2010-11 NHL season preview: Los Angeles Kings

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for doughty.jpgLast season: (46-27-9, 101 points, 3rd in Pacific Division, 6th in Western Conference) Last season was a big step forward for the Kings. They went from one of the worst teams in the West to the sixth seed. Drew Doughty burst onto the scene and became a Norris Trophy candidate while Jonathan Quick managed a Brodeurian workload. Most look at last season as a stepping stone for bigger things to come.

Head coach: Speaking of stepping stones, Terry Murray seems like the right kind of coach to help a team transition between a bad one and a solid one. He preaches defensive responsibility and seems like a solid bench boss, but I get the feeling the Kings won’t be true contenders until they hire a proven entity.

Key departures: F Alex Frolov, D Sean O’Donnell, F Jeff Halpern, F Fredrik Modin. The Kings might have been better off if they brought back Frolov, but it was clear that the Kings and Frolov had a falling out last season. O’Donnell is a steady defenseman but is far from irreplaceable. Halpern and Modin are two injury-prone guys who can bring something to the table but won’t be missed too dearly.

Key arrivals: D Willie Mitchell, F Alex Ponikarovsky. Mitchell is the big coup of free agency for the Kings. If he can stay healthy, he’ll provide L.A. with a genuine shutdown defenseman. Ponikarovsky seems to be a replacement for Frolov. He flopped badly with the Penguins, but the Kings hope he can be the useful player he was with Toronto.

Under pressure: The Kings top line is under pressure for a simple reason: the rest of the team won’t provide much offensive punch. They don’t really have a true second-line center (Michal Handzus and Jarret Stoll are nice checking centers, but won’t score very often) and get pretty thin at wing once you get past Dustin Brown, Ryan Smyth and eternally-injured Justin Williams. Anze Kopitar, in particular, will face a lot of pressure.

quick2.jpgProtecting the house: Quick is coming off a strong season, even if it was more on the ‘quantity over quality’ side. The team could probably get into the playoffs based on his play alone, but the other Jonathan (Bernier) will make things interesting. It’s unclear if he’ll be able to take the top job from Quick this season, but the Kings might have two solid goalies on their hands at a cheap price, something many teams envy.

Doughty is truly a force of nature. It’s one thing that he’s blessed with incredible talent, but he also possesses the hockey IQ of a veteran defenseman. To imagine that he might just be scratching the surface of his potential is staggering. Beyond Doughty, the Kings have a great shutdown guy in Mitchell, a promising, if occasionally infuriating, talent in Jack Johnson and another solid defense-oriented player in Rob Scuderi. Many teams seem to focus on forwards and goalies, but the Kings are built from the blueline.

Top line we’d like to see: Smyth-Kopitar-Williams. When healthy, this trio is an impressive first line. Smyth is fearless when attacking the net, Kopitar is possibly the most underrated center in the NHL, while Williams can bring speed and goal scoring skill to the table.

Oh captain, my captain: Dustin Brown is one of the many young captains in the NHL, but he breaks certain trends by throwing his body around with reckless abandon. I’m not sure if he’s a natural leader, yet Brown hopes to get the job done by leading by example.

Street fighting man: With Raitis Ivanans ‘playing’ in Calgary now, the Kings lack an obvious fighter. Beyond that fearsome enforcer, it honestly doesn’t seem like the Kings really emphasize fighting anyway, but we’ll see if Wayne Simmonds or someone else picks up the pugilistic mantle.

Thumbnail image for ryansmyth.jpgBest-case scenario: The Kings make a big jump from a middle of the pack Western Conference team to Stanley Cup champions thanks to great goaltending and fantastic defense led by Doughty. Smyth and Williams stay relatively healthy to support Anze Kopitar on a great first line while Brown and Ponikarovsky provide timely offense. Johnson flourishes while Mitchell stays healthy.

Worst-case scenario: Doughty plateaus, the team tunes Murray out and injuries and a lack of depth keep the Kings from producing consistent offense. The Kings barely make the playoffs and then the Sharks punt L.A. out in the first round, leaving Dean Lombardi & Co. to ask what’s next.

Keeping it real: Los Angeles should be able to get solid goaltending from one or both of the Jonathans. Their defense is among the best in the league, particularly with their top two pairs. Kopitar is a truly elite player who would receive a lot more credit if he played in the East. Those are the positives, but this team could be very shallow, especially if they get hit by injuries. They could win the division, yet I’m inclined to say they will probably finish second in the Pacific and fifth in the West.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, the Kings justify a 4. If they manage to land another scorer or two via trade, waiver pickup or a late free agent signing, their ceiling might be even higher.

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    Fights, hits and a blown kiss: Stars and Blues get nasty

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    Things were getting out of hand between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues on the scoreboard in an eventual 6-1 Blues win.

    They were also getting a little raucous on the ice when it was clear that the Stars weren’t going to stage a comeback.

    Jamie Benn was whistled for cross-checking Alex Pietrangelo, but it was Stephen Johns‘ hit from behind on Pietrangelo really revved up the violence.

    Watch that hit and then the scrum that ensued in the video above, which included a scary display of an angry Ryan Reaves … who got creative at the end.

    You may also want the kiss alone, so here it is:

    Memo: rough stuff might not work so well against the Blues.

    Read about that blowout here.

    Blues bombard Stars, go up 2-1 in series

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    Sometimes a final score is misleading. In the case of the St. Louis Blues’ 6-1 thrashing of the Dallas Stars, it might just be the start of the story.

    Honestly, the most positive thing the Stars can say is “Well, at least it was just one game.”

    It was one ugly game, however, and now the Blues hold a 2-1 series lead with a chance to really take control if they can win Game 4 at home.

    The Blues dominated just about every category on Tuesday, firing more shots on goal, enjoying better special teams play and throwing more hits. They even blocked a higher number of shots, which often isn’t the case for the squad that carries play.

    This leaves the Stars picking up the pieces, especially when it comes to their work in their own end.

    Do you put greater blame on struggling goalies Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi or is this more about the Stars’ lax defensive coverage? The scary answer may be “Both,” and the Stars likely know that they need to find answers quickly.

    On the bright side for Dallas, it is just one game … and the Blues were searching for answers of their own after Game 1.

    We saw the Blues turn things around with these two straight wins, so now the Stars must show that they can gather themselves and play the attacking, out-score-your-mistakes style that got them here.

    Granted, they may have to keep an eye out for supplemental discipline after some rough stuff toward the end of the game.

    Predators smash Sharks to get back in series

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    After a dispiriting 1-0 goal allowed by Pekka Rinne, things were looking bleak for the Nashville Predators for a moment there.

    Nashville’s developed into a resilient group, however, and they stormed back for a commanding 4-1 win to shrink San Jose’s series advantage to 2-1.

    The Predators saw some of their big names come up huge as the series shifted from San Jose to Nashville.

    Pekka Rinne looked sharp following that first goal (and didn’t allow another). Their goals came from James Neal, Colin Wilson, Filip Forsberg and captain Shea Weber.

    Weber’s tally was the game-winner, and it was downright thunderous:

    Another promising sign: after a struggling to a 2-for-31 clip in previous playoff games, the Predators’ power play went 2-for-5 in Game 3.

    Overall, the Predators really couldn’t ask for much more from this win, especially if Colton Sissons is indeed OK after a scary crash into the Sharks’ net.

    Things could get really interesting if Nashville manages to “hold serve” with another home win on Thursday.

    Stars’ goalie carousel goes around again: Lehtonen replaces Niemi

    Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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    It’s pretty tough not to make jokes about the Dallas Stars spending $10.4 million on their goalies at times like these, even if Dallas’ defense should shoulder plenty of blame.

    After Kari Lehtonen was pulled from a Game 2 loss, the St. Louis Blues chased Antti Niemi early in the second period of Game 3 after Niemi allowed three goals on 12 shots.

    Troy Brouwer‘s 3-1 goal was enough for Lindy Ruff to give Niemi the hook:

    Unfortunately for the Stars, Lehtonen got off to a slow start as well, allowing an immediate Vladimir Tarasenko goal.

    The Blues are now 4-1 and the Stars are searching for answers … and probably wishing Tyler Seguin was around to help them out-score their problems.