Hockey fans in Los Angeles have become accustomed to a Kings offense that struggles to produce at a high rate, but it's the team's defense that could be counted on night in and night out to save the day. Thus far into the season though, the Kings defense hasn't been as effective as it was last season, and with the team's offense ranking near the bottom in production once again, the combination of the two has resulted in a losing record through the first seven games of the year. With the defense struggling to find consistency, the offense has to perform better in order for the Kings to begin improving their record.
Defense has been a staple of Los Angeles Kings hockey over the past couple of years, and was probably the single biggest reason the team won its first Stanley Cup in franchise history last spring. It was the part of their game they could rely on consistently, especially since the teams' offensive talent hasn't always translated into goals. The Kings' defense is not what it was last season-at least not at this point in the year-and the void left by injured defensemen Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene is becoming more evident. The team is allowing an average of 3.14 goals per game, after ranking second in the NHL last season allowing just 2.07 goals per game.
The power play has been a problem for the team over the last two seasons, ranking in the bottom five once again this year. The Kings have converted on four of their last 14 power play opportunities, with Dustin Brown scoring three of those four goals, yet even with their recent success, they still rank 27th in the league, a byproduct of their 0 for 25 slump to start the season. If they're not going to score during 5 on 5 play, they've got to be able to make up for that deficiency with a useful power play.
The best players have to play as though they are exactly that. The Kings' leader in points through seven games this year is 22-year-old forward Kyle Clifford, who has spent most of his time in the NHL on the fourth line. The Kings have skilled forwards in Brown, Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Justin Williams, and Jeff Carter. The top forwards are relied upon to produce more than they have, and it's obvious the team is missing top-line production. Brown and Carter have three goals apiece on the season, which is nothing more than pedestrian for players of their caliber. Kopitar, Richards, and Williams have combined for a grand total of three goals, far less than what is expected of them too. The top six forwards produced at a mediocre rate during the 2011-12 regular season, resulting in the team barely grabbing the eighth and final playoff spot. Those same players, especially the top line, began producing at a much higher level during the postseason, pushing the Kings to the ultimate reward of winning the Stanley Cup. If they continue to be average this season, so will the team. But if the Kings are going get back to the top, at least one or two of those guys will need to catch fire.
If the puck isn't even getting to the net, it's obviously never going to get past the opposing goaltender. Through seven games, the Kings have had an average of 19.3 shots per game blocked by the opposition. That average puts them near the bottom of the league, and is a huge reason for the lack of production on offense. In contrast, the Kings have blocked an average of 9.1 shots per game, over 10 blocked shots less than their opposition. Los Angeles has been on the losing end of this statistic in each of their seven games this season, and a big part of that can be attributed to playing without Mitchell and Greene, who combined to block a total of 251 shots last season.
Even when the team is getting pucks past their initial defenders, they are still having trouble hitting the net. The Kings also rank near the bottom in missed shots, or shots not on net, as pointed out by Jason Lewis of Bleacher Report.
The team has put a total of 198 shots on net this season, which is low. It's 28th in the league to be exact, ahead of only Anaheim with 188 and Nashville with 177. Here's the kicker, and the frustrating one: The Kings have missed 110 times, second-highest in the league behind Phoenix.
In comparison to the aforementioned Ducks and Preds, they have missed 75 and 90 shots respectively. Phoenix does miss a lot with 118, but they've taken a league-high 300 shots.
With the combination of both blocked and missed shots, the Kings are failing to get an average of around 35 shots per game to the opposing teams goaltender. Needless to say, shots that don't make the net will never go in.
The Kings ranked 29th out of 30 NHL teams last season in total offense, but were able to overcome that for the most part with a great defense and solid penalty killing. Once again they are near the bottom, ranking 27th in scoring (2.14 goals per game), but it's the inconsistency on defense that further exaggerates their offensive woes. Together, Mitchell and Greene became the go-to pair on the penalty kill, shutting down opposing power plays at a high rate. With Mitchell and Greene out of the lineup, Los Angeles ranks 18th in the NHL in goals allowed on the penalty kill. In their last game against the Anaheim Ducks, the Kings allowed three power play goals to their local rivals during a 7-4 loss.
After a stellar 2011-12 season in which goaltender Jonathan Quick posted a 1.95 goals against average, and a .929 save percentage, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner (MVP of the playoffs) hasn't looked quite like himself in the early going of 2013. He was pulled after allowing two goals in the first 5:49 of Saturday's game against the Ducks, and replaced by backup Jonathan Bernier. Bernier didn't fair much better, allowing four goals in his first action of the season. Along with the defense, the Kings' goaltending was a strong point for them last season, but has yet to really show any dominance through seven games this year.
In a lockout-shortened season, NHL teams cannot afford to go through long dry spells and lengthy losing streaks because there isn't enough time to make up for lost games. Great teams are distinguished on either one side of the puck or the other, but being substandard on both ends of the ice is nothing more than a formula to miss the playoffs completely. The Kings are going to have to turn things around quickly if they want a chance at defending Lord Stanley's Cup in 2013.
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