight King notched the goal off of a pass that he redirected—he didn’t even know how or where after the game. His goal aside, the scoring for the Kings is essentially all one line. Of the players who have more than one point in a given game, three play together—Toffoli, Pearson, and Carter. One other is Lewis, and the other Doughty. The team’s goal differential is a plus-four, which is fifth best in their division and only ahead of the woeful Arizona and Edmonton totals of minus-thirteen apiece. This also puts LA ninth in the West, and the difference, of course, is that they have Jonathan Quick.
While LA has been shut out three time already this year, Quick also has two shutouts and four other times when he has let in but one goal, including the shootout 2-1 loss versus New York (not counting the shootout goal, natch). That’s in 11 games. If not for him, then this team would be in worse shape than they are thanks to their familiar inability to score.
In fact, he made a spectacular chest-first lunge to steal a goal from Visnovsky, who had snuck low in OT to get a pass from Thomas Hickey (both former Kings, by the way). This was the highlight of the night in what was otherwise a pedestrian effort on both sides.
To round out the news recap on LA: schedule-wise, the Kings have just come off of a five-game road trip, which they ended with an OT loss, three outright losses, and a win. They are now at home for a while. With the exception of one bus trip down to Anaheim to play the Ducks, they will sleep in their own beds until they travel to Dallas for a November 22nd game. The teams they’ll face in between now and then include Anaheim twice, Vancouver, and both Florida and Carolina. So scoring or not, you’d expect that they’ll pile up some points and establish a bit of a cushion for what will be some tough days in the later part of the season, when they’ll find themselves on the East Coast as late as late March.
You’ll like my 1972 Summit Series book, Coming Down the Mountain: Rethinking the 1972 Summit Series. It’s available now, published by Wolsak and Wynn.