Indeed, after raising their black, white and silver 2012 Stanley Cup banner on January 19, the Kings are now raising red flags due to their inconsistent play in the offensive zone, and lots of blatant defensive blunders in the neutral zone and especially in their own zone—they look nothing like the team that dominated the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
So what gives?
What stands out the most is the fact that veteran defensemen Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell are out of the lineup. The two eat up significant minutes on the blue line, they are key penalty-killers, and are often on the ice in key defensive situations.
To say that the Kings miss them would be a serious understatement. However, their woes extend well beyond the loss of Greene and Mitchell. In fact, turnovers and blatant coverage mistakes in their own zone have plagued the entire team, not just the two defensemen filling in for Greene and Mitchell, Davis Drewiske and Jake Muzzin, as many seem to believe. In fact, on the two even strength goals scored by Nashville during Thursday’s game, the Kings’ top defensive pair, Drew Doughty and Rob Scuderi, were on the ice, and both goals were scored as a direct result of defensive miscues—on both goals, Kings players were too focused on the puck, allowing easy, gift-wrapped scoring chances.
At Anaheim on February 2, blatant defensive blunders again plagued the Kings, resulting in a 7-4 loss, and again, although it may seem like Drewiske and Muzzin were the weak link, the miscues and turnovers continued when they were on the bench as well.
Head coach Darryl Sutter has noticed that his top defensive pair has been on the ice more than one would expect for goals against.
“We expect a lot out of [Doughty],” Sutter told the media following the loss at Nashville. “He and his partner are on the ice for too many goals against.”
“We didn’t take care of business,” Scuderi said following the loss at Anaheim. “We’re usually a good defensive hockey team, but if you’re not prepared to play the game, which we obviously weren’t tonight, mistakes lead to goals, and that’s what happened.”
The Kings had a lot of trouble on the penalty-kill at Anaheim as well, allowing three goals on four times shorthanded.
“The first three goals are things that we, as defensemen, have to clean up,” Scuderi noted. “Absolutely no excuses. The others were power play goals. That’s something that, as a unit, we’ve been pretty good. But there’s obvious some kinks we need to work [out]. There was some confusion out there tonight, and that can’t happen on a good team.”
Even at Columbus on February 5, where the Kings won, 4-2. Doughty coughed up the puck deep in the Kings’ zone early in the second period, directly leading to a goal by Columbus Blue Jackets center Derek Brassard.
In short, the Kings’ problems on the defensive side of the puck may stem from the loss of Greene and Mitchell, but they extend far beyond Drewiske and Muzzin, to all of the skaters. As Sutter pointed out after the loss at Anaheim, “Everybody’s got to play on the right side of the puck to win in this league. If you play on the wrong side of the puck, there’s a good chance you’re going to lose.”
To be sure, the Kings have been caught on the wrong side of the puck far too often to start this season, and much of what ails them has to do with what’s going on, or not going on, depending on how you want to look at it, between their ears.
In addition to the poor defensive play, another indication is that the Kings have gotten caught on far too many bad line changes to this point in the season, not to mention an unacceptable number of too many men on the ice penalties. Both issues are often attributed to fatigue, but they are just as often due to a lack of focus.
If the Kings expect to turn things around, they will certainly need to clean up their mental game. Without that, Greene and Mitchell could return tomorrow, and they would still be heading in the wrong direction.
Deal Or No Deal?
No one knows when Mitchell might return, and Greene will be unavailable until late March, if not well after that. With the Kings doing little more than spinning their wheels so far this season, and with their defensive play being a big, big part of their problems, many are calling for the Kings to make a deal for a physical, stay-at-home, defensive defenseman.
Although such a player would be an asset, the problem is the cost. Indeed, such players are a desperately coveted commodity, especially during this shortened season. Add to that the fact that given the Kings’ current situation, President/General Manager Dean Lombardi would be dealing from a position of weakness. As such, he would have to pay a very high price that is very, very likely to include a current player off their roster.
Of course, the Kings do have backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who asked for a trade last season. But without an NHL-ready goaltender in the Kings’ system, at the very least, Lombardi would have to get a decent goalie in return in any trade involving Bernier. That points to a multi-player deal involving Bernier and another Kings player, and it is not inconceivable that the additional player could come from the current roster.
Down on the farm, the Kings really have just one forward prospect who might be able to make an impact at the National Hockey League level, right wing Tyler Toffoli. But if they call him up and toss him into the fire now, as a first-year pro, they would run the risk of rushing a young kid to the NHL, which often ends up as a catastrophic failure, even for the most skilled young prospects.
Of course, potential trade partners will have their eyes on Toffoli as well.
In the final analysis, a trade to bring in a solid defensive defenseman would certainly help the Kings. But at the same time, that road is littered with potholes, with a few land mines hidden in there as well.
In other words, be careful about what you wish for. You just might get it…and more…or less, once again, depending on your point of view.
Game Highlights, Los Angeles Kings vs. Nashville Predators, February 7, 2013, Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tennesee
Game Highlights, Los Angeles Kings vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, February 5, 2013, Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio
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