Tyler Toffoli

Quick, Kings shut out Flyers

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The Philadelphia Flyers, playing for the second time in as many nights, just couldn’t find the equalizer in Thursday’s contest against the L.A. Kings.

Despite outshooting the Kings, including by a 17-5 margin in the third period, the Flyers dropped a 2-0 decision on the road in large part because of the play of L.A. netminder Jonathan Quick, who turned aside all 35 shots he faced for the shut out.

There have been a number of skaters scoring hat tricks through the first two days of the new season. In some cases, those hat tricks have made franchise history. Per the NHL, Quick became the third goalie in Kings franchise history to record a shut out in the opener, joining Rogie Vachon and Stephane Fiset in that category.

Trevor Lewis and Tyler Toffoli both scored for the Kings.

The Flyers continue their road trip on Saturday against the Anaheim Ducks, and then Tuesday against the Nashville Predators.

The Kings visit their California rivals, the San Jose Sharks, on Saturday.

Related: Kings ‘have a plan’ to keep Quick healthy this season

Don’t be surprised if Kings, Ducks, Sharks finish with similar records

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Heading into the 2017-18 season, there’s a lot of optimism surrounding the Anaheim Ducks, a solid amount still going to the San Jose Sharks, and a pile of doom and gloom for the Los Angeles Kings.

Some of this comes down to crummy luck, but here’s an observation: it’s highly likely that the three California teams will finish very close in the standings.

Let’s consider the state of each team.

To go even deeper, check out PHT’s detailed preview for the Pacific Division.

Waddling through injuries

My goodness are the Anaheim Ducks banged up right now.

The OC Register’s Eric Stephens reports that Ryan Getzlaf won’t play in the Ducks’ season-opening game against the Arizona Coyotes. With John Gibson doubtful, it all adds to a troubling situation. Resounding workhorse Ryan Kesler could be gone for quite some time. Kesler is on IR with wildly underrated defenseman Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Patrick Eaves, and Ryan Miller. Woof.

It’s a testament to what GM Bob Murray’s built that the Ducks still have a fighting chance, as young players like Rickard Rakell bring something to the table.

Still, even well-stocked teams can only withstand so many injuries. Anaheim might just pay the price for its deep playoff run in 2016-17, not to mention the emphasis on aging, physical forwards in the well-compensated duo of Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

In an NHL with injuries turned off like a video game, the Ducks would be one of the NHL’s deepest teams.

Sharks getting sleepy?

Even in losing 5-3 to the Philadelphia Flyers last night, the Sharks put on a pretty good show. When those top-end players are clicking, they’re still pretty special.

That said, consider how old those guys are. Joe Thornton might be the next Jaromir Jagr in aging like hockey-themed wine, but he could also slip at 38. Joe Pavelski, somehow, is 33 already. With a shaky year or two in Minnesota in mind, many might be surprised that Brent Burns is 32. Paul Martin is 36 and Marc-Edouard Vlasic is a high-mileage 30. Even younger cornerstones Logan Couture (28) and Martin Jones (27) aren’t necessarily spring chickens. Joel Ward is 36 and even a supporting guy like Jannik Hansen is 31. This is an old group despite allowing Patrick Marleau to leave for a three-year term.

(Yes, Marleau was great last night, but the Sharks still made the difficult-but-necessary choice there.)

Although there’s skill in players such as Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier, being a regular contender has generally limited the Sharks’ ability to surround those aging veterans with a ton of talent.

A slip is coming, and the drop could be sharp. The Sharks just have to hope that it doesn’t come now.

Reports of Kings’ demise exaggerated?

Look, there’s no doubt that the Kings’ salary cap situation is … appalling.

In the long-term, GM Rob Blake has a mess on his hands that Ron Hextall might have winced at early in the Flyers rebuild. Even in 2017-18, there are some problems.

Still, it’s easy to get swept into excessive pessimism and forget that it wasn’t all bad for the Kings; it’s also possible that their luck might go up a tick.

Don’t forget that the Kings still dominated puck possession in 2016-17. Also don’t forget that, even at their best, the Kings tended to struggle during the regular season. Los Angeles ranked third in the Pacific during its two championship seasons; the Darryl Sutter Kings won two Stanley Cups and zero division titles.

Anze Kopitar‘s contract looks scary, yet a 2017-18 rebound is far from unreasonable. They can still revv up “That ’70s Line” with Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson, and Tyler Toffoli (or at least elements of that). Perhaps system tweaks will allow Drew Doughty to be the fantasy-friendly scorer many dreamed of?

Now, again, there’s some negative stuff. Even beyond predictably depressing updates about Marian Gaborik, the Kings’ defense looks to be without Alec Martinez for some time.

***

With the Central Division looming as a threat to take as many as five of the West’s eight playoff spots (for all we know), the Pacific Division could come down to the Edmonton Oilers and two other teams.

Don’t be surprised if one or more of those positions become, well, a battle of California. And don’t count the Kings out altogether in that joust, either.

Oilers, Golden Knights, Cali teams, and more in PHT’s Pacific preview

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Let’s cut to the chase and wrap up these division previews.

Check out these other previews: Atlantic DivisionCentral Division, Metropolitan DivisionPHT’s picks and predictions.

Anaheim Ducks

Poll/looking to make the leap

Arizona Coyotes

Poll/looking to make the leap

Calgary Flames

Poll/looking to make the leap

Edmonton Oilers

Poll/looking to make the leap

Los Angeles Kings

Poll/looking to make the leap

San Jose Sharks

Poll/looking to make the leap

Vancouver Canucks

Poll/looking to make the leap

Vegas Golden Kngihts

Poll/looking to make the leap

Kings’ power play – with Toffoli on point – is latest nod to modern NHL

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Considering how well the Darryl Sutter-coached Los Angeles Kings hogged the puck, there was a sense that he yielded as much as one could expect from a talented, but aging roster.

With a new regime in the front office (from GM Rob Blake to assistant-turned-head-coach John Stevens), there’s at least one interesting test taking place: what if modern tactics were applied to a Kings team that, structurally, often felt like a “throwback” team?

(Again, to Sutter’s credit, that throwback style worked very well at times.)

LA Kings Insider’s Jon Rosen reports that the Kings are embracing the modern approach that sometimes scares off more conservative coaches: going with four forwards and one defenseman on a power play.

Rosen reports that the team rolled with Michael Cammalleri, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, and Drew Doughty on their top unit. In that alignment, Toffoli joined Doughty on the points.

The puck movement drew praise from Rosen:

There was ample movement; such positioning didn’t always remain that way. Toffoli drifted lower towards the half wall, and Doughty often was found straight away, at the top of the key. The plan? More one-time opportunities from high-danger areas closer to the net.

Of course, it’s important to note that it’s September, and the Kings could go a different way once the games count in the standings.

Even if their philosophy stays the same, injuries could force personnel changes. Then again, this alignment leaves a talented forward like Tanner Pearson off the top unit, so it’s plausible that this 4F-1D combo could weather a storm or two. Pearson could also nudge his way in if the Kings believe they need a better balance of left and right-handed shots (and so on).

Checking Left Wing Lock’s listings, it’s clear that his is quite the departure, as the Kings rolled with Doughty plus either Jake Muzzin or Alec Martinez in most instances last season.

Los Angeles fell in the middle of the power-play pack in 2016-17; their 19.1 percent rate of success ranked 15th, while their 46 power-play goals tied for 16th in the NHL. They only allowed three shorthanded goals, so for those other numbers to climb, they might have to stomach more risk.

When you ponder how much the Kings struggle to score at times, it might be worth it.

For more on the pros and cons of putting a forward on the point, check out Matt Cane’s 2015 bit for Hockey Graphs.

It’s Los Angeles Kings day at PHT

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With two Stanley Cup rings in tow – the only Stanley Cup rings this franchise has ever won – it must have felt unfair to Dean Lombardi and especially Darryl Sutter when they were catapulted from their posts with the Los Angeles Kings.

To some extent, Lombardi’s ouster makes sense, as his loyalty/poor forecasting skills set the stage for some brutal contracts to Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik and some shaky ones to Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick.

Honestly, it felt like Sutter squeezed as much as you could expect out of this roster.

Sutter took over for a Kings team that was in danger of missing the playoffs, only to win that treasured first Stanley Cup in 2011-12. He did it again in 2013-14, but beyond that, Sutter helped Los Angeles become a dominant possession team until the bitter end.

Then again, maybe that’s the point.

Perhaps the Kings got as much as they could out of the approaches that Lombardi and Sutter take. Thus, Los Angeles is taking a gamble that new GM Rob Blake can clean up the salary cap messes while John Stevens took enough notes as a long-time assistant to bridge the elements of Sutter’s style that work with some tweaks that bring this team to a more modern approach.

So far, the results have been positive, although they’ve been taking baby steps to push forward.

The Kings faced challenges in signing Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson to affordable deals, and Blake managed to ace those difficult tests. Los Angeles made a nice, solid bargain move in bringing back Mike Cammalleri for just $1M, a signing that ended up becoming part of an off-season trend of veterans accepting cheap reunions. (Scott Hartnell going back to Nashville for that same price is just one other prominent instance.)

There’s also some excitement if they indeed got a steal in 11th pick Gabriel Vilardi, who slid in the 2017 NHL Draft because of skating concerns.

Now, not every change was positive. Losing quality defenseman Brayden McNabb to the expansion draft has to sting. Matt Greene also officially retired, so this blueline could be thinner in 2017-18.

Overall, things seem a little dour for the Kings, though it’s probably hasty to assume that this core’s window is totally closed. On the other hand, Blake must also think long and hard about closing the window himself by moving assets while they still have value to jump-start a rebuild.

The Kings are a fascinating and challenging team to observe, so today should be a fun one on PHT.