Los Angeles Kings: Problems Start In Front Of Their Net, Not In It
November 25, 2010 7 Comments
LOS ANGELES — On Thanksgiving Day 2010 in the United States, the Los Angeles Kings are thankful that they played so well early in the season that their current slump—losing five of their last six games—has not moved them to the lower echelon of the National Hockey League’s Western Conference standings.
Their latest debacle, an embarrassing 4-1 blowout loss to the Montreal Canadiens on November 24, was a game in which the Kings were totally dominated by the Habs. Their embarrassing performance shined a bright light on how the Kings have lost their focus, especially when it comes to their defensive assignments.
As I wrote in my latest story for The Hockey Writers (see Los Angeles Kings: Fixing The Defense Must Be The Top Priority), the problem is not the Kings’ pathetic power play, or their goaltending.
More specifically, no one should be blaming backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier, not one bit.
If you peruse the message boards of the various web sites where Kings fans congregate to banter about their team, you will generally find a considerable number berating Bernier for his play, many calling for his proverbial head. Some state rather emphatically that he is not an NHL-caliber goaltender, while others believe that the Kings should ship him back to the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League (the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate), or just trade him for a bag of used pucks.
These comments are misguided, to say the least. In fact, the problem is not between the pipes. Rather, the fault lies at the feet of the skaters in front of them.
Indeed, anyone who has watched the Kings’ last six games must have noticed that they have consistently blown coverages, leaving opposing players wide open in front of the net, in the slot…all over the prime scoring areas.
Opposing teams are taking full advantage of the Kings’ generosity—the vast majority of the goals against have come from the prime scoring areas or wide open one-timers from the top of the slot.
NHL teams are going to capitalize more often than not when given gift-wrapped scoring opportunities like that, no matter who is in goal.
To illustrate, the Kings have allowed 25 goals in their last six games, a stratospheric 4.17 goals-per game.
As I pointed out in that previously mentioned story, “…prior to that, when the Kings were paying closer attention to their defensive assignments, they allowed just 28 goals in 15 games. That’s just 1.87 goals-per game, a difference of more than two goals per game.”
Despite that, some may not yet be convinced that the Kings’ problems are not in goal. Perhaps this will make that more clear for you…
Admittedly, Bernier is not the goaltender he was last season, when he came up to the Kings and was brilliant in three games, earning a 3-0-0 record, a .957 save percentage, a 1.30 goals-against average (GAA) and one shutout.
Facing the adversity of having to be a backup goaltender for the first time in his life has been more of a challenge than the young netminder probably expected, and that has shown in his play this season. However, that does not explain what has happened to his game during the Kings’ current slide.
In this stretch where the Kings have lost five of its last six games, Bernier is 0-2-0 with a .849 save percentage and a 4.68 GAA—absolutely horrific numbers.
But starting goalie Jonathan Quick’s numbers have also dipped during the slump, as he has a 1-2-0 record, a .894 save percentage and a 2.95 GAA during that span.
Looking at that, one could argue that the goaltenders, especially Bernier, should be playing better and that this is the cause of the Kings’ current woes.
However, while Bernier would be the first to tell you that he is not playing as well as he is capable, that assumption would be dead wrong.
Indeed, all one has to do is look at Bernier’s and Quick’s numbers, especially their save percentages, prior to the Kings’ current slide to understand what the real problem is.
Through November 13, Bernier was 1-1-0 with a .926 save percentage and a 2.01 GAA, while Quick was 10-1-0 with a .948 save percentage, a 1.44 GAA and one shutout—both netminders had outstanding statistics prior to the Kings’ current free fall.
When you compare their before-and-after numbers, it becomes crystal-clear that the Kings’ problems are not between the pipes, and that includes Bernier. Rather, the problem lies at the feet of the skaters in front of them—the defense is allowing opposing teams to waltz right into the slot and walk down to the front of the net, often unchecked, giving up point-blank scoring chances in bunches.
Indeed, it is no coincidence that Bernier’s and Quick’s numbers have taken a hit as the defensive coverage in front of them has been missing in action, and unless the skaters regain their focus and figure out their defensive assignments, their struggles are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
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