Kings’ problems run far deeper than their coach

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The Los Angeles Kings put an end to the John Stevens era on Sunday afternoon, firing the coach just 13 games into his second season behind their bench. Given how horrendous they looked in their first-round playoff exit a year ago, and how much they have struggled this season, some sort of a change somewhere in the organization seemed inevitable. The coach is usually the first place teams look in a last-ditch effort to save a season that is teetering on the brink of falling apart.

Maybe Stevens wasn’t the right coach for the Kings.

Maybe the team needed a different voice and some new ideas and a new approach and a new system.

But even if all of that is true there should be no mistaking that the Kings’ decision on Sunday is nothing more than a short-term band-aid on what has become a run-of-the-mill franchise with a growing list of long-term problems.

[Related: Kings fire John Stevens]

Last February I argued that the Kings were one of the aging, veteran teams in the NHL that were in dire need of a top-to-bottom overhaul. They were short on high-end talent, short on youth, short on speed, and still trying to play a brand of hockey from an era that no longer exists.

Their solution over the summer: To bring a 35-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk back from Russia following a five year absence from the NHL.

And that was it.

And while Kovalchuk has been as good as the Kings could have possibly expected him to be (he actually leads the team in scoring with 11 points in 13 games), he alone was never going to be enough to fix a stagnant offense that looked like it was playing a completely different, and not to mention vastly inferior, game than the Vegas team that skated circles around them in the playoffs. An offense that has finished higher than 14th in goals scored once over the past decade. An offense that, more often than not, is in the bottom-five of the league.

Unless he brought a time machine back from Russia that could transport him back to 2009 he was not going to be able to make the Kings younger or faster, two of the biggest issues currently plaguing the current organization. He was just going to be another mid-30s player that is a fraction of his former dominant self on a team built around mid-30s players that are fractions of their once dominant selves.

Here is the current situation the Kings are facing on the day they fired their coach.

  • They are at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, already eight points out of a playoff spot, and facing a daunting mountain when it comes to making the postseason. This after missing the playoffs in two of the previous four seasons and not making it out of the first round since 2014.
  • They are the second oldest team in the NHL and still play at a glacial pace.
  • They have one of the biggest salary cap numbers in the league and do not have any big contracts coming off the books after this season.
  • They only have three players on the roster right now under the age of 25 that have appeared in more than eight games this season. Those three players — Austin Wagner, Michael Amadio, and Adrian Kempe — are all averaging less than 12 minutes of ice-time per game and have combined for three points this season.
  • They have seven players over the age of 31 signed for at least three more seasons.
  • The key players that are still in the prime of their careers, specifically Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, are simply … okay. They are decent middle-six players, but if either one of them ever gives you 50 points in a season it would be considered a huge success. They are not core players to build around.

Anything there that excites you?

Just about the best thing you could say about this Kings team right now to offer any sort of short-term hope is that Anze Kopitar has yet to play his best hockey this season, and that they are finally getting Dustin Brown back in the lineup after he missed the first month of the season.

But is Brown going to be able to repeat his 2017-18 performance, which is looking like a pretty significant outlier given where his career has gone over the past four years? Is Kopitar going to be able to provide enough offense to drag the rest of the team behind him again?

And that’s not even getting into the fact they are going to be playing backup goalies for the next few weeks as Jonathan Quick remains sidelined.

Whether it is John Stevens, or Willie Desjardins, or some yet-to-be-named coach that is sitting at home waiting for a phone call, it is going to be a huge ask to expect them to make something out of this current setup.

Even after firing the coach, the Kings are still a team in need of a rebuild.

It is a team that has been in need of a rebuild for maybe two years now.

Unfortunately for them no one in the organization seems to realize it yet.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Saturday night’s alright for shutouts

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Three Stars

1. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

How often does this happen? You wake up on your birthday, sign a big-money extension and then go out and put up 26 save shutout against the Boston Bruins. If you answered never, you’d actually be wrong. Apparently, this is something Rinne does for fun. Yes, Rinne woke up, signed a two-year, $10 million extension and then went out and took care of business on the ice just hours later on Saturday. Rinne is now 5-1-0 this season and is making an early case for a second straight Vezina Trophy with his shiny .948 save percentage. Happy Birthday, indeed.

2. Thomas Greiss, New York Islanders

One of the reasons for the Islanders’ success this season has been the performances they’ve seen from their goalies. New York entered Saturday with the third-best team save percentage and only improved on that as the day ended. Greiss made 35 saves for his first shutout of the season, improving his record to 4-2-0 with a 1.85 goals-against-average and a .944 save percentage. The Islanders are now 8-4-1 without John Tavares and haven’t skipped a beat with Robin Lehner nursing a back strain, winning five straight.

3. Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs

Sticking with shutouts, Andersen posted a 31-save effort himself against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Maple Leafs came into the game 0-2 without Auston Matthews, who is out long-term with a shoulder injury. The Leafs hadn’t given their goalies run support in those previous two outings with a single goal in each of them. A lack of scoring wasn’t an issue on Saturday, however, as Toronto put up a five-spot on the Penguins. Andersen was a big factor in the win, stopping all five shots on the penalty kill as Pittsburgh went 0-for-5.

Bonus star: Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights

The fourth and final shutout of Saturday night belonged to Fleury, who made 34 saves to become the 29th player in NHL history to hit 50 clean sheets. Fleury’s second shutout of the season came against the team that puts up more shots per game than any other. Fleury also helped the Golden Knights end a two-game skid.

Other notable performances:

  • Jason Pominville and Jeff Skinner went full beast mode in the Buffalo Sabres 9-2 thumping of the Ottawa Senators. Both Pominville and Skinner each scored twice and added assists.
  • Kyle Brodziak had two goals, including the game-winner, as the Edmonton Oilers won their eighth game of the season.
  • Jaroslav Halak didn’t get an ounce of support as he stopped 39-of-40 shots in a 1-0 loss to the Predators.
  • Morgan Rielly scored twice to put him on six goals for the season, the same number he had in 76 games last season. His career-high is nine.
  • Sean Monahan had two goals and Elias Lindholm added three assists as the Flames came from behind to win 5-3 against the Blackhawks.
  • Dustin Brown had two goals (one shorthanded) and an assist for the Kings against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Anze Kopitar also scored shorthanded in the game. Torts won’t be happy.
  • It was “Timo Time in Overtime” according to the play-by-play man Randy Hahn on NBC Sports California on Saturday. Meier scored his second of the game 13 seconds into overtime to seal the win for San Jose.

Highlights of the Night

Koskinen is huge. This save is also huge.

Dangles, dekes and game winners.

What a shot:

Ever watched Brad Marchand act?

Factoids

Scores

Sabres 9, Senators 2

Stars 4, Capitals 3 (OT)

Oilers 4, Red Wings 3

Islanders 3, Devils 0

Lightning 4, Canadiens 1

Maple Leafs 5, Penguins 0

Wild 5, Blues 1

Predators 1, Bruins 0

Golden Knights 3, Hurricanes 0

Flames 5, Blackhawks 3

Sharks 4, Flyers 3 (OT)

Kings 4, Blue Jackets 1

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Pacific Division continues to get hammered by injuries

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It would appear that injuries are pilling up on Pacific Division teams to start the season, and it’s a who’s who when it comes to names.

The latest is a lower-body injury for Los Angeles Kings starting goalie Jonathan Quick, who is listed as day-to-day with the ailment.

The injury reportedly happened at practice, and backup Jack Campbell has already been named the starter for Los Angeles’ game on Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings.
Campbell has proven to be a capable replacement, going 2-0-2 with a 2.48 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in four starts last season.

The Kings are already without Dustin Brown, who sustained a broken finger in the preseason and needed surgery to repair it.

Bonus for Peter Budaj fans, he’s back in the NHL.

The injury bug has taken a chunk out of the San Jose Sharks, too, after Joe Thornton was placed on injured reserve on Sunday after flying home from the team’s Eastern Conference road trip.

Jumbo Joe, 39, is dealing with swelling in his right knee, which was surgically repaired after he tore his ACL and MCL last season. Thornton has had catastrophic injuries to both of his knees now in the past two years. Despite his age, he’s been averaging around 16 minutes a night with the talent-laden Sharks this season.

The Anaheim Ducks received more bad news on Sunday after it was revealed that Ryan Getzlaf is day-to-day lower-body injury after leaving Saturday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes. Getzlaf joins a growing list of walking wounded in Anaheim, with Corey Perry, Patrick Eaves, Ryan Kesler and Ondrej Kase all sidelined.

Despite what seems like some big holes in the Ducks’ lineup, Anaheim is 2-0 to start the season. John Gibson grabbed his first shutout of the campaign in a 1-0 win Saturday.

The Coyotes have been woeful to start the season, having yet to register a goal in their first two games.

Injuries have played a role in that, too, of course.

Alex Galchenyuk, Christian Dvorak and Jakob Chychrun are all stuck in the infirmary for the Coyotes.

The Calgary Flames are without Travis Hamonic after a fight resulted in a facial fracture for the defenseman, who is now week-to-week as he recovers.

Cody Eakin and Alex Tuch remain sidelined in Vegas.

Really, the only team to come through relatively unscathed here is Vancouver.

It’s been a tough opening week on the west coast.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Leafs lose 2 goalies to waivers; Capitals claim Jaskin

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Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock was very much the diplomat after goalies Curtis McElhinney and Calvin Pickard were claimed off waivers Tuesday.

”Good for Mac. Good for Pick,” Babcock said. ”Too bad for our depth.”

McElhinney was claimed by the Carolina Hurricanes, whose projected starter Scott Darling is injured and set to miss a few weeks. McElhinney has a 62-71-13 record in 10 seasons among six teams.

The Philadelphia Flyers claimed Pickard and placed him on non-roster status, while placing goalie Michal Neuvirth on injured reserve because of a groin injury. Pickard had a 21-9-1 record in helping the Toronto Marlies, the Maple Leafs’ American Hockey League affiliate, win their first championship last season.

Toronto opens the season against Montreal on Wednesday with no experience behind starter Frederik Andersen and backup Garret Sparks. The next in line for now is Kasimir Kaskisuo, who has a 20-14-1 record in 38 AHL games.

”That’s the way it goes,” Babcock said, referring to the waiver system. ”You’d love to have them all slip through, but they didn’t.”

Two other players were claimed on a day NHL teams were required to set their 23-player rosters.

The Washington Capitals added St. Louis forward Dmitrij Jaskin, the odd man out after the Blues restocked their forwards this offseason. Jaskin was St. Louis’ second-round pick in the 2011 draft and has 25 goals and 61 points in 266 games over six seasons.

The Buffalo Sabres claimed left wing Remi Elie from Dallas. The 23-year-old Elie was the Stars’ second-round pick in the 2013 draft. He had six goals and 14 points in his first full season last year. He has seven goals and 21 points in 90 career NHL games.

The Sabres finalized their roster by placing forwards Scott Wilson (broken ankle), Sean Malone and Johan Larsson and defenseman Matt Hunwick (neck) on injured reserve.

The Edmonton Oilers signed forward Alex Chiasson and defenseman Jason Garrison to one-year contracts.

Chaisson is a sixth-year player who is on his third team in three seasons after helping the Capitals win a Stanley Cup last season. The 33-year-old Garrison is a 10-year veteran who spent most of last season playing for the Las Vegas Knights’ minor league affiliate in Chicago.

Edmonton also assigned defenseman Ethan Bear to the minors and placed defenseman Kris Russell on injured reserve.

The Los Angeles Kings placed forwards Dustin Brown (broken finger) and Jonny Brodzinski on injured reserve and released forward Emerson Etem from his tryout agreement.

Nashville Predators forward Ryan Hartman was placed on injured reserve as he continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery. Forward Austin Watson was placed on the non-roster list. He was suspended by the NHL for the entire preseason and first 27 games of the regular season for domestic abuse. Nashville also assigned forward Rocco Grimaldi to the minors.

Minnesota Wild defenseman Gustav Olofsson was the only player placed on waivers Tuesday.

More AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Are the Los Angeles Kings in trouble already?

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When the Kansas City Royals used to be a disaster in the regular season, they’d have this wonderful preseason run where they’d build up the hope of their fans, only to tear it down when games became meaningful.

It really outlined how insignificant preseason games were as a predictor for regular season success.

Why are we talking about Major League Baseball on a hockey blog?

Enter the Los Angeles Kings.

They finished up their preseason on Saturday with another dud in a 3-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks. That followed a 2-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights the night before.

No goals in their final two preseason games, a dismal 1-6-1 preseason record, and then even more bad news as Dustin Brown was forced to leave Saturday’s game with an upper-body injury after taking a puck up high.

(UPDATE: Brown is out indefinitely with a broken finger.)

That’s not exactly what the Kings or their fans had in mind, especially after a summer that witnessed one of the league’s best defenseman re-sign with the club after some uncertainty and the signing of Ilya Kovalchuk to help boost their scoring woes witnessed in the playoffs after being swept by the Golden Knights.

Speaking after Saturday’s game, Anze Kopitar wasn’t hitting the panic button:

I don’t think we need to panic by any means, but we’ve got to know that puck management in that regard has to be a lot better. We have to sharpen up our game, for sure. Everybody in here knows that, and we’re going to work on it. It’s a big week ahead of us, and we’ll be ready for Friday.

Alec Martinez, meanwhile, pulled out the word “unacceptable” in Game 8 of the preseason. Yikes.

I think it’s twofold. One, it doesn’t matter what it is – you want to be winning games, especially heading into the year. Tonight was unacceptable. I think that it needs to be addressed, and it will be addressed. We’ve already talked about it. We’ve got a lot of work to do this week, because we’ve got a pretty good hockey club to play on Friday. I guess just use it as a learning experience. There are no experiences – the time is now.

Head coach John Stevens told The Athletic his team looked “slow” while taking the blame for the Kings’ schedule catching up to them, saying “some guys were asked to play a lot.”

Doughty was asked what went wrong. He didn’t have an answer.

I don’t know. We don’t have an answer for anything right now. We don’t know why we lost and why we were so poor this (preseason). But if it’s a chemistry thing, then we’re doing something wrong because we had all camp to create that chemistry.

These aren’t exactly inspiring quotes from the Kings; from coach to captain to everyone else.

The news of Brown being out any period of time that extends into the regular season would be a big blow in Los Angeles.

Brown enjoyed a year of resurgence in 2017-18, posting 28 goals and 61 points after not eclipsing the 40-point mark in each of the previous four years (27, 27, 28 and 36, respectively).

The Kings don’t open the regular season until Friday, so they have a few days to hit the reset button.

Adversity doesn’t pick sides, nor does it pick optimal times to hit a team. As such, the Kings look like they’ll be dealing with it right out of the gate this season.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck