What to Love and Hate About Los Angeles Kings' Special Teams
In recent years, it's been a case of Jekyll and Hyde for the Los Angeles Kings' special teams.
The penalty kill is often dominant, limiting the opposition's scoring chances and sometimes even creating offense of its own. Meanwhile, the power play has had its struggles. This was especially true during the 2012 playoffs, but that didn't prevent the Kings from hoisting their first Stanley Cup.
There have been no major changes to L.A.'s lineup yet this offseason, although up-and-comers like Tyler Toffoli could earn more power-play time this year.
With that said, here is what to love and hate about the Kings' special teams heading into the 2013-14 season.
Stats courtesy of NHL.com.
Love: Jonathan Quick
By his standards, Jonathan Quick didn't have a strong 2013 campaign.
The 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner finished the lockout-shortened season with a save percentage of .902, down from .929 in 2012. His goals-against average went from 1.95 in 2012 to 2.45 in 2013.
Still, Quick was able to give his team a chance to consistently kill off penalties by almost always making the first save. He recorded a power-play save percentage of .863, which ranked in between Henrik Lundqvist and Tuukka Rask.
Quick also improved down the stretch, returning to his dominant self in the postseason. He posted a .934 save percentage and 1.86 GAA to go along with three shutouts in the playoffs, as the Kings came up short in the Western Conference Final.
Like most elite goaltenders, Quick has been the team's best player on the penalty kill for years and should be even better next season.
Hate: Lack of Scoring Chances on the Power Play
The Kings' power play ranked 10th in the NHL in 2013, scoring on 19.9 percent of its chances. Not bad, but considering the offensive firepower up front and on the blue line, it could have been better.
One of the primary problems was getting pucks to the net. The Kings got a lot of shots off, but many were from the outside and therefore blocked or deflected wide. On top of that, they had trouble regaining possession following those shots.
The Kings need to work more effectively down low to generate scoring chances in close.
Two players who could provide a boost in this area are Justin Williams and Anze Kopitar. The pair combined for just one power-play goal last season, although Kopitar racked up a lot of assists.
By taking higher-percentage shots, there should be more scrambles in front and more rebounds, which should lead to more goals.
Love: Mike Richards
Mike Richards doesn't always get the credit he deserves. When it comes to special teams, he should be recognized as one of the league's best.
Richards is capable of playing just about any position on the power play. He is strong in the faceoff circle, works well on the wing and can also man the blue line opposite Drew Doughty on L.A.'s top unit. Richards has scored 45 power-play goals in his career, including a career-high 13 in 2010 with the Flyers.
However, his true strength is on the penalty kill, where he has had a profound impact throughout his career. Richards is relentless on the kill, sacrificing his body to block shots and diving to clear loose pucks regardless of the score.
Rarely out of position, he's also determined to create offensive chances when his team's down a man. Richards has scored an impressive 27 career short-handed goals in the regular season and another three in the playoffs.
He holds the NHL record for the most career 5-on-3 short-handed goals with three.
You can expect the Kenora, Ontario native to eat up a ton of minutes on special teams next season.
Hate: Penalty Kill on the Road
L.A.'s penalty kill has been great overall in recent years, but there were stretches last season when it struggled on the road.
The main reason was the Kings took far too many penalties.
They were short-handed 91 times on the road compared to just 70 times at home. They allowed only eight power-play goals at home, killing off 88.6 percent (fifth in the NHL) of their penalties. On the road, they allowed 19 goals, killing off 79.1 percent (18th) of their penalties.
Overall, their penalty kill was in the top 10 in the league, but it must improve on the road this season if the Kings hope to take the division title.
Love: Youth Providing Depth
For a team that hoisted a Stanley Cup just over a year ago, the Kings are surprisingly young. In fact, according to NHL Numbers, L.A. is the fifth-youngest team in the NHL with an average age just under 27.
The Kings also have a number of solid prospects who could see NHL time this season. Tyler Toffoli made his mark in 2013 and Linden Vey as well as Tanner Pearson could be the next ones up.
Vey is a one-time CHL scoring champion who has tremendous speed and a strong shot. Pearson is developing into a solid two-way player with a high hockey IQ.
Along with Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis and the newly acquired Matt Frattin, these players can provide depth on special teams if needed.
As we saw during the 2013 playoffs, injuries can take their toll and others must step up to fill the void.