EL SEGUNDO, CA — Much has been said this season about the Los Angeles Kings and their acute lack of anything closely resembling a collective scoring punch.
To illustrate, the Kings are scoring an average of 2.45 goals per game (ranked 23rd in the National Hockey League), more than one goal per game less than the league-leading Pittsburgh Penguins and just a hair over half-a-goal per game more than the league-worst Colorado Avalanche.
But the Kings’ recent problems go beyond goal scoring. Indeed, whether it’s turnover that gives the opposition an outnumbered attack, a defenseman getting beaten wide, or a blown coverage, the Kings have been somewhat of a mess in all three zones.
“We’re just giving up too much,” said forward Dustin Brown. “This is a team that has been very good defensively but the last few weeks, we haven’t been.”
“I think we just need to tighten up our game,” added Brown. “We’re having a hard time scoring and we have to address that. But if we tighten up our game, there will be more opportunities at the other end.”
One source of their problems is that lately, the forwards and defensemen have not always been in lockstep with each other.
“There’s been a disconnect between what we’re doing up ice and our defensemen,” Brown noted. “When the forwards are doing their job, it makes it easier for the defensemen and the goalies to do their job.”
“Right now, we’re having a breakdown on the forecheck, which gaps out the defensemen and then, you’ve got a guy coming at you with speed,” Brown added. “That’s how it works. Our system works really well when we’ve got everybody on the same page.”
“We need to play in five-man units,” said forward Trevor Lewis. “When we’re a successful team, we’re getting the puck deep in the offensive zone, we’re holding onto pucks, and when we turn a puck over, there’s someone there to cover so there aren’t those odd-man rushes.”
“We’ve just got to get back a simple game,” added Lewis. “Forecheck, get the puck back, get it up top, get it to the net and create those greasy chances and then, have our defensemen pinch down—there’s always that third forward hanging back to cover up so they don’t get those odd-man rushes.”
The Kings appear to be focusing on fixing problems with their checking game.
“We have to clean up our checking game,” Lewis emphasized. “That’s been what’s made us successful in recent years. When we’re a good team, we’re checking, not defending. When they get the puck, we’re hard on them. We get the puck back and we’re gone. When we defend and we let’em loop all over, that’s when guys get tired. That’s when we get in trouble.”
“Whether it’s a defenseman jumping up into the play and a forward turning it over, giving the other team a 2-on-1 break, or a defenseman pinching down the wall and a forward isn’t there to cover for him, it’s something we’ve got to clean up and get back to,” Lewis added. “We just need to get back to that assertiveness—quick on, get the puck and get going.”
Brown said that problems with the checking game began after the Kings’ five-day, league-mandated bye week (February 10-14, inclusive).
“I feel like [the defensive breakdowns were] really evident coming off our break,” he noted. “But if we can tighten that up, we’ll get three, four or five more chances at the other end—you’re scoring more. If you take care of that one end, you get more opportunities at the other.”
“When we’re on our game—one of our best games was a game we lost in New York [against the Rangers on January 23],” he added. “We might’ve given up four or five scoring chances, and we lost, 3-2. That’s sometimes how the game goes. But if we play games where we’re only giving up four or five scoring chances—in our last game, Vancouver got four or five odd-man rushes, let alone scoring chances. When you see that from our team, we’ve got to dial it back in.”
“When we’re on our game—there’s other players around the league that I’ve talked to and other guys have talked to. It’s a grind to play against us. That’s what you want. But right now, we’re making mistakes on the forecheck which kind of flows through the rest of our game.”
After all that, how do they fix what ails them?
“It’s just down to the individual,” said Brown. “Player by player, we’ve got to be better. That’s on everyone. If we’re all better, individually, it all comes together, right? We’re just leaning on each other right now.”
To be sure, the Kings’ offensive woes are as much about a lack of depth up front as it is anything else. Nevertheless, both Brown and Lewis made valid points. Indeed, if the Kings can fix the problems they described, they’ll give up a lot less in their own zone and spend a lot more time in the attacking zone.
But then there’s that whole lack of depth up front thing again…
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Brown, shown here at a recent practice. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
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Lots of young guys in the lineup right now Kemp, dowd, ladue, gravel, forbs. I truly believed that greene would have reclaimed his 3rd pairing spot by the playoffs, and him being injured is a big loss for us. So now we are having to split our 3 most veteran dmen on each pairing…drew, muzz, amart.
2 of the problems I see are 1) When the Kings are in the offensive zone they rarely get the puck in the middle of the ice. It makes them very easy to guard if you can only go 1 way because of the boards. 2) In the defensive zone when they are pressured they look to pass the puck for a breakout, but sometimes the goal is just to get the puck out of the zone and across the blue line to make the other team reset.