Gameday Preview: Kings Ascension

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 02: Anze Kopitar  of the Los Angeles Kings celebrates his goal with the bench for a 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers at the Staples Center on December 2, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)


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!).

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 21:  Jarome Iginla #12 of the Calgary Flames and Randy Jones #12 of the Los Angeles Kings battle for position in front of the net as goaltender Jonathan Quick #32 defends in the third period at Staples Center on November 21, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. The Flames defeated the Kings 5-2.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

 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.)

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 06: Dustin Brown  and Anze Kopitar  of the Los Angeles Kings look on after celebrating Kopitar's first-period goal against the Nashville Predators during the NHL game at Staples Center on November 6, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

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.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 11: Jonathan Quick  of the Los Angeles Kings in goal in a 3-1 win against the Dallas Stars at the Staples Center on November 11, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)


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.

  • CitizenFlame

    I can honestly say that I have no idea what Flames team is going to show up tonight. The way they played the last game they seem poised to start winning… but how many times have we seen this from them this year? I won’t let myself… be sucked in… no… I … won’t be sucked in!

    Oh crap, Go Flames Go!!

      • CitizenFlame

        Just having Doughty adds an element that the Bolts can’t match. I think I believe people when they say the Kings are really only 1 player away. Luckily they didn’t sign Kovie during the summer. Whew, near miss.

        • CitizenFlame

          the kings sure are in a position of leverage. a substantial cap space and a ton of young talent in all levels of the organization.fantastic prospect cupboard to deal for a game brealer or two. i would be entertaining some offers and rolling the dice with a cup in mind this year.

          • CitizenFlame

            Kings remind me of the Hawks from a couple of years ago. They have done an excellent job of drafting for all types of players needed to fill their line up. Maybe they don’t have that top end talent the likes of Kane and Toews but they haven’t had a first overall pick either.

  • CitizenFlame

    I’ve been very surprised with berniers lackluster start so far, but if I were a kings Fan I wouldn’t be too worried. The kid played lights out with the monarchs last year, and It’s only a matter of time until he starts stopping some rubber. As for doughty, the guy is gonna have a huge bounce back December, and it wont be long before he get his game in order. Remember he was sidelined for 3 weeks with an injury earlier in the season.

  • MC Hockey

    Very good article Kent, even though I read it much later. I agree that if Flames ever want a trading partner for Iggy, to the Kings is a place to go. My preference would be to see Kopitar come this way for him so we have a top centre for the future but he may be untradeable by LA or they may want Iggy and more. But other young guys to get from them like prospects/players Brayden Shenn, Brandan Kozun, Oscar Moller would be nice as well. Who knows what will happen with Flames.