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2011-12 Year-In-Review: Quick, Blue Line Corps Were LA Kings’ Greatest Strengths

Los Angeles Kings superstar goaltender Jonathan Quick,
shown here during the team’s Stanley Cup Championship Rally
on June 14, 2012, at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
(click to view larger image)
Photo: David Sheehan/FrozenRoyalty.net

LOS ANGELES — While the Los Angeles Kings struggled mightily to score goals throughout most of the 2011-12 regular season, the addition of forward Jeff Carter, and the recalls of rookie left wings Dwight King and Jordan Nolan, along with rookie defenseman Slava Voynov, gave the team balance throughout their lineup. That balance allowed head coach Darryl Sutter to add a new wrinkle to their system, one that gave them the ability to play much more aggressively on the puck, while maintaining, if not strengthening, their already very solid defensive zone play.

The Kings were able to use those changes to their advantage during the final two months of the regular season to squeak into the playoffs, and then, make their dominating run through Vancouver, St. Louis, Phoenix and New Jersey during the playoffs, on their way to the first Stanley Cup Championship in the 45-year history of the franchise.

In the fourth installment of this 2011-12 Year-In-Review series, we looked at the forwards. In this installment, we focus on the defensemen and goaltenders.

Defensemen

Drew Doughty

Season
GP
G
A
P
+/-
PIM
PP
SH
GW
OT
S
TOI
2011-12 Reg. Season
77
10
26
36
-2
69
1
3
3
1
168
24:53
2011-12 Playoffs
20
4
12
16
11
14
1
0
0
0
44
26:08
2010-11 Reg. Season
76
11
29
40
13
68
5
0
3
0
139
23:11
2010-11 Playoffs
6
2
2
4
0
8
1
0
1
0
16
22:48

LEGEND: GP = Games Played; G = Goals; A = Assists; P = Points; +/- = Plus/Minus; PIM = Penalties In Minutes; PP = Power Play Goals; SH = Shorthanded Goals; GW = Game Winning Goals; OT = Overtime Goals; S = Shots ;TOI = Average Time On Ice

After being a contract holdout last summer and into the fall, Doughty missed all but the last day or two of the Kings 2012 training camp, and like virtually all contract holdouts, Doughty got off to a very, very slow start in 2011-12. Although an early right shoulder injury, didn’t help matters, Doughty scored just two goals in his first 35 games, and just three after playing in 45 games. He even suffered through a 24-game goal scoring drought.

Being way behind his teammates in terms of his strength, conditioning and timing was not Doughty’s only problem.

“[Signing the big contract was one of] the bigger reasons why I struggled the first half of the year,” said Doughty. “I put all that pressure on myself with the big contract. I just wasn’t doing the things I knew I could.”

“I wasn’t happy coming to the rink every day,” added Doughty. “I was disappointed in my play. I was disappointed that I wasn’t playing up to the standards I had got myself into.”

Although Doughty played well in his own zone, for the most part, he is not the highest-paid player on the team just to be a stopper in his own end. Indeed, Doughty is also paid to score goals, especially on the power play. But as the statistics mentioned above indicate, he was not close at all to getting the job done in that regard for more than half the season.

Doughty finally found his game in early February. At that point, he was skating better, looked stronger, and the goals finally started to come for him, with seven of his ten goals on the season being scored after January 31.

Even his defensive play improved, most notably, during the playoffs.

“Throughout the whole playoffs, I think I’ve played pretty well, defensively, and that’s my main objective, playing against the other team’s top line,” he noted. “I have to be at my best every night, on the defensive end of the puck. I’ve really focused on defense a lot. I think my defensive game has gotten so much better, especially since my first two years. I think a lot of that has to do with maturity, and learning the game.”

Also on the plus side, Doughty made some progress towards getting his point shot through traffic on the power play. A big factor in that was losing that big, high, show-off wind-up on his slap shot that gave defenders all the time in the world to block his shot, or take away his shooting lane. More improvement will be needed in this aspect of his game, however, as the super-high wind up began to creep back into his game after Thanksgiving.

Doughty also exhibited greater maturity on the ice this past season, learning to control his emotions, especially in terms of dealing with officials. To be sure, by the end of the 2010-11 season, Doughty had developed a bit of a reputation with the officials, as he often ripped into them. But that changed in 2011-12, as that became a rare sight.

The added maturity also applies to his off-ice routine.

“He’s gone through a lot over the last few years,” said forward and team captain Dustin Brown. “He’s grown up a little bit, in terms of off-ice, taking care of himself. Even this year, his practice habits have progressively gotten better.”

“You see him in the weight room more, and not only that, but it’s not someone dragging him in there like it was during his first couple of years,” added Brown. “That’s the one thing that stands out to me. Little things like that add up. I mean, I wish I had someone to drag me into the weight room when I was 18 or 19 years old. But I learned it, eventually, on my own. He’s starting to do the same thing.”

“He’s growing up,” defenseman Matt Greene noted. “It takes a little bit longer for a defenseman to mature in this league, and Drew had a lot of success early on. It comes to the point where you’re different from a young player. Now you’re an everyday player, and you’ve got to have that same level every night. I think he’s realized that, he’s matured into it, and now, he’s taking advantage of it.”

Next season, Doughty must raise his game to the next level, meaning that he needs to become more consistent offensively, in addition to continuing his strong defensive zone play. Further, if he cannot improve his play at the offensive blue line, the Kings power play is likely to continue to struggle next season.

Willie Mitchell

Season
GP
G
A
P
+/-
PIM
PP
SH
GW
OT
S
TOI
2011-12 Reg. Season
76
5
19
24
20
44
0
0
2
0
104
22:13
2011-12 Playoffs
20
1
2
3
7
16
1
0
0
0
30
25:19
2010-11 Reg. Season
57
5
5
10
4
21
0
1
1
0
59
21:48
2010-11 Playoffs
6
1
1
2
1
4
0
0
0
0
8
24:17

Although Doughty is the most talented defenseman on the team, Mitchell was a no-brainer pick by the local media as the Kings’ best defenseman in 2011-12. He was easily their most reliable defenseman, especially in the defensive zone, and was almost always on the ice in key defensive situations.

A defensive defenseman by trade, Mitchell saw limited time on the power play, but his biggest contributions certainly came in the defensive zone, and he was their best defenseman on the penalty-kill.

The Kings will be looking for more of the same from Mitchell next season—he was signed to a two-year contract on February 24, valued at $7 million.

Slava Voynov

Season
GP
G
A
P
+/-
PIM
PP
SH
GW
OT
S
TOI
2011-12 Reg. Season
54
8
12
20
12
12
3
0
2
0
86
18:32
2011-12 Playoffs
20
1
2
3
1
4
0
0
0
0
28
19:31

Voynov was a big surprise, even though anyone following Kings prospects knew he was a skilled, offensive defenseman.

What few knew was how good.

“He’s a good defenseman, who moves the puck really well, shoots the puck well, and has good offensive instincts,” said Mitchell, who is paired with Voynov on the Kings’ blue line. “I partnered with him in training camp, while Drew was a [contract] holdout, so I got partnered with him [now]. He’s a young, offensive defenseman. He’s played [at the professional level] for a long time. He played over in Russia, too, so it’s not like he’s a young guy who hasn’t played the pro game.”

“Slava has a great shot, and he lets it go a lot, which is something we need, especially since we were struggling to score goals for awhile,” said veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi. “Getting pucks to the net is always a big thing, and he’s been doing a great job.”

“That’s something you can’t teach,” added Scuderi. “[He has] it, and we expect [him] to do it. [He has] that knack for knowing when the play is going to be there, and to get to the right spot at the right time.”

Just 22 years old, Voynov showed that he still has a lot to learn about defensive zone play, and that he needs to get into the weight room during the off-season to bulk up and build strength to enable him to be more effective along the boards, in the corners, and in front of his own net.

“The biggest thing for any young guy coming up, especially a defenseman, is consistency,” Scuderi noted. “At times, he’ll still try to do a little bit too much. But when you have that kind of talent, that’s your stumbling block.”

“We’ve been trying to work with [Voynov] on the defensive part of his game, so that we can play him against higher-end players,” said Sutter. “The big thing I’ve tried to work with him on is his stick. He’s not a big guy, but he’s going to get stronger, and he’s usually the youngest defenseman on the ice.”

“It’s just the use of his stick,” added Sutter. “The best guy I’ve ever seen who was his size, and could use the stick to make himself play bigger, was Chris Chelios. That’s what he has to learn. He’s got to use his stick as a deterrent more, and take full [advantage of it] more. If keep your stick in close to you, you’re only covering two to three feet. But if you get it out, and you’re strong on it, you can cover five or six more feet.”

But his ability to handle the puck, move it, make that first pass out of his zone, not to mention his play at the far blue line, was, at times, breathtaking, and often made you forget about his defensive shortcomings. In any case, his play not only allowed President/General Manager Dean Lombardi to trade defenseman Jack Johnson to the Columbus Blue Jackets as part of the deal that brought Carter to the Kings at the trade deadline, but it also put a right-hand shot into the right defenseman spot on the team’s second defensive pair, replacing the left-handed Johnson.

During the playoffs, Voynov scored a goal and contributed two assists for three points in twenty games. But there were several times when he looked rather jittery, as if he was skating with a hand grenade at the end of his stick—chalk that up to the pressure of the NHL playoffs on a rookie.

For Voynov to be the impact player the Kings need, he must make big strides in the strength department this summer, and must improve his defensive zone play next season.

Matt Greene

Season
GP
G
A
P
+/-
PIM
PP
SH
GW
OT
S
TOI
2011-12 Reg. Season
82
4
11
15
4
58
0
0
2
0
76
16:40
2011-12 Playoffs
20
2
4
6
9
12
0
1
1
0
17
16:05
2010-11 Reg. Season
71
2
9
11
3
70
0
0
1
0
50
16:58
2010-11 Playoffs
6
0
0
0
-3
14
0
0
0
0
6
16:44

Like Mitchell, Greene was often on the ice in crucial defensive zone situations, most notably, on the penalty-kill. Due to his usually solid defensive zone play, along with his ability to play a physical brand of defense, he was often paired with Mitchell in the most critical defensive zone situations, especially late in the season and in the playoffs.

Greene will never be fleet of foot, but what he lacks in skating ability, he more than makes up for with his determination and heart, two big reasons why he is one of the team’s alternate captains.

More of the same from Greene will be exactly what the doctor ordered for next season.

Alec Martinez

Season
GP
G
A
P
+/-
PIM
PP
SH
GW
OT
S
TOI
2011-12 Reg. Season
51
6
6
12
-1
0
3
0
0
0
78
14:43
2011-12 Playoffs
20
1
2
3
5
8
0
0
1
0
24
14:28
2010-11 Reg. Season
60
5
11
16
11
18
1
0
0
0
74
15:16
2010-11 Playoffs
6
0
1
1
2
0
0
0
0
0
5
13:29

It took a bit of time for Martinez to endear himself to his new head coach after Sutter took over, but before long, Martinez picked up his game and secured his spot on the third defensive pair, with Greene on the right side.

“Partially, it was a numbers issue, and, partially, I needed to be better,” he admitted. “I’ve been trying to focus on staying—I guess, on just when I see a play, make it. I had to get a little bit better, start making plays, and start playing with that confidence again.”

“Overall, there’s things that I can work on,” he added. “In the defensive zone, it’s closing on guys quickly. That’s something Darryl’s really [stressed] since he’s been here, little things like that. I’ve been working on [things], I’d like to think [the work] has been paying off.”

Although he is not the offensive talent that Doughty is, or even Voynov, Martinez has a knack for not only getting his shot through from the point, but for making sure that there is a rebound in front for the forwards to pounce on.

“Every single guy is lined up in the [shooting] lane, but Marty always seems to find a way to get his shot through,” said Scuderi. “That’s something the best offensive defensemen do. They just find a way to get [the puck to the front of the net]. It doesn’t have to be super hard. As long as you get it past that first forward, usually, the puck hits something. It bounces in front of your forward. Good things happen when you get pucks and bodies to the front of the net, and he’s one of those guys who consistently gets it there.”

“I know, for the most part, you’re not going to score from up there [at the blue line],” said Martinez. “This is the NHL. The goalies are good, so you’re not going to score [except on rare occasions] from that distance. But if I can get it in there, [and we] can get a rebound with some traffic in front—if I can get it there, and give them the opportunity, I like our chances.”

“You’re not necessarily trying to pick a corner from all the way out there,” added Martinez. “You’re trying to put it on his pads, or something like that, just to create a rebound. Sometimes, it doesn’t have to be a real hard shot. You’ve just got to get it there, give it a chance.”

Martinez needs to add more muscle to his frame, and continue to work on his defensive zone play, even though that has improved considerably since joining the Kings last season.

Rob Scuderi

Season
GP
G
A
P
+/-
PIM
PP
SH
GW
OT
S
TOI
2011-12 Reg. Season
82
1
8
9
-7
16
0
0
0
0
63
20:36
2011-12 Playoffs
20
0
1
1
9
4
0
0
0
0
11
21:44
2010-11 Reg. Season
82
2
13
15
1
16
0
0
1
0
46
20:17
2010-11 Playoffs
6
0
2
2
-1
0
0
0
0
0
3
20:49

Scuderi may be the smartest of the Kings defensemen. To be sure, he is not a great skater, nor does he have the hands that Doughty, Voynov and Martinez have. But what he lacks, in terms of skill, speed, or agility, he makes up for with brains and heart. He has a knack for being in the right place at the right time to make plays in the defensive zone, whether it’s blocking a shot, breaking up a passing play, or being able to jump on a loose puck and clear the zone. Perhaps just as important, he is one of those defensemen that you rarely notice, which is always an indication that a defenseman is consistently getting the job done in his defensive zone.

As with Mitchell and Greene, more of the same will be needed from Scuderi in 2012-13, the final year of his contract.

NOT EVALUATED: Davis Drewiske (only played in nine games).

Goaltenders

Jonathan Quick

Season
GP
GS
W
L
OT
SA
GA
GAA
SV
SV%
SO
TOI
2011-12 Reg. Season
69
69
35
12
13
1863
133
1.95
1730
.929
10
4099:26
2011-12 Playoffs
20
20
16
4
0
538
29
1.41
509
.946
3
1238:12
2010-11 Reg. Season
61
60
35
22
3
1631
134
2.24
1497
.918
6
3590:34
2010-11 Playoffs
6
6
2
4
3
229
20
3.16
209
.913
1
380:15

LEGEND: GP = Games Played; GS = Games Started; W = Wins; L = Losses; GA = Goals Allowed; SA =Shots Allowed (Faced); GA = Goals Allowed; GAA = Goals Against Average; SV = Saves; SV% = Save Percentage; SO = Shutouts; TOI = Time On Ice

Given the season Quick had, what needs to be said? He was, in a word, unbelievable. He should have won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender in the regular season, even though New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who won the award, was certainly worthy.

Quick was the biggest reason that the Kings were still in the hunt for a playoff spot by the time the trade deadline came around in late February. Without his eye-popping, elite-level play, the Kings would have been making their off-season golf course reservations by late January…perhaps sooner.

If his second straight season of stellar play in goal did not establish him as one of the NHL’s elite netminders, his play during the 2012 playoffs did, as his 1.41 goals-against average and .946 save percentage indicate. He was a no-brainer pick for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs.

Now signed to a ten-year contract extension (beginning in 2013-14) with an average annual value of $5.8 million per year, Quick is one of the top three goaltenders in the league, if not the best. Will he handle the added pressure that the extra scrutiny will bring? Given his history, that is not likely something the Kings will need to worry about.

Jonathan Bernier

Season
GP
GS
W
L
OT
SA
GA
GAA
SV
SV%
SO
TOI
2011-12 Reg. Season
16
13
5
6
2
383
35
2.36
348
.909
1
890:12
2010-11 Reg. Season
25
22
11
8
3
652
57
2.48
595
.913
3
1370:15

Given that Quick has risen to superstar status, Bernier knew that it was going to be another year of having to sit and wait for a chance to play, to show what he is capable of. But he played so sparingly—just 16 games spread throughout the season, that he never really got much of a chance to do so—he could never stay sharp under those circumstances, even though, as the saying goes, the backup goaltender always has to be ready.

To his credit, Bernier has grown up. He never once pouted about his situation the last two seasons. He continued to work hard in practice, and he was always there to support Quick, and the rest of his teammates.

Various sources have reported that Bernier has asked to be traded, which should not be a surprise, under the circumstances. The question is: when will he be dealt?

One reason he may not be traded soon is because the Kings do not appear to have an NHL-ready backup in their system. Indeed, their most experienced netminder playing at the American Hockey League level was Jeff Zatkoff, but the Kings decided to allow him to leave as an unrestricted free agent so that he could get a chance with another NHL team (the Pittsburgh Penguins signed him). That leaves Martin Jones, who just completed his second season with the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL, the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate.

The Kings can also afford to wait for the right offer, one that would net them a greater return than if they were to deal Bernier before 2012 training camps open.

But if the Kings do not grant Bernier’s wish by then, will he pout? That is a possibility, but probably a very remote one, given his behavior and demeanor the last two seasons, as mentioned above.


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6 Responses to 2011-12 Year-In-Review: Quick, Blue Line Corps Were LA Kings’ Greatest Strengths

  1. Pingback: 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings Year-In-Review: Front Office Turnaround Set Stanley Cup Run In Motion « Frozen Royalty

  2. Pingback: 2011-12 Year-In-Review: Doughty Holdout, Failure To Execute In Offensive Zone Almost Sunk LA Kings Early « Frozen Royalty

  3. Pingback: 2011-12 Year-In Review: Coaching Change, Three Rookies, Big Trade Help LA Kings Reach For The Stars « Frozen Royalty

  4. Pingback: 2011-12 Year-In-Review: Can LA Kings Forwards Reach The Next Level After Stanley Cup Win? « Frozen Royalty

  5. Richard Strub says:

    I believe Voynov is only 22 years of age, not 26.

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