Phoenix Coyotes v Los Angeles Kings

2011-2012 season preview: Los Angeles Kings

2010-2011 record: 46-30-6, 98 points; 4th in Pacific, 7th in West.

Playoffs: Lost to San Jose 4-2 in Western quarterfinals

If you believe fans and the actions of management, the time is now for the Kings. After building expectations last season, the team acquired former Flyers captain Mike Richards (for a package that included prized prospect Brayden Schenn) in an offseason trade and signed Simon Gagne as an unrestricted free agent. After signing 21-year-old restricted free agent Drew Doughty to an 8-year deal worth $56 million in the final days of training camp, management signaled that the Kings are clearly in ‘win now’ mode.


Over the past few seasons, the main question marks around the Kings forwards have been their left wings and second-line center position. Despite expectations at the beginning of last season, the voids at both positions made some insiders wonder if they’d have what it took to make the next step. They didn’t. But management has done their best to address the void in full: Richards steps in as the undisputed No. 2 center behind Anze Kopitar, while Gagne and deadline acquisition Dustin Penner  fill the top two spots on the left wing. Combined with the likes of Dustin Brown and Justin Williams, the Kings have a legitimate top-six that can compete with just about any team in the league.


There were clouds of uncertainty as the Kings prepared to head to Europe for their first two games without Doughty. Just about all of the clouds disappeared when Doughty and the Kings reached a last-minute agreement. He’ll join defensive stalwarts Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi on the blue line as the Kings are built on strong defensive play. For the Kings to take the next step though, they’ll need Jack Johnson to step up and play like the player everyone thought he’d be when he was drafted No. 3 overall by Carolina in 2005. He was undoubtedly the weak link on a strong blue line last season — if he can take the next step mentally, the Kings could have the strongest defense in the Western Conference.


There aren’t many young goalie tandems like Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier. Quick was given the reins to start last season and never did anything to allow the coaching staff to pull him from the crease. His 2.24 goals against average was among the league’s best and his .918 save percentage was a career best. He’ll need to continue the stellar play because Bernier is breathing down his neck. After a slow start to begin last season, Bernier pulled his game together and was a rock down the stretch. For people that say that healthy competition is a good thing — the Kings are in a good spot.


Terry Murray has helped the young players within the organization mature from a collection of NHL hopefuls to a team coming off back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in a decade. The next step for Murray will be to teach the players within the locker room to be able to play with expectations. Murray has proved that he knows how to lead teams to the playoffs at every spot throughout his long coaching career — now he’ll need to help them grow into a dangerous playoff team.

Breakout candidate

Penner was an absolute disaster after he was acquired by the Kings in a deadline deal from Edmonton. Most people forget that he scored in six of his first seven games with the Kings because he went the final 12 games of the season without a point. Between learning a new system, losing his playmaking center, and horrific conditioning, Penner fell apart and eventually found himself in a fourth-line role in the playoffs. This season, he’s in the best shape of his career (as he enters a contract year), he’ll have Kopitar feeding him the puck and he has a better idea of what the organization expects of him on the defensive side of the puck. Look for a career year for the reenergized and motivated Penner.

Best-case scenario

For the first time in their 44-year history, the Kings don’t have any glaring weaknesses. If newcomers like Richards and Gagne can smoothly make the transition to the Western Conference, Kopitar can continue his assent to elite center status, and Doughty can rediscover his Norris Trophy finalist form of 2009-10, the Kings will have all the pieces to make a deep run in the playoffs. If everything falls into place, this team could have fans in Los Angeles having flashbacks to the memorable run to the Stanley Cup finals in 1993.


The reality is that the Kings have never had these kinds of expectations. They’ve had times when they were expected to be one of the better teams in the Western Conference, but this season the Kings are looked at as possible Stanley Cup contenders. It’s a different animal for a team to play with expectations. Assuming all of the new players can seamlessly fit into their new roles and the team can avoid the ill-timed injures of a season ago, the Kings have the type of team that can win the Pacific and finish second in the conference.

Kane, Holtby, Duchene named NHL’s three stars for November

Patrick Kane
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A winger, a goalie and a center were the NHL’s three stars for October.

And now a winger, a goalie and a center are the NHL’s three stars for November, too.

On Tuesday, the league announced that Chicago’s Patrick Kane, Washington’s Braden Holtby and Colorado’s Matt Duchene were the first, second and third stars for the month, this after naming Dallas’ Jamie Benn, Montreal’s Carey Price and Boston’s David Krejci as the three stars last month.


Kane led the NHL with 15 assists and 23 points, registering at least one point in all 13 November games to guide the Blackhawks (13-8-3, 29 points) to a 7-3-3 month and third place in the Central Division.

Holtby went 9-2-0 with a 1.99 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and one shutout to pace the NHL in wins and backstop the Capitals (17-5-1, 35 points) to a 9-3-1 month and second place in the Metropolitan Division.

Duchene paced the NHL with 11 goals and ranked second with 20 points in 14 games to power the Avalanche (9-14-1, 19 points) to a 6-8-0 November. In doing so, he became the first Avalanche player to score 11 or more goals in one calendar month since February 2003 (Milan Hejduk: 12).

Kane, of course, is also currently riding a 19-game point streak, the longest by an American-born player in NHL history and the longest by any player since Sidney Crosby had a point in 25 straight games during the ’10-11 campaign.

Kane will look to extend his streak tonight, when the ‘Hawks take on the Wild (NBCSN, 8 p.m. ET).

Strome, Marner highlight Team Canada’s World Junior roster

Connor McDavid
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Hockey Canada announced its roster for the World Junior selection camp on Tuesday and, unsurprisingly, the list is filled with first-round picks.

Chief among them? Dylan Strome and Mitch Marner, taken third and fourth overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Strome, property of the Arizona Coyotes and Marner, property of the Maple Leafs, are just two of nine first-rounders from this June’s draft heading to camp; the roster also includes five first-rounders from the ’14 draft.

Thirty players in total were invited. That means there’ll be some stiff competition for roster spots, though not in goal, where only Calgary and New Jersey prospects Mason McDonald and Mackenzie Blackwood will attend.

The full list of invitees:



As for the fate of two WJC-eligible NHLers — Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann — Hockey Canada head scout Ryan Jankowski said his organization is holding out hope both will be available for selection.

Another brief post on the unpredictable nature of goaltending

Michal Neuvirth
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We did this last year at around this time. Let’s do it again. Among goalies that have started at least 10 games, know who’s number one in save percentage?

It’s not Henrik Lundqvist, though he’s up there at .935.

It’s not Carey Price either (.934).

It’s Philadelphia’s Michal Neuvirth, at .939. Anyone see that coming? Sure, Neuvirth played reasonably well last year for Buffalo, but this is a guy who’s started more than 40 games just once in his career. The Flyers signed him this summer to be Steve Mason‘s backup. His cap hit is a measly $1.625 million. The point is, any goalie that’s good enough to play in the NHL is good enough to have a hot streak in the NHL. It’s very hard to differentiate which of them have staying power and which don’t.

Another name among the current save percentage leaders is Toronto’s James Reimer. So to recap: Reimer had a good rookie year in 2010-11, and the Leafs were confident they’d found their guy. Then the next season he suffered a concussion in October and when he got back he struggled to regain his form. But he bounced back in 2013! Alas, it all came crashing down in the playoffs during the Great Choke in Boston. So the Leafs went out and got Jonathan Bernier, who’s a whole other story that we could delve into here. Where were we with Reimer? Right. The Great Choke. The next two seasons, Reimer was Bernier’s backup. He wasn’t particularly good. Until this year. When he’s good again.

Now let’s look at a few names at the bottom of the list. Keep in mind that .915 is the league average for save percentage.

—- Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov is last at .887, Cam Ward is down there at .898, and Tuukka Rask is just barely better at .899. Combined cap hit? Almost $20 million.

Cam Talbot at .889. Good last year for the Rangers, not so good this year for the Oilers. So…is it him? Or, is it the team in front of him? Because if it’s the latter — gasp! — what does that say about Lundqvist? He’s never played for another team. What would The King’s numbers be like for Edmonton? You know, there are people who believe that Martin Brodeur wasn’t actually that great. But let’s move on before we go down that wormhole.

— Sergei Bobrovsky at .907. Hey, didn’t that guy win the Vezina a couple of years ago?

Devan Dubnyk at .909. Remember when he salvaged his career and saved the Wild? You should. It happened less than a year ago. Earned him a nice $26 million contract through 2021. This is exactly why we didn’t envy Chuck Fletcher. What was he going to do — let Dubnyk walk? And hey, it could still turn out to be a great signing. Only time will tell. That’s the whole point of this post.

Bottom line: goaltending is an extremely tough position for general managers to address. On the one hand, we know that teams can win Stanley Cups with guys who are making peanuts. (See: Jonathan Quick in 2012 and Corey Crawford in 2013.) But at the same time, no team can survive bad goaltending. Which is to say, a GM that gambles on an inexpensive option is a GM that could look really bad down the line. Of course, you know who else can look really bad? A GM that locks up a goalie long term, only for that goalie to become a bad goalie.

This is why GMs don’t sleep well and get fired a lot.

Related: Avs ‘need, expect more’ from Varlamov

Detroit’s Larkin wins rookie of the month for November

Teemu Pulkkinen, Dylan Larkin
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One of the youngest players in the NHL has been rewarded for his outstanding play last month.

On Tuesday, Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin was named rookie of the month for November, after leading all first-year players in goals (seven in 13 games).

From the league:

Larkin edged Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (5-8—13 in 13 GP), New York Rangers center Oscar Lindberg (4-5—9 in 14 GP), Arizona Coyotes left wing Max Domi (3-6—9 in 12 GP), Calgary Flames center Sam Bennett (4-4—8 in 12 GP) and Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (4-4—8 in 13 GP) for the honor.

Larkin, the 15th overall selection in the 2014 NHL Draft, recorded six of his seven goals in the final seven contests of the month (6-1—7), including a four-game goal streak Nov. 16-21 (4-0—4). In doing so, the 19-year-old Waterford, Mich., native became the first teenager to post a four-game goal streak for the Red Wings since 1984-85, when Steve Yzerman had a pair of four-game runs.

Needless to say it’s been a banner campaign for Larkin, the first teenager to play for the Red Wings since Jiri Hudler (also 19 years old) in 2003-04. He’s also in some elite company by winning rookie of the month, joining Oilers freshman sensation Connor McDavid, who captured the honors for October.