If you think the Calgary Flames start to the season is disappointing, imagine being an LA Kings fan. Fresh off their Cinderella (sort of) Stanely Cup win, you endure 3 1/2 of months of lock-out, only to see your club stumble out of the gates and land at 12th in the Conference through the first 14 games.
Of course, the Kings struggled though much of last season only to squeak in under the wire and then win the whole thing, so it’s possible LA’s issues aren’t causing as much consternation amongst their faithful as the Flames are here. Nor should they, frankly, because the Kings still boast some of the league’s best underlying numbers, including the top close-fenwick (corsi) ratio in the league (58.29). Meaning, Sutter’s boys still control the flow of the game better than anyone else in the NHL, the puck just isn’t going in for them enough for it to matter. Yet.
In addition, Jonathan Quick had off-season back surgery and has gone from stud to dud. His even strength SV% is just .905 right now (roughly about replacement level) which is a huge step back from his elite .933 last year. It was Quick and the defense that held the Kings in the running during the clubs long offensive dry spell in 2011-12, so now the team will either need him to re-discover his form or actually start converting all that zone time to goal scoring earlier rather than later this time around.
The Flames can’t really count on a goaltending turn around, at least not right now. With Kipper still out and the pairing of MacDonald and Taylor probable to guard the net for another few games at least, Calgary will either have to hope one of them plays over his head for a bit or they can outscore their issues in net. A nice run of percentages would really help things out right now.
Like the Blues, the Kings are an excellent team at dictating play, so Calgary will have another stiff challenge on their hands this evening. St. Louis kind of toyed with the Flames through the first half of that game, so without Backlund and the first liners looking a bit lost south of the red line these days, the team will have to have their foot to the floor from minute one in order to have a chance tonight.
The Flames first line was mostly a non-entity against the Coyotes and didn’t really show up in the Dallas game either despite the club’s notable come back in the third period. Tanguay and Iginla are some of the only forwards with an o-zone ratio above 50% at this point, but both are back to hovering are break even in terms of possession.
- Cammalleri – Tanguay – Iginla
- Glencross – Stajan – Stempniak
- Hudler – Horak – Cervenka
- Comeau – Begin – Jackman
- Giordano – Bouwmeester
- Brodie – Wideman
- Butler – Smith
The Stajan line has probably been the best one through the last two games. Matt’s semi-resurrection under Hartley probably has less to do with the player and more to do with the coach and opportunity. Stajan was never good enough to be tabbed as "Iginla’s next center", but he was also never as bad as Brent Sutter seemed to think. Centering a line with guys like Glencross and Stempniak, who are generally at the bad end of the ice and can contribute offensively, is ideal for a guy of Stajan’s skillset. If that was Calgary’s third line (and if they had a true PvP option) they’d be in good position.
MacDonald goes again tonight after Taylor’s loss in Phoenix. I thought Taylor generally looked more solid and was better at absorbing rebounds than the former Red Wing, but it’s hard to argue too hard given how lousy a couple of the rookies goals against were.
Unlike the Flames, the Kings have three first/second lines, although Sutter seems to have inserted at least one third/fourth liner on each of them
- Clifford – Kopitar – Brown
- King – Richards – Carter
- Penner – Stoll – Williams
- Lewis – Fraser – Nolan
- Ellerby – Doughty
- Scuderi – Voynov
- Muzzin – Drewiske
It is somewhat obscene, as a Flames fan given the clubs center depth, to see the Kings using Jeff Carter as a winger.
Aside from scoring troubles and lackluster goaltending, the Kings are also battling injuries on the blueline, which is why you see youngster (and up until now first round disappointment) Keaton Ellerby skating on the first pairing with Drew Doughty. Scuderi and Voynov are a more than capable second pairing though, so it’s not like the Kings have a severe depth problem there.
In net will be Jonathan Bernier, who in contrast to Quick has a sterling.950 ES SV% in three games played so far. Bernier was disgruntled in the summer and asked the Kings organization for a trade, which never happened. If Quick continues to struggle for any length of time, he might just have a chance to usurp the incumbent (which was unthinkable just a few months ago).
Sum it Up
Both teams are looking to climb out of the Western basement and sooner rather than later. The Kings have a better roster, better underlying numbers and a better reason to expect a sharp turn around at some point. The Flames, on the other hand, are simply trying to turn back the tide and prove to everyone – especially themselves – they can be an-going concern.