LOS ANGELES AND EL SEGUNDO, CA — Since taking over the reins as head coach of the Los Angeles Kings on December 20, 2011, head coach Darryl Sutter has already juggled his line combinations a few times, trying anything to get his team’s struggling offense going.
The first, most notable change was to move center Mike Richards to left wing on the first line, with center Anze Kopitar and right wing Dustin Brown.
Despite the move, the Kings’ offense remained locked in its deep freeze. But Sutter shuffled the deck again when the Kings hosted the Alexander Ovechkin-led Washington Capitals on January 9, at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
For that game, Sutter moved right wing Justin Williams up to the first line with Kopitar, while Brown skated across the blue line to left wing, where he prefers to be while on the attack.
The result: The Kings dominated the high-powered Capitals in a 5-2 victory, and have not looked back.
Indeed, since that game, the Kings have scored 17 goals in those five games, averaging 3.40 goals-per game (GPG), with the line of Brown, Kopitar and Williams combining for eight goals and ten assists for 18 points.
Although the Kings still rank dead last in the league in scoring with an average of 2.15 GPG, that 3.40 GPG clip would place them second in goals per game in the National Hockey League, behind the league-leading Boston Bruins (3.54 GPG).
Indeed, after struggling mightily for much of the season, the offense is finally coming around. But how?
“Maybe we’re more aggressive, which is causing turnovers,” said Richards. “But we knew that if we stuck with the system, we would, eventually, get some opportunities.”
“We’re getting goals from four different lines, and all six defensemen are contributing, so we’re not just looking at one guy, which is nice,” added Richards.
“I think it’s just that we’ve been playing a little different,” said Kopitar. “There’s a lot more energy in our game.”
Kopitar has put the team on his back during this five-game stretch, scoring three goals and adding four assists for seven points, with two goals and one assist coming on the power play, while shutting down the opposition’s top center, and killing penalties.
Speaking of the power play, which has been in snooze mode since mid-November, it woke up during this five-game stretch, with the Kings scoring six times during 19 power play opportunities, good for a 31.6 percent rating.
“We’re feeling good, we’re making plays, we’re getting the traffic in front, and we’re making the second effort,” said Williams. “That’s what’s getting us chances, and that’s what’s getting us goals. We’ve tweaked a few things [on the power play].”
Williams stressed that the Kings’ power play cannot go back into the doldrums.
“We’re still sitting at the bottom of the league [offensively],” he noted. “We need to keep [the power play] going and make it an offensive weapon for us.”
One such play was during their 4-1 win at Calgary on January 14, when Kopitar used his size and strength to park himself in front of the net, where he was able to use his body and quickness to beat his man to a loose puck and wrist it into the net on the power play.
The Kings also utilized good movement without the puck during that power play shift.
“It doesn’t really matter, even on the power play, where our positions are,” Kopitar noted. “Brown ended up on the half-wall, and it happens so quickly out there. Brown had control, and Williams and I were parked in front. We made a play off of that. We were fortunate that the puck squirted out [into the low slot], and I was able to put it in.”
As the old saying goes in the NHL, especially when a team is not getting good bounces of the puck, teams make their own luck. For the Kings, who seemed to be getting nothing but bad bounces since mid-November, it seems that the puck is finally starting to bounce their way for a change.
“We’re getting bounces,” said Richards. “It’s nice to get a couple, finally. [Williams’] goal on the power play [during a 3-2 shootout win at Vancouver on January 17], the puck ends up on his stick, and he makes a good play. Those were the bounces that we weren’t getting earlier. We knew if we just stuck with it, eventually, it would come.”
Brown and Kopitar have played on the same line for most of the season, so it is easy to point to Williams as the obvious difference-maker for the line. But it goes well beyond his presence.
“He brings a lot of composure and playmaking ability,” Kopitar emphasized. “He doesn’t give up the puck as easy as you [might] think. Granted, he’s not the biggest guy, but he holds onto it pretty good, and he protects it well.”
“He makes those five or ten-foot passes that are turning out to be huge plays—those that create a two-on-one, or a three-on-two.”
Raw Audio Interviews: January 18, 2012
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)
Mike Richards (3:13)
Anze Kopitar (4:38)
Tickets for the Kings’ upcoming games against the Colorado Avalanche (January 21, 2012, 7:30 PM – Avalanche vs. Kings), the Ottawa Senators (January 23, 7:30 PM – Senators vs. Kings), as well as for other games on their schedule, are available from Barry’s Tickets, an official partner of the Los Angeles Kings. Use the code, “Royalty010” to get a 10 percent discount on their “Best Value” tickets.
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