EL SEGUNDO, CA — The fact that the Los Angeles Kings averaged 2.85 goals per game in seven pre-season games does not mean very much, given different lineups and the fact that those games don’t count in the standings. That said, that number is a considerable improvement over the Kings 2016-17 numbers—they averaged a meager 2.43 goals per game last season. To be sure, their offense was anemic, and that’s putting it mildly.
But in the 2017-18 pre-season, the Kings emphasis on increased goal scoring and getting pucks and bodies to the front of the opponent’s net has been very much apparent. But even though the number of goals scored per game during the pre-season won’t mean much unless it turns out to be a harbinger of things to come in the regular season, what is significant is that the majority of the goals were scored either because of traffic in front of the net, or because shots came from dangerous areas of the ice, including right around the net.
“Time will tell, but I definitely liked what I saw in the pre-season,” said center and team captain Anze Kopitar. “The way we were making plays, we had a bit more quickness, and maybe a little bit more freedom on the ice, especially in the offensive zone. Now we’ve got to bring that onto the ice [in their season opener tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers. 7:00 PM PDT], and continue to do that.”
In addition to playing more in front of their opponent’s net, the Kings are also making a point of trying to create from behind the net, too—a new wrinkle to their offense.
“It’s one of the plans we had, going into the pre-season—to create more offense, and exploit the areas [of the ice] that are called ‘quiet areas,’” Kopitar noted. “One pretty good player—that space is named after him. He was pretty good at making plays [back] there. Behind the net is one of those quiet areas where you can create a lot of offense. We’re trying to make some plays out of that spot, and it’s been working pretty well, so far.”
For those who may not know who Kopitar was referring to, the area behind the net is often referred to as “Gretzky’s Office,” named after The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, who made play after play from behind the opposition’s net.
“That was one of the plays that we wanted to go to—making plays from the back of the net, and spend more time in the offensive zone. That’s what we’re trying to do,” said Kopitar.
But with all that emphasis on increased scoring, will the Kings end up sacrificing some defense?
In Kopitar’s own words, only time will tell. But he doesn’t seem to think so.
“We’re not going to sacrifice our defense just because we want to score more goals,” he said. “We’re not going to go out there and run and gun. We’re going to play within our system.”
“Once you hit the red line, you want to make plays,” he added. “They’re not going to be careless plays, but we also can’t be afraid to make some mistakes. Just because of the fact that our defense has been good, and we’ve got confidence, that, even if you turn the puck over once in a while, you’ll come back and catch it, and ultimately, [goaltender Jonathan Quick] is back there. He’s bailed us out more than enough times [for us] to know that he’s back there, so just go in there, play confidently, and try to make plays. That’s the key to creating more offense.”
After a pre-season in which the Kings ended up with a 5-1-1 record, Kopitar indicated that it’s time to get going for real.
“Pre-season—it’s always fun, to a certain degree, because you’re back, playing games,” he observed. “But at the same time, you know they don’t really mean anything.”
“At the end of the day, you just want to get back in the mix, playing meaningful games,” he added. “[Now that] the [pre-season is over], I think everyone is happy and excited for the actual start.”
Speaking of getting started, John Stevens is looking forward to making his regular season debut as the Kings head coach. But as exciting as that might be, he’s got more important things on his mind.
“We’re going to be a good team, I think,” he observed. “We’ve got to really be committed to playing fast, checking fast, and getting the puck back. We want to be a really good, structured, defensive team to allow us to have possession of the puck. That leads right into special teams, which I think is going to be important, especially early in the year. I think you’ve seen improvement there.”
“We have a real attack mindset to get to the net, on the rush, in the zone,” he added. “We like what we’ve been doing—some of the progress in those areas. We’ve still got to manage the puck and have a real responsibility—the puck carrier. But we would like to have that attack mindset as part of our identity.”
The Kings are going to have to accomplish their goal of increased goal scoring while maintaining their strong defensive play with more than a handful of young players and rookies in their lineup.
“Some of the guys we’ve added—I’ve said this all along—there are some young players on our team who had never played in the National Hockey League before, and last year, being exposed to it for the first time,” said Stevens. “Now they’re coming in with a reference point, and that’s huge.”
“[Adrian] Kempe, [Jonny] Brodzinski and guys like that, they know what the league’s all about now,” added Stevens. “They understand what it takes to be successful here, and now they’re worried about performing, and not just playing. We think that’s important, and if you add guys like [Oscar] Fantenberg and [Christian] Folin on the back end with some experience, and little guys that are a little bit older, I think that certainly helps you. I think that those new guys can help you. The fact that some of these young guys have experience, and the fact that all of those guys you were talking about—you can throw [Alex] Iafallo in there—they’ve got really good mobility, and a skill set that can hopefully translate into the way you want to play.”
Iafallo is expected to play tonight on the top line, with Kopitar and Dustin Brown.
“Sometimes you talk about a player, and you say, ‘the puck seems to follow him around,’” said Stevens. “It’s kind of a vague term, but in his case, it’s true. So you start to watch him, and you wonder why. He moves his feet, he’s a really smart player, he’s good positionally, he’s got a good skill set, but he plays the game with pace. I think because of that, he’s around the puck a lot, so you combine his skill set with his intelligence and he ends up being a pretty good player.”
“It just seemed like, the other night, it didn’t matter where we put him,” added Stevens. “The line kind of flourished. He’s not a 19 or 20-year-old rookie. He’s a kid coming out of college. He’s had lots of experience, he’s a little bit older, and I think that’s helped him. He’s been a pleasant surprise.”
“You get to see a guy like that in a development camp in the summer with young players, and you’ve got to remember some of those players are 18 years old. He’s older, and he’s been to several development camps over the course of his time. You start to say, ‘well, you’re cautiously optimistic,’ because you’re hoping he would look good in that environment, so we’re just waiting to see what he does when he gets to the next level and see if he can maintain what you’re seeing, and in his case, he’s been able to do that.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net
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