The Los Angeles Kings season kicked off with such promise, as a Dustin Brown-Anze Kopitar-Devin Setoguchi opening shift forecheck turned an L.A. dump-in into a Logan Couture tripping penalty which led to a Tyler Toffoli power play marker.
“The Kings do exactly what they want to do,” observed NBC Sports analyst Brian Boucher. “They want to get the puck in deep on the San Jose Sharks and dictate the play.”
So what’s gone wrong since then? Besides the obvious — Jonathan Quick’s groin injury — a lot. Can Los Angeles turn it around?
Speaking of dump-ins, Jason Lewis of HockeyBuzz chimes in on LA’s slow start:
While controlled entries into the offensive zone produce more shots in general, the Kings have historically enjoyed significant shot generation success with dump and chase. Here are rare examples of dump-ins which worked against San Jose and Philadelphia:
Teddy Purcell (9) lures Chris Tierney (50) toward him in the defensive zone and looks off Justin Braun (61), before feathering a chip past the guessing defender. Purcell kept Braun from staying tight on the boards, which is where the winger probably wanted to go in the first place.
This leaves the neutral zone to Jeff Carter (77), who is cut off from a clean zone entry by Marc-Édouard Vlasic (44). But Carter has a Plan B, as Toffoli (73) times his entry into the zone at near-full speed.
At center ice, Jake Muzzin (6) has eyes on Kopitar (11) and Dwight King (74) up ahead, and both gain the zone full speed. Muzzin drops a dime, and King hovers near Kopitar to provide support, creating a 2-on-1 down low for Mark Streit (32).
On the flipside, here’s an example of a dump-in which didn’t work out as well:
Actually, a lot went right here. Purcell places it beautifully for Trevor Lewis (22) gaining the zone at full speed. They initially outnumber Ivan Provorov (9) behind the net. But after Claude Giroux (28) helps, the 19-year-old Provorov simply bests Lewis.
These examples demonstrate what will often lead to a successful dump-in — by successful, let’s say generating a shot:
- Accuracy — touch on the dump
- Timing — speed gaining the zone
- Pressure — support to outnumber the opposition
There are many moving parts for a successful dump-in, as even decent dump-ins don’t always lead to shots, just one thing off can ruin everything. Based on results, Los Angeles has clearly lacked precision in this department so far.
Before the match-up with the Flyers, these were Jim Fox’s Keys to the Game:
Yes, breakouts were that bad against the Sharks.
Here, Kyle Clifford (13) is absolutely chewed up by San Jose.
Purcell thinks he has time and the middle, not noticing the backside pressure from Tierney until it’s too late.
King believes he has time and the middle, but David Schlemko (5) disabuses him of that notion. The failure to advance the puck on this shift actually led to Quick’s injury.
Obviously, the Sharks themselves were the source of many of the Kings’ woes, as they clogged the middle and pressured the puck carrier. Los Angeles has solutions, though; in every case presented, the winger can make a quicker decision. Indeed, especially against puck hounds like San Jose, the split-seconds matter.
Against Philadelphia, there was improvement, especially in a first period which saw L.A. hold the visitors without a shot for 15 minutes. But the middle frame saw blemished breakouts from their blueliners.
Indeed, the Derek Forbort-Matt Greene pair struggled mightily, but the Kings’ other defensemen, despite their average to excellent numbers, weren’t immune.
Here, Brayden McNabb (3) almost kills Toffoli.
It looks like Drew Doughty (8), under no great pressure from Michael Raffl (12), simply missed Toffoli on the wall.
These mishaps led to back-to-back icings, though in fairness, it looks like King missed the chip-in from the hard Doughty pass. In Jake Muzzin’s case, he attempts to thread a pass through Raffl, Giroux, and Wayne Simmonds (17), presumably to connect with Setoguchi (10). While Muzzin has the skill to complete difficult passes and his team is down three goals, in hindsight, he might have just given it to the neighboring Kopitar.
“We’re not making good passes to break it out, and if we do have the good pass, then we’re not the next pass to break it out,” acknowledged Doughty to LA Kings Insider. “When we get that puck on our stick, we’ve got to have the poise to make the play to get us in the other zone.”
And then there are just the flat-out mistakes, presented with minimal commentary.
That’s great work by Tomas Hertl (48).
Even Ryan Fitzpatrick would cringe at this Nick Shore (21) throw behind the receiver.
In theory, Muzzin made the right play on the PK, tossing it back to kill time, but he failed to locate Simmonds.
Forbort (24) attempts a frightening pass up the middle, while safety valve Lewis stands wide-open to his left.
Philadelphia takes advantage of a Los Angeles line change, then King loses Sean Couturier (14) just inside the blueline to the slot. Couturier scores. This was actually the Flyers’ second goal of the game which resulted from a poor L.A. line change.
Forbort travels an inefficient route to the Flyers’ dump, allowing Dale Weise (22) easy retrieval.
Can It Be Fixed?
“We’re going to have to really play mistake-free to win hockey games,” asserted Darryl Sutter after Quick’s injury. However, that quote has been overblown. “Mistake-free” is the goal, not a possibility.
So can the Kings reduce their mistakes to a winning level?
Probably. The errors from veterans like Doughty, Muzzin, King, Lewis, and Purcell are uncharacteristic. The aging roster is young enough and their success recent enough to suggest that they’ll turn things around.
Relatively unproven commodities like Shore, Forbort, and Greene (who’s back from a long-term injury) obviously need to play better or be replaced quickly. Hopefully, Los Angeles recognizes the latter option, unlike in 2014-15, when they fed a worn-out Jarret Stoll third-line minutes all season long.
What’s wrong with the Kings isn’t two ugly, abnormal losses. It isn’t even losing Quick for multiple months. Unlike the Montreal Canadiens or New York Rangers, LA’s winning ways aren’t tied hand in hand with their goalie’s. Sutter’s system and personnel should protect whoever’s backstopping them, whether it’s Jeff Zatkoff, Peter Budaj, or somebody else.
No, what’s wrong with top-heavy Los Angeles is shallow depth which sees Forbort-Greene get mashed or Shore as second-unit power play center.
The good news is, these are fairly fixable problems, but will Dean Lombardi and Sutter make the necessary repairs?