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.

Scroll Down For:

    More good times in Washington, as Backstrom named first star of the week

    Nicklas Backstrom
    Getty
    Leave a comment

    The Caps have won nine in a row and catapulted to top spot in the NHL with 63 points, one ahead of second-place Columbus.

    Suffice to say, folks are feelin’ fine in D.C.

    Those good vibes continued on Monday, as center Nicklas Backstrom was named the NHL’s first star of the week.

    More:

    Backstrom led the League in assists and points with 3-7—10 in four contests as the Capitals won all four games to extend their overall winning streak to nine contests and propel Washington to the top of the NHL standings (29-9-5, 63 points).

    Backstrom registered multiple points in all four games starting with one goal and one assist in a 4-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 9. On Jan. 11, he recorded one goal and three assists in a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, followed by one goal and one assist in a 6-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 13. Backstrom finished the week by notching two assists in a 5-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 15.

    In his 10th season, all with the Capitals, the 29-year-old Galve, Sweden native leads the Capitals and is tied for 10th in League scoring with 42 points (12-30—42 in 43 GP).

    Backstrom, of course, wasn’t the only big story in Washington last week. Captain Alex Ovechkin scored his 1,000th career point on Wednesday, becoming the first player in franchise history to hit that mark.

    The only negative thing coming out of D.C. is that John Carlson, who leads all Caps d-men in scoring, is out for today’s game versus Pittsburgh. Carlson’s absence will be brief, though, as head coach Barry Trotz expects him back in the lineup later this week.

    Panthers recall McIlrath from AHL — but will they play him?

    NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 03:  Ryan Reaves #75 of the St. Louis Blues and Dylan McIlrath #42 of the New York Rangers fight during the first period at Madison Square Garden on November 3, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Getty
    Leave a comment

    The Florida Panthers have recalled defenseman Dylan McIlrath from a conditioning stint in the AHL.

    The question now is whether they’ll play him.

    McIlrath has only appeared in four games for the Panthers since getting traded by the Rangers in November — and in three of those games, he logged less than 10 minutes of ice time.

    On his conditioning assignment, the 24-year-old played six games for the Springfield Thunderbirds, scoring once with an assist and 13 PIM.

    It seems unlikely that the Panthers would make any changes to their lineup after knocking off Columbus, 4-3, on Saturday. They start a four-game road trip tomorrow in Calgary.

    McIlrath’s chances of playing may be limited due to the fact he’s a right shot and the Panthers’ back end already has three healthy right shots in Aaron Ekblad, Jason Demers, and Mark Pysyk.

    Ekblad, Demers, and Pysyk have each played all 45 games this season. The leading candidate to be scratched is probably Jakub Kindl, a left shot.

    So barring an injury, McIlrath may have to sit and wait some more. The Panthers have won four of their last six, and they’re not in a position to mess with success.

    Alex Petrovic (ankle) is Florida’s only injured defenseman. Also a right shot, he could be ready to return in early February.

    The Bruins are finally ‘starting to connect’ on offense

    Boston Bruins' David Krejci (46), of the Czech Republic, celebrates his goal beside Philadelphia Flyers' Wayne Simmonds (17) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Boston, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
    AP
    Leave a comment

    The floodgates have opened for the Boston Bruins.

    And it’s about time.

    With Saturday’s 6-3 win over the Flyers, the B’s have scored 22 goals in their last six games. The offense has been a relative juggernaut compared to the first few months of the season. Brad Marchand had five points against Philadelphia, and he likes the progress the team has made.

    “I think early on we had a lot of moving parts and guys in and out of the lineup. [We had] different guys that came in that we all had to get used to one another, and it doesn’t happen overnight,” said Marchand, per CSN New England. “It took half the year, but…I think we all realized that we have to be a desperate team. We’re starting to come together and learn each other and finally get some chemistry on the lines. All of that comes into play and again, I think we’re just starting to connect.”

    The statistics suggested the goals would come. The Bruins have the highest score-adjusted Corsi in the league, but through Christmas, for whatever reason, the pucks weren’t going in.

    To illustrate, Patrice Bergeron had just four goals in his first 31 games, and it wasn’t for a lack of shots. He now has five in his last 12, bringing his season total to a modest nine, as the bounces are finally starting to go his way:

    To be sure, the Bruins are still in a desperate fight for a playoff spot. They’re currently second in the Atlantic Division, but with five more games played than both third-place Toronto and fourth-place Ottawa, winnable games like this afternoon’s against the Islanders need to be won.

    “When you score a couple goals, I guess your confidence goes up a little bit,” said goalie Tuukka Rask. “I think that’s what happened [with us]. So we’ve just got to make sure that we keep it going and don’t take a step back.”

    NHL on NBCSN: Capitals visit Penguins, go for 10 in a row

    WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals skates with the puck past Trevor Daley #6 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at Verizon Center on November 16, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
    Getty
    2 Comments

    NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Washington Capitals at 7:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here

    Streaks are colliding in Pittsburgh on Monday night when the Penguins host the Washington Capitals.

    From the Pittsburgh side, they are looking to break a three-game losing streak (their longest of the season) and will have to do so without the services Kris Letang, their top defensemen, after he was placed on injured reserve on Monday morning. Not exactly a great situation to be in when the team coming in for a visit is a Capitals team that has not only won nine games in a row, but has been absolutely crushing every team they have played during this stretch, including the Penguins less than one week ago.

    Even more than the current winning streak, the Capitals are now 16-2-2 in their past 20 games and have moved back into the top spot in the NHL standings and are making a run at a second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy.

    It has been a collective team effort during this latest run, especially during the current winning streak where five players have averaged more than a point per game, including Justin Williams who has a team-high six goals during the streak.

    “Everybody seems to be doing their job at a high level right now, and that’s why we’re being successful,” Williams said after their 5-0 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, via the Washington Post. “When there’s a breakdown, someone’s there to help you out, and when there’s a total breakdown, our goaltenders are there to shut the door. Not a great start but a great finish.”

    The Capitals were able to win Sunday’s game with backup goalie Phillip Grubauer in net — and for the first 40 minutes he had to be their best player — and will be turning back to Braden Holtby tonight. For as good as Holtby was a year ago when he won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender, he has managed to be even better this season and carries a .933 save percentage into Monday’s game. In 18 starts since the start of December, he has been at an even higher level at .944.

    The Penguins meanwhile have hit their first tough stretch of the season, giving up 15 goals over the past three games. The Penguins have not lost four games in a row since a four-game losing streak in December of 2015, which were also the first four games of Mike Sullivan’s head coaching tenure with the the team. Going up against a team that just beat them 5-2 a week ago, and a team that has outscored Columbus, Ottawa, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Philadelphia by a 26-3 margin they have a gigantic test in front of them.