Biggest Takeaways from Los Angeles Kings' Start to the 2013-14 Season
The Los Angeles Kings are off to a slow start in 2013-14, and there is plenty of blame to go around. From goaltending to the lackluster defense and a poor effort up front, the Kings have not played like the team we've come to know.
Or have they?
The Kings have had great success in the playoffs the past two years, but in the regular season, they have underperformed. Luckily there are still 78 games to play, so L.A. has a great opportunity to jump to the top of the Pacific Division and stay there.
With that said, here are the biggest takeaways from the Kings' start to the 2013-14 NHL season.
Stats courtesy of NHL.com.
Quick off to a Slow Start
Jonathan Quick's gaffe against the New York Rangers wasn't his first, and it probably won't be his last. He let in one from center ice in the playoffs a couple of years ago against the Phoenix Coyotes. And in last year's postseason, he misplayed the puck behind the net, allowing the St. Louis Blues to score to win the game in overtime.
There is no question Quick is off to a slow start. He allowed four goals to the Winnipeg Jets before being pulled, and after four games, his save percentage is .890 and his goals-against average is 3.13.
However, he does have two wins under his belt, and his play should improve as the Kings embark on a four-game road trip. Quick is one of the best goaltenders in the world and has a good chance of being the starter in Sochi for Team U.S.A. To secure that role, he will need to be at his best in the coming months.
Expect the 27-year-old to get his save percentage above .915 and GAA below 2.50 by the end of October.
The Defense Needs to Step Up
The Kings have one of the deepest defensive cores in the league, but their performance thus far has not reflected that.
Matt Greene, a regular on the third pairing, is the only defenseman who has played well consistently. The 30-year-old American has a goal and leads the team with 14 hits, 10 blocked shots and an even plus/minus rating.
Meanwhile, the second pairing of Slava Voynov and Willie Mitchell has coughed the puck up on a number of occasions, specifically against the New York Rangers. The pair combined for six of the Kings' 17 giveaways on the night.
Drew Doughty hasn't fared much better, with a team-high seven turnovers, one goal and a plus/minus of minus-two.
A combination of mistakes from the blueliners and subpar play from Quick could pose major problems for an L.A. team that relies heavily on defense and expects to win tight-checking, low-scoring battles.
As mentioned in the previous slide, the Kings are a team that thrives in tight-checking, low-scoring games. They aren't going to score four or five goals on a regular basis. That said, they need to do a better job of consistently generating pressure and getting pucks to the net to create quality chances.
Establishing the forecheck is key and something the Kings usually do well, but that hasn't been the case thus far. Aside from a few instances involving Mike Richards and the second line, the Kings haven't been effective enough in disrupting the opposition's breakout or generating turnovers in the offensive zone.
The Kings' average of 28.8 shots per game may seem sufficient, but it ranks 21st overall in the NHL, and too many of their shots are easily stopped without a rebound. In fact, the Kings have scored just three five-on-five goals and allowed eight in four games.
They can't rely on the power play to win each and every game. The Kings must improve their play at even strength, especially in the offensive zone.
Superb Special Teams
For all of the negative aspects of the Kings' play early in the season, there is one major positive that can't be ignored: special teams.
Aside from Jonathan Quick's error, the power play and penalty kill have been excellent through four games. The Kings have scored on 31.2 percent of their power-play opportunities, good for seventh in the league. And they have killed off 83.3 percent of their penalties, which ranks 13th overall.
On the power play they have moved the puck well, generating chances from the point and from in close. This was the key to their win over the Senators, as Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown and Mike Richards combined for four power-play points on the team's second and third goals.
Not to mention Carter's overtime winner, which came just as a power play was expiring.
On the penalty kill, the defensemen have played aggressive but smart, while the forwards have been able to stay in the shooting lanes and block shots. Trevor Lewis and Jeff Carter have six blocked shots each, the most among L.A. forwards.
Strong special teams play could go a long way in helping the Kings secure their first Pacific Division title.
Jeff Carter Continues Where He Left off in 2012-13
Jeff Carter ranked among the NHL's best snipers last season, with only Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares and Steve Stamkos notching more goals.
Carter finished with 26 (on pace for 44 in an 82-game season), and he's picked up right where he left off. Carter tallied two goals against the Senators and added an assist, giving the 28-year-old four goals and one assist for five points in four games. He also scored a shootout goal against the Wild in the first game of the season.
Carter is one of the few bright spots on an L.A. team that has struggled out of the gate in 2013-14. He consistently finds open spaces in the offensive zone, plays solid two-way hockey and blocks shots.