EL SEGUNDO, CA — Although the Los Angeles Kings showed signs that their offense might finally be running on all cylinders during their first handful of games to start the season, indications are that there is still a lot of work to do.
After eleven games and now, starting their second month of the 2011-12 campaign, the good news for the Kings is that their power play is ranked fourth in the National Hockey League, with a 23.1 percent rating (through games played on November 1).
That is a dramatic turnaround from their pathetic 2010-11 power play, which ranked 21st in the league with a paltry 16.1 percent rating.
Although the Kings have not been a model of consistency on their power play yet this season, movement by players away from the puck has been added to the equation, opening up considerably more quality scoring opportunities with the man advantage, compared to last season.
While the power play appears to be on the upswing to this point in the season, the Kings are still struggling in terms of five-on-five scoring, with just 16 goals in eleven games in five-on-five situations (ranked 22nd in the NHL).
The lack of five-on-five scoring has been a huge drag on the Kings’ overall offensive numbers, as they are ranked 21st in the league, averaging 2.36 goals-per game (GPG).
To put things into perspective, the Kings ended the 2010-11 season ranked 25th, scoring 2.55 GPG. In other words, there has been little overall improvement by the Kings in the attacking zone to this point in the still-young season, even with added firepower up front.
“We need that five-on-five scoring, we’ve talked about that over the past three years,” said head coach Terry Murray. “It had to be significantly better, and that’s the same position we’re in today. It needs to be significantly better.”
“I think it starts with our shot attitude, our mentality,” added Murray. “We’re [19th] in the league [through games played on November 1]—pucks at the net, we’re averaging [28.8 shots] per game, and that has to be the start of it. [We need] more pucks to the net, better traffic—more around the net. I thought the one thing out of the [last] three games that we played, we probably let the goalie see too many pucks that were coming towards him, making it a little too easy for them.”
The players acknowledged that shooting the puck and especially getting more traffic in front of opposing goaltenders is key.
“We’re getting a lot of shots, the last game especially [a 3-2 loss at Colorado on October 30], we outshot them pretty badly,” said defenseman Drew Doughty. “I think the main thing is getting more traffic in front of the net. We’re doing a good job of getting pucks to the net, we just need more traffic, and guys driving hard to the net.”
“We’re struggling to score goals at five-on-five,” added Doughty. “We just need to get back to our game—get pucks in deep, get on the forecheck, [create] those turnovers, crash the net hard, and get some pucks there. Hopefully, they’ll go in.”
“The goals are going to come. I feel like we’ve gotten unlucky a couple of times here lately, especially that last game in Colorado. We had so many opportunities that were so close to going in. As long as we get more traffic, and continue to shoot the puck the way we are, [pucks] are going to go in for us.”
But Murray said that it will take more than just shots and traffic in front.
“The other part of it, that, if you remember, we go back to the end of [last] year, and in the off-season, we talked about the power play, and what is it you want to see,” Murray explained. “My comment was to just get some movement going. That’s no different with the five-on-five.”
“I think we’re a little stagnant at times,” Murray elaborated. “We’re looking to pass the puck into the net from stationary situations, and that’s a really hard thing to do in today’s game.”
Movement away from the puck gives defenses a lot more to think about.
“You’ve got to break the teams down—their structure on the defensive part of the game,” Murray stressed. “That comes from movement from the forwards, and it means more involvement from our defensemen. Doughty, [Jack] Johnson, and [Alec] Martinez are three guys in particular, who are comfortable with getting involved in the offensive part of it, and I don’t mean joining the attack off the rush. I’m talking about when the play is in the offensive zone, and there’s a cycle, jumping through and getting to the net. Just become a decoy sometimes. To be a distraction for the defending team is a good thing.”
“We show it, at times,” Murray added. “But it needs to happen on a consistent basis so that there’s more instinctive offensive zone play.”
That said, the Kings are not in panic mode regarding their five-on-five struggles.
“We’re not that concerned, I don’t think,” said center Mike Richards. “Obviously, you want to score goals, but, at the same time, you don’t want to give up anything on the defensive side of the puck, too.”
“It’s a fine line,” added Richards. “Right now, we’re winning games by one goal and two goals. I think that’s the big thing right now. We’ve got to learn to win these games, and feel confident when we are in those close games. But, even though we’re not scoring a ton of goals, we’re not giving much up to [opponents] offensively. That’s the benefit of playing a good defensive zone system, and not trying to force the offense.”
Richards added that the Kings need some fine tuning in order to make the necessary adjustments, not wholesale changes.
“[We] just [need to] keep going,” he said. “You don’t need to change anything. It’s going to come, eventually. I think, with [his] line, we’re a little bit snake-bit. We’re getting a lot of chances, but we’re have a little trouble putting the puck in the net. But as long as we keep working, don’t stress [over] it too much, and [don’t] let it get into your head too much and [start forcing] the issue, it’s going to come, eventually.”
Indeed, forcing things has come back to haunt the Kings in recent games, with turnovers becoming a recurring theme in three of their last four games.
“Seems like there’s a lot of three-on-twos coming back our way,” Doughty noted. “We’d be [moving towards the offensive zone], but then, there would be a little turnover, and the next thing you know, there’s a three-on-two coming back into the defensive zone.”
“That’s something we need to eliminate,” Doughty added. “Turnovers are a key part to the [outcome] of games. I know our coaching staff tracks turnovers very closely, and we need to minimize those as best we can.”
Left wing Simon Gagne noted that no matter what the Kings might do to improve offensively, scoring in today’s NHL comes at a premium.
“I think, in five-on-five [situations], we’re getting good chances and we’re getting some goals from a lot of guys,” said Gagne, who sat out the last two games due to what was called a middle body injury. “The power play has been really good for us. That was something that the team wanted to improve. They wanted to improve, five-on-five, too, but it’s hard to score goals five-on-five, and that’s the reality of this league now. We’re not the only team, and that’s the way it’s been the last couple of years.”
“The last two teams that we played, they played a style of game that, sometimes, as a player, you don’t like to play against, and you try to force things too much,” added Gagne, who is expected to return to the lineup when the Kings host the Edmonton Oilers on November 3. “You try to take too many chances, and that’s what the other team wants you to do. The same thing [happened] against New Jersey [on October 25]. They’re the type of team who likes to play like that, and they want you to play like that against them. That’s what we did against those three teams, and we ended up with one point in Phoenix.”
“We need to find a way to realize that that’s the type of game that’s going to be played, and that we might have to win games 1-0, or in a shootout. It’s a frustrating style of hockey to play, but the way teams play now, you have to be ready for that, and be patient in those kinds of games.”
Just as Richards alluded to earlier, right wing Justin Williams pointed out that the Kings’ offensive attack is far from being dead in the water.
“We need to score more, five-on-five,” said Williams. “But we’re getting good offensive zone time, and if we’re taking time away from [opposing teams], being in their end, that’s going to be better for us defensively as well. But [the offense] will come around.”
“Every team wants consistency, every team wants to be at their best every night,” added Williams. “But even when we’re not at our best, we’re still hanging around and winning games.”
The game of hockey can also be rather fickle.
“You might look at the next ten games and say that the power play is struggling, but the five-on-five is doing all right,” Williams noted. “Hockey is a funny game. Some days, you’ll have a bunch of chances, and nothing will go in. [On another] day, nothing much will be going on, and you end up scoring a few five-on-five goals.”
In any event, the 2011-12 NHL season is still young, and with 70 games left in the regular season, the Kings have a lot of time to work on what needs fixing, and they are confident that they will be able to improve.
“So far, we’re happy with the way things are going for the first month, but we know we have to improve,” said Gagne. “That’s a good thing. I think we’ll be all right, because we’ve got a lot of guys here who can score goals for us.”
“Words are just words until we start doing it every night,” said Williams. “We need to start distancing ourselves from the [other teams] in our division, and make that push to be an elite team that can get to the next level.”
Raw Audio Interviews From the LA Kings Practice on November 1, 2011
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)
Mike Richards (3:10)
Drew Doughty (1:52)
Scott Parse (1:08)
Justin Williams (1:37)
Simon Gagne (4:16)
Terry Murray (11:25)
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