LOS ANGELES AND EL SEGUNDO, CA — Much has been said about the Los Angeles Kings and their struggling offense this season, one that has seen their power play improve rather dramatically from last season, when they ranked 21st in the National Hockey League, with a 16.1 percent rating.
This season, their power play is carrying them offensively, ranking seventh in the league with a 20.3 percent rating, through games played on November 15.
But like the last two seasons, the Kings are struggling to score at even strength, especially five-on-five, dragging them down to 23rd in the league in goals scored, with an average of 2.41 goals per game.
If you take a spin around the World Wide Web, criticism of the Kings’ system and the coaching staff abound. Many emphatically claim that the system that head coach Terry Murray has the Kings playing is archaic, that it stifles offensive production, and that it should be scrapped.
They also insist that Murray should be fired. A good portion also seem to want him run out of town on a rail, and that is putting it mildly.
Yet, one look at the NHL standings reveals that while the Kings are currently tenth in the Western Conference, and would miss the playoffs if they were to start today. Nevertheless, it is only mid-November, and they are just four points out of third place in the conference.
In other words, it is not time to panic. Indeed, it is still very early, and there is plenty of time. That said, the Kings cannot sit still and expect things to fix themselves. But if you take a close look at the Kings’ attack, or lack thereof, their problems in the attacking zone may not actually start there. Instead, it appears that they originate in their own zone.
Indeed, in the games in which the Kings have played well this season, they have moved the puck quickly up ice from their own zone, with good spacing between the defensemen and forwards (puck support). That makes for short, quicker passes on breakouts, helping the Kings generate speed on attack through the neutral zone and on the forecheck.
“People harp on us about scoring goals, but I don’t think it’s goal scoring that’s the problem, and tonight was an example [of that],” Kings right wing and team captain Dustin Brown said after a 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on November 12 at Staples Center. “If we get into the zone, we can [force turnovers and create pressure]. We’re a pretty good offensive zone team. What we’ve struggled with this year is getting the puck in deep, with pressure on.”
“If you have no pressure on the puck, it’s hard to play an offensive game,” Brown added. “The last four periods was a tell-tale sign of how we need to play, with the defensemen moving the puck a little quicker, and getting up the ice. We got in on the forecheck, and we [forced turnovers].”
“I was really happy with the defensemen tonight, the way they moved the puck,” said Murray. “It was one play and [then] it was moving [up ice to the forwards]. We found the middle of the ice with good, firm passes. We had some speed, we really advanced the puck on the attack, especially in the second period.”
Fixing their problems with puck support and moving the puck from the defensemen to the forwards quickly was something the Kings focused on at practice on November 11, and even though the Wild came out horribly flat, the Kings’ speed on attack had much to do with the outcome of their November 12 contest.
“We were moving it quicker, and we were supporting it better—it goes both ways,” said center Jarret Stoll. “You can’t expect the defensemen to move the puck quickly if there’s nobody there for support. It’s on both of us, the forwards and defensemen. They have to move it quick and hard. Flat passes. All those things go into it. Then, we’ve got to get our feet going.”
“If you have all of those things going, you’re going to be flowing, you’re going to be skating, you’re going to be making plays coming up the ice with good support,” added Stoll. “All of our center ice men can skate and handle the puck. It’s just a matter of getting the puck in the right places.”
“When our defensemen move the puck quickly, and get it into our forwards’ hands, it allows our forwards to get in on the forecheck in groups of two and three, instead of having one guy go in and try to forecheck.”
Stoll pointed specifically at problems with breakouts and puck support as a major factor in the Kings’ offensive woes.
“We were definitely struggling with moving the puck through the neutral zone, getting in on the forecheck—the timing of everything, whether we were there too early or too late,” Stoll stressed. “A split second is all we’re talking about. It’s reading and reacting—making the right reads.”
“If you make the wrong read, it’s over,” Stoll added. “You’re back in your zone now, chasing the game, chasing the puck. That’s energy you don’t want to be putting out there. You want to be putting energy into the forecheck, making plays in the offensive zone, shooting the puck, getting to loose pucks off rebounds. That’s the fun part of the game that you want to play.”
“They’re chasing us, and we’re coming [into the attacking zone] with built-up speed, and we’re getting in on the forecheck with that speed. That’s tough to defend [against]. I know it’s tough to defend when I’m going back into our zone, and [opponents] have a ton of speed on the forecheck. You know your defensemen are under pressure, and you’ve got to make a good play to get out.”
Now it comes down to executing that on a consistent basis. If the Kings can do that, even strength scoring should pick up, along with their won-loss record.
Speaking Of Scoring…
Since the summer, Murray has talked about his team having three lines that can score. The first line, with Simon Gagne, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams has led the way, with Kopitar out in front with eight goals and 13 assists for 21 points, ranking fifth in the league in overall scoring.
The second line, led by Mike Richards and Dustin Brown, along with a cast of characters who have filled in on left wing, is also starting to heat up.
But the third line has not carried its share of the load.
Not even close.
Led by Stoll at center, the third line, which has had various interchangeable parts on left and right wings all season long, has barely scratched the surface offensively.
So much for Murray’s three lines that can score.
No one can place the blame for that entirely on Stoll’s shoulders. Nevertheless, he has just one goal and five assists for six points in 17 games.
Stoll knows that he needs to find a way to score, but that he cannot focus too much not finding the net much to this point in the season.
“I don’t think you can be negative, or get down, or have that mentality where you’re pressing, and squeezing your stick,” Stoll emphasized. “You’ve got to put in the work. You have to realize that it’s not just going to happen. You’ve got to work through it, and you’ve got to work for your bounces and breaks.”
“Who knows…one will go in off your leg, or you might not even realize that you scored by driving the net, and it just goes in,” Stoll added. “You’ve just got to keep working, staying positive, shoot the puck, and move.”
Communication is also a key factor.
“You also have to talk with your line mates—communicate,” said Stoll. “We’re trying to do all those things. We had a couple of good shifts in the last game [against Minnesota]. We just have to work off of that, and build off of those [good shifts]. That’s how you have to approach it.”
Raw Audio Interviews from the Los Angeles Kings Practice On November 14, 2011
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)
Mike Richards (4:26)
arret Stoll (6:10)
Terry Murray (10:03)
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