Another regular season, another Kings team, simply sliding their way through yet another 82 game schedule, hoping for the best and hoping for a chance to play further into spring.
I have seen enough of this group to draw the conclusion that they are constant underachievers in the regular season, but perhaps not overachievers when it comes to the second season of the NHL playoffs. In 2012 and just last spring, every player in black and white put it all on the line in each game of the postseason. They all play each game as if it could be their last. How else can you explain three game seven wins all on the road against three of the top teams, if not best teams in the NHL last season in San Jose, Anaheim and nemesis Chicago?
It is December 6th, and once again we are watching another Kings team, mostly made of the same guys from 2011-2012 season, just going through the motions, in my most humble opinion, are not doing nearly enough. Taking account their current record, 13-9-4 and having a dismal road record, this team shows up when it wants to. The game against the Blackhawks two weeks ago and so far this afternoon against the Flyers are excellent examples of that. And to never, ever show up against Chicago in most regular season games over the last eight or so seasons is pathetic and inexcusable, in what should be a showdown between two teams who are closest to the term dynasty since the Detroit Red Wings in the mid to late 90s and early 2000's.
Watching this afternoon's contest against a struggling Philadelphia team, the Kings have yet to challenge Steve Mason and the soft Flyers defense and it is midway through the game almost. Like I said, not good enough.
After the Kings were easily dispatched by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013, I kept sayint that this team needed some speed and skill, and had possessed way to much grit and grind. The presence of Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, who Darryl Sutter finally figured it out that he had to live with some youth and someone who could score and not worry so much about his lack of defensive skills, made it possible for the Kings to defeat the Hawks last spring. Mission accomplished, right? Take a look at who leads the Kings in goals right now...gee I wonder who they are. Pearson and Toffoli both lead the team with 10.
Another issue is the lack of scoring from guys who need to be scoring, like Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik. All three of these guys have been nearly absent (at least from the scoresheet) in quite a while. Of course, you cannot score goals when you are constantly sitting out games like Gaborik has, with all kinds of lingering injuries and playing in just 15 games thus far out of 27 total. We all new that Gaborik would never come close to playing a full season, but missing 55% of the action is unacceptable. This clubs is really going to regret signing this guy to a seven year deal. I wonder if they can restructure his contract since he plays when he feels like it. Right now, this is clearly inexcusable. Everyone plays through pain, so time to suck it up and get off your ass and play. This is another reason why I have a ton of respect for Phil Kessel, because this guy really takes his lumps and is playing right now through an injury. The guy is a total rink rat and can never be kept out of the lineup unless it is really serious.
Jeff Carter was on fire at the beginning of the season, playing with the other members of the 70's line, a line that was perhaps the best in the NHL and largely responsible for beating Chicago in the spring. Since Sutter has shuffled up the lines, Carter has not only been absent from scoring goals, but has also fell into the "going through the motions" spell. As I am writing this, Carter just missed a wide open net on a man advantage. Good Lord...
God knows I love Anze Kopitar, but skating well with just 5 goals here in the month of December, well that is also not enough. Also, sitting at just a plus 2 rating, being one of the better defensive forward in the NHL speaks more to his offensive struggles.
Simply put, this team needs more from these three guys. Still cannot believe that the LA Kings are paying $6 million plus for a guy who plays half of the time. It is already bad enough to be paying a similar cap hit to Mike Richards, who has been regulated to third line duties. These two contracts have to be rectified soon, either through trade or restructuring, good luck with both of those options, although Toronto has been mentioned in trade talks with Richards for the past several months. Not a bad idea, seeing that Toronto is chock full of young centers still trying to figure things out.
With the rest of the supporting staff, I am very happy with. Seeing Dustin Brown score two goals the other night in the desert brings back memories of the 2007-2008 seasons when Brown used to have some offensive skill still left in him.
Dwight King plays hard every night and every shift and really does quite well for someone who has very little skill and skating ability. Even Jarret Stoll has chipped in with some goals as of late, and provides to be a solid bottom six center. Stoll will be a UFA at seasons end, which means Dean Lombardi must decide whether to trade Richards or sign Stoll for another season or two. It might actually be better to trade Richards and get something in return and bring back Stoll for another season.
I would call Drew Doughty's season a disappointment thus far, not because of his defensive responsibilities but more because of the lack of offense. In order for the Kings to continue to be successful, this team needs Doughty to score and the Kings really are paying him to score and help spearhead the attack. Having scored two goals, with none on the PP and just 4 PP assists, #8 has not done his job. With guys like Robyn Regehr and Matt Greene still a part of this team, Doughty needs to be the offensive leader for a blue line that is supposed to be quite potent from the blue line. But thanks to a slow start for Jake Muzzin, injuries to Alec Martinez and losing Slava Voynov due to personal problems, Doughty's value and need is at an all time high, and so far he has not been as good as I hoped he would be in this situation.
A lot of the Kings' problems can be blamed on Voynov, which is another situation that has clearly gotten out of hand thanks to the NHL and those responsible with law enforcement in the area where all these allegations surfaced. Semyon Varlamov was involved with a similar and perhaps more abusive incident with his girlfriend and missed just a game or two. Why has the case against Voynov so extensive and with very little or no progress? This whole mess has certainly been a head scratcher, and when this is all said and done I can care less if Voynov plays another game in a Kings uniform again.
The best part of this team is that even when playing poorly, they are still in every game thanks to their defensive first mentality. Good defense does lead to good offense and eventually, the pucks will go in the other teams' net. However, I still think this team can and must be improved, and why not fill some needs from within.
The Los Angeles Kings organization has been very reluctant to rely on some of its strengths in the system. It took them a long time to hand off the baton to Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier. It also took them a long time to give Toffoli a chance to play everyday when the club clearly needed some speed and skill. It is a shame to not be able to see what this team would have looked like if they still had Matt Moulson, Brian Boyle or even Linden Vey on the roster. All three of those guys were given up on and two of them sure have had pretty good NHL careers to date and another one is doing very well for a team with somewhat of a new identity in Vancouver. As of this moment, the Kings possess a few more names playing very well in Manchester, and I hope the organization starts putting more faith in their young talent crop. 22-year old center Nick Shore has been a part of the USA's gold winning junior championship team and also has been in Manchester for two seasons and has excelled this season with 19 points, but has also posted a plus 13 in 20 games played. I believe that having such a solid +/- in the AHL shows if you are ready for NHL games or not. Having that as well as offensive production, this kid should be given a shot soon.
Defenseman Derek Forbort has also been in the system for the last 4 seasons, and also seems worthy of a shot with the Kings finally. Bringing up Forbort would have been a good idea when Voynov got intro trouble. He should end up being his replacement before long. I do like the signing of Jamie McBain, who was highly regarded when playing in Carolina. Having McBain and Brayden McNabb, who is also a young budding defenseman makes it an easier transition for the Kings and Forbort. Still, I would rather give Matt Greene's ice time to a youngster like Forbort, and trade Greene.
To be successful now and the next few seasons with the core of the team locked up until 2019 or so, the Kings must be able to retool and upgrade on the fly. Perhaps the Kings are sitting on a gold mine with backup goalie Martin Jones. Jones could conceivably be a starting goaltender on two-thirds of the teams in the NHL. Sooner or later, Jones will have to be moved. The sooner the better due to the timing. The Kings are going to have to simply sign a backup veteran goaltenders, and that shouldn't be too hard. Who would not want to be a backup goaltender for a team who has a shot to win the Cup each season and play half the season in sunny LA?
Moving over to the Maple Leafs. What else can I say about this team? The Leafs need to keep attacking and keep scoring. I think Toronto is a very deep team, which allows them to trade someone, even a key player, for a need such as another stay-at-home defenseman.
James van Reimsdyk continues to be perhaps the bigger disappointment in Toronto. JVR is a lazy forward, who refuses to work hard in the defensive zone. If Randy Carlyle continues to put JVR and Kessel together on the top line, this team will continue to struggle defensively. With the depth the team has, and how well all of the other forwards are playing, finding another suitor on Tyler Bozak's line should not be difficult.
Jake Gardiner is also not a defenseman, and seeing that he is signed under team control for another four years, it is time to get serious about moving him to a wing. I have said before, and I have been laughed at and criticized, but you Leaf fans know I am right. In this case, it is important to be able to retain Cody Franson who has been playing very well this season, but how much of that success is fueled at getting a new contract to play elsewhere next season? And who knows if his lazy, weak defensive play and attitude doesn't return if he does sign a longer term contract to stay in Toronto? All of this being said, makes it even more important for the front office to go out and make a deal to bring in another Roman Polak-like defenseman, and seeing so many decent defenseman being dealt over the past couple of weeks, a deal for a blueliner can be made.
Tonight in Toronto, all eyes are on Jonathan Bernier. This game tonight is another test for the 26-year old to be able to make strides in proving that he can be a starting goaltender in the NHL. The Leafs had been playing very well prior to Thursday's bad loss to New Jersey in which Bernier allowed five goals to a team who cannot score. Two of which were soft, and the others being just plain bad bounces. Still, I believe that the NJ Devils should write a thank-you note to the NHL and the Office of Officials for allowing the Devils to get away with at least 10 obvious infractions, including the non-call on Daniel Winnink's partial breakaway getting slashed, hooked and hauled down for good measure and not even getting a shot off as the Devils came right back and scored the 4th goal, the final dagger to the heart on Thursday.
Vancouver will be a good test for the Leafs, but mostly for Bernier. A capable, reliable #1 goaltender needs to be able to bounce back after a bad night and at least give his team a chance to win the next night. If Toronto loses and the Canucks get four, five or more goals on Bernier, this team is right back at the starting gate with its two young netminders, and I would expect and demand that James Reimer gets another shot in goal Tuesday against Calgary.
By the way, Kings lose 2-1 at home to a Flyers team who has won just once in its last dozen or so games. Pathetic loss. Pathetic effort late on a power play on home ice down a goal. Losing both games this season to the Flyers is weak. Yet again, the Kings are a weak regular season team and will continue to be unless Lombardi and Sutter start relying on more of its youth in the system who are showing they are capable of playing well with Manchester.