Darryl Sutter and the Los Angeles Kings are coming off back-to-back trips to the Western Conference Finals. So while a 9-6-0 start to the 2013-14 season isn't terrible, it doesn't meet expectations either.
The Kings sit fifth in the Pacific Division and ninth in the tough Western Conference. There are a number of areas where improvement is needed, and for the first time this season, Sutter must make adjustments because of an injury to a star player.
Sutter remains one of the NHL's best coaches as his no-nonsense, defense-first style seems to fit perfectly with the Kings' roster.
With that said, here is a closer look at the offense, defense and goaltending, as well as Sutter's grade through 15 games.
Stats courtesy of NHL.com.
Goals for: 2.60, ranked 17th
Power play: 21.0 percent, ranked 11th
Darryl Sutter has shuffled lines to try to make that happen, which has seemed to help get his top three centers to light the lamp after starting the season cold.
At the start of 2013-14, the top line included Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, as it did for much of the past couple of seasons. Now, Dwight King has moved up to take Brown's spot, a role King is capable of filling, though playing 20-plus minutes may be a tough task.
Meanwhile, Brown has performed better of late with a point in each of his last two games, playing mostly alongside Jarret Stoll and Trevor Lewis.
Unfortunately, Stoll left Saturday's game against Nashville with what's being called an upper-body injury and is day-to-day, according to NHL.com.
This brings us to Jeff Carter, who suffered a foot injury against the San Jose Sharks on October 30. Sutter was not made aware of the fact that Carter was placed on injured reserve until his post practice scrum on November 1. Sutter didn't shy away from sharing his disappointment with being informed of the injury by the media (via Chris Peters of CBS Sports).
I didn't know we lost him. We have several guys injured. If it's somebody in the organization that told you, then go talk to them. We haven't been told anything. I'm extremely disappointed the information was given to you before it's given to us. If it's coming from inside, that's disappointing. I have nothing to say about any of that stuff. That's disappointing. That's not how it's supposed to work.
No one should be surprised at how upset Sutter was, especially considering how important Carter is to the team. Hopefully this was an isolated case of miscommunication.
As for replacing Carter and Stoll, Tyler Toffoli and Linden Vey have been called up from Manchester. Vey has yet to play, but Toffoli looked great playing on a line with Mike Richards and Daniel Carcillo against the Predators.
Goals against: 2.67, ranked 13th
Penalty kill: 79.4 percent, ranked 24th
After getting off to a slow start, L.A.'s blue line has been much better five-on-five since the first few games of the season.
Sutter moved Jake Muzzin onto the first pairing with Drew Doughty, dropping Willie Mitchell to the third pairing with Matt Greene. Robyn Regehr and Slava Voynov make up the second unit.
The penalty kill however, has been shockingly bad.
Sutter was critical of the the penalty kill after the Kings' 4-3 loss to the Nashville Predators: (via Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times).
[Matt] Greene and Willie are supposed to be good penalty-killers and they’re both not doing anything, so obviously we’ve got to look at the people we’re using on our penalty kill.
There are certain players who aren't likely to react well to being called out publicly by their coach. Neither Matt Greene nor Willie Mitchell is that type of player. Both are veterans with strong leadership qualities who recognize the need to perform better and should react well to Sutter's criticism.
And, if they don't, the coach will obviously make changes.
Jonathan Quick: 8-5-0, 2.68 goals-against average, .896 save percentage, 0 shutouts.
Ben Scrivens: 1-1-0, 1.90 goals-against average, .924 save percentage, 1 shutout.
There isn't a whole lot a coach can do about his goaltenders.
Jonathan Quick is the team's starter and will be for many years. That was made clear when the team traded Jonathan Bernier.
However, Quick has yet to retain his form and continues to play at best, average. Sutter expects better goaltending, particularly on the penalty kill (as per Lisa Dillman of the L.A. Times).
There is no reason to panic, as Quick always seems to rise to the occasion at the most important moments (down the stretch and in the playoffs). One option Sutter does have is to play Scrivens more often and see how that affects Quick, who has been a workhorse in recent years.
Remember, the Sochi Olympics are just a few months away and Quick is fighting for the starting job on the American team. It's now or never for the 27-year-old.
Darryl Sutter is a member of one of hockey's most famous families. He, along with five of his six brothers, have played in the NHL, and many of them have worked in the NHL or in junior hockey since retiring.
Nearly a decade after he took the Calgary Flames to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, Sutter came to L.A. during the 2011-12 season and led an eighth-seeded Kings team to its first Stanley Cup title.
There should be little doubt about his abilities as a coach. What should be questioned is the ability of the players to perform at a high level throughout the regular season. It's been an issue since before Sutter arrived.
Sutter has juggled lines, adjusted players' ice time and changed assignments. He's done his job. Now it's time for the players to step up and play consistently, as they did in the past two playoff seasons.
With an eastern road trip against some struggling teams coming up, look for the Kings to get back in the thick of the Pacific Division race.