We're nearly five games deep into the Los Angeles Kings 2013 season, and there is already lots to talk about.
The team recorded its first victory on Saturday over Phoenix, but they are still sitting in the basement of the Western Conference. Slow starts and injuries have taken their toll, however the team has some bright spots to focus on.
Players are returning to health, and a lot of role players are making their presence felt. While 48 games isn't a whole lot of time, it's enough time to not panic about the start to the Kings' season. There is a lot of hockey to be played in this shortened season, but let's take a look at some of the positives and negatives for the team from the start of the year.
Kyle Clifford has easily been the Kings' best player thus far.
Through four games Clifford leads the team in scoring with five points, and he leads the team in plus-minus rating with a plus-six and hits with 16.
After what many would consider a bit of a sophomore slump for Clifford in the 2011-12 season, he has come out in 2013 swinging. He's bringing energy on every shift, throwing hits, making intelligent plays and putting points up on the board.
He's been promoted from the fourth line to the second line to play with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, and it may be a perfect fit. Clifford's energy might be exactly what Richards needs to get his game going.
Which brings us to two of the headliners for the Los Angeles Kings: Dustin Brown and Mike Richards.
Each had tremendously slow starts, and they look like they've been sitting around all lockout. Obviously that isn't the case with Dustin Brown, who spent some time over in Germany, but the point remains—these two look a step behind.
Between the two they have just one assist, and they are a combined minus-seven. Also odd for Dustin Brown is his lack of physical play. He has just nine hits so far, ranking fifth on the team. Richards, leads the team in giveaways with four, and he is winning just 46 percent of his faceoffs.
It's safe to say, if the Kings want to get better results, they need better play from two of their major cogs.
The two fill-in players for injured defensemen Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene have done admirable jobs to start the year.
The 23-year-old Muzzin had a milestone night on Saturday, recording his first career goal along with an assist for his first multi-point game in the NHL. He was also a plus-four on the night, which led all Kings defensemen.
For a rookie with just 14 games of NHL experience, Muzzin has looked calm on the puck, and he is making solid low-risk decisions. He needs to play a bit more physical and log a bit more ice time, but the team has to be pleased with his development since 2010.
What can you say about Davis Drewiske? He has been a press box regular almost his entire career and is asked to fill in for handfuls of games at a time with no real momentum or game speed readiness. However, he does it and does it well. Twelve minutes of ice-time a night isn't a lot, but what Drewiske has given the Kings is 12 minutes of reliable defensive play and safe hockey.
Where is it?
The power play is currently 0-for-23 on the season, and are the only team in the NHL without a power-play goal. They've spent over five minutes of the power play on 5-on-3 opportunities (5:09 to be exact.), which is the most in the NHL, and they have nothing to show for it.
What is most frustrating about the power play is the execution. The Kings have such talented personnel on special teams, yet they are stagnant in almost every situation. They have little movement from players, no cross-seam passes, no pulling defenders out of position and just stagnation.
Perimeter play seems to be the strategy, yet perimeter play has seen the Kings land just 21 shots on their 23 power-play opportunities.
That's right. The team is averaging under a shot per power play. No way should that be the case when you have names like Kopitar, Richards, Carter and Doughty on a unit together.
The teams power play was a problem last season as well. It makes one wonder if the struggles were really the fault of recently dismissed coach offensive/power play Jamie Kompon or the players he was drawing the plays up for.
Have fun Davis Payne.
Although the regular fourth line is now without Kyle Clifford, it doesn't change the fact that they have been a big positive every night so far for the team.
Veteran Colin Fraser and rookie Jordan Nolan have been putting in work on the bottom line, making the most out of very limited ice time.
However, for a fourth line, 10 to 12 minutes is pretty solid. Not only has the line been eating up more minutes than your average fourth line, they have been putting up points.
Fraser and Nolan have combined for three points and a plus-seven in four games, and if you add Kyle Clifford's tallies you're looking at the highest scoring line on the team. Sutter has taken notice as well, and he has rewarded both Fraser and Clifford with some power-play minutes, as well as penalty kill time.
With Clifford bumped up to a more primary role, it's up to Nolan and Fraser to get the wheels turning on the more recent press box residents of Dustin Penner and Simon Gagne, both whom when inserted into the lineup have been on the fourth line with the duo.
Injuries are a part of sports. They are especially inevitable when you play such a physical game like hockey.
The Kings have had to deal with the absence of three major figures so far this season—Anze Kopitar, Willie Mitchell, and Matt Greene. The latter two are still out, and the team is still trying to deal with it.
While the replacement players like Muzzin and Drewiske have done very well, it still throws the team off a bit. Greene is a vocal leader on the bench and in the locker room, and Mitchell is a leader and calming presence on the ice.
Slava Voynov for example, Mitchell's defensive partner, has looked a tad more tentative in his game with the absence of his veteran linemate.
It's early in the season to be dealing with injuries, but it happens. Hopefully the Kings can remain relatively healthy for the rest of the year without any more major losses.