December 09 2010 10:41AM
One of the Flames better wins this year was over this same Kings team back near the start of October. Calgary played relatively well and the combination of that with home ice advantage plus LA being on the second night of a B2B handed the Flames the victory. Since then, the two clubs have largely gone in opposite directions, although a recent cold snap has the Kings hunting for "the next piece" that will help them get back on top of the Western Conference standings.
The Kings have tumbled from the top of the conference to fighting for a playoff spot with the rest of the middle class. A 3-7-0 record in their last 10 is the primary culprit, although their solid +8 goal differential suggests they aren't long for the sub-post-season section of the standings. Five teams currently above LA in the standings have an inferior GD (ANA, CBJ, SJS, NSH, PHX) and it wouldn't be shocking to see the Kings charge ahead of at least three of those clubs eventually - if not all of them. Anaheim, for instance, is actually one of the weakest clubs in the conference and the Kings hold five games in hand on them (thanks, ridiculous NHL schedule!).
Of course, the organization seems to have headier aspirations than merely sqeezing into the post-season this year. Given their heated courtship of Ilya Kovalchuk in the summer (a lucky miss in retrospect), rumored interest in Jarome Iginla and currently stalled trade for Marco Sturm, the Kings are obviously keen on adding another scoring piece up front to compliment a fairly decent existing set of forwards. If the Flames go into "sell-off" mode at some point this season, the Kings and their relatively ample cap room would make for a prime trading partner.
It may seem a bit early for this club to have visions of cup runs, but a push for the grail this year strikes me as sensible. Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson are playing out the last years of their respective entry level contracts and are poised to become much more expensive next season - particularly Doughty, despite his somewhat disappointing start. Other RFA's up for renewal in tinsel town are: Wayne Simmonds, Brad Richardson and Trevor Lewis. Micheal Handzus, Justin Williams and Alexei Ponikarovsky are all guys who will have to be re-signed or replaced in the off-season as well. The Kings own a number of other promising youngsters (Thomas Hickey, Brayden Shenn, Brandan Kozun, Oscar Moller, Colten Teubert, Andrei Loktionov) so I'm not going to say their window will "close" should they fail in their cup quest this season. That said, it makes sense to make a strong push nonetheless*.
*(One of the enduring tragedies for the Flames franchise is that the team failed to do anything of note while Dion Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr, Daymond Langkow and Miikka Kiprusoff were relatively cheap .)
Up front, the Kings are paced by Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, Ryan Smyth and Dustin Brown. They are given the high ground on most nights because guys like Handzus and Simmonds are fed to the Wolves. The Kings start their checking line (which includes former Leaf Ponikarvosky when he's healthy) in the defensive zone some 60% of the time, although some of the benefit also accrues to the young, not-so celebrated fourth liners on the club like Kevin Westgarth, Kyle Clifford and Brad Richardson who are actively sheltered by their coach. Given the list of players, you can see why the club would be hungry for one more established top-six winger to round things out.
On the back-end, the club isn't getting the kind of production it would like out of Drew Doughty (1 goal, 7 points), although one wonders how long that will last. He and Willie Mitchell were facing the big boys on most nights until the latter broke his wrist at the start of November. In Mitchell's absence, the team has been muddling along with Davis Drewisky, Alex Martinez and Peter Harrold on the back-end. Jack Johnson, Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene are all relatively capable middle-rotation guys.
In net, things have gone in precisely the opposite fashion that I would have predicted. Jonathan Quick, who has been nothing but mediocre at this level until this season, sports a .930 ES SV% and a sparkling .916 PK SV% to go along with it. Those are outstanding numbers and though I can't say I expect them to continue (particularly the latter one) it's hard to argue that he hasn't been one of the best puck stoppers through the early going.
Jonathan Bernier, on the other hand, has struggled a lot in his rookie season. His save rates across the board are poor: .899 ES SV%, .861 PK SV%. I half expected the youngster to take over between the pipes this season given the manner in which he tore up the AHL last season (.936 SV%, AHL all-star, AHL goaltender of the year), but things haven't gone that way so far. Of course, we're talking a small sample of shots here (208) which can be dominated by luck over skill. For now, however, we'll take the information available to us and hope the Flames see Bernier in net this evening.