Though some of that glaring lack of complementary scoring should be attributed to injuries (Marian Gaborik, Anze Kopitar, Trevor Lewis), the rest of the blame falls squarely on the configuration of L.A.’s bottom six.
Third-line center Jarret Stoll has struggled mightily to start the new season, while Mike Richards has performed nicely but found himself saddled with inferior linemates.
With players not slotted in the best position to succeed, the Kings have looked sloppy and should be considered very fortunate to sit at 6-1-2.
Rectifying this issue would emphasize the value of their forward depth and ensure stronger overall outings from here on out.
Stoll currently sports a club-worst Corsi percentage of 41.8.
By continually fumbling the puck and committing giveaways, he hasn’t merely stifled his unit’s offense—he’s allowed the opposition to hem the Kings in their zone. No line has spent more time defending. No line has spent more time on its heels.
Unfortunately, since hockey is such a team sport, his pitiful showings have dragged his teammates down.
Stoll’s five most frequent on-ice partners have all fared considerably better away from him:
|Kings with/without Stoll in 2014-15|
|CF% with Stoll||CF% without Stoll|
Those with/without figures are shocking. He’s still hustling, taking the body and winning his share of faceoffs, but every other aspect of his game has taken a nosedive. He can’t make a play with the puck on his stick, whereas his coverage has been spotty at best.
His skill set isn’t one that should generate a ton of points, so his goose egg in this regard is palatable. However, he should be much stronger defensively, curtailing the other team's possession.
Against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday, his turnover just inside the defensive blue line leaves the Kings in disarray and leads to a pair of dangerous shots:
Blunders of this sort have become familiar this season.
If he isn’t supposed to create offense and is failing to deliver on defense, why is head coach Darryl Sutter granting him stronger linemates than Richards?
Sure, he’s still quite good on draws, but that’s a situational asset to deploy rather than a reason for him to regularly log more and higher-quality minutes.
At this point, it’s hard to justify his spot on the third line.
Even if he eventually regains last season's form, he'd constitute a better fit on the fourth unit, where he could toil in the trenches without hampering the offense of key contributors such as Justin Williams and Dwight King.
Though chemistry is sometimes difficult to manufacture, Richards and Williams have already developed a rapport. They were terrific in spurts during the 2013-14 playoffs, and their numbers together this season are stellar.
Williams’ Corsi percentage rises from 54.5 without Richards to 58.3 with him. The two have combined to pin opponents in their zone and pepper them with shots.
King is another winger who benefits from a playmaker rather than a grinder at center. With his frame (6'4", 230 lbs) and ability on the boards, he’s adept at fishing pucks out for teammates, extending plays and establishing a cycle.
That all goes to waste once Stoll gets involved.
King’s Corsi percentage with Stoll is a horrid 38.6. With Richards, it vaults to 54.1.
From defense to offense and everything in between, Richards has comfortably outplayed Stoll:
|Stoll vs. Richards in 2014-15|
|CF60||CA60||CF%||Off Zone Start||Off Zone Finish|
|Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com and Behind the Net|
Keep in mind that he's mustered those stats while often carrying around the pile of dead weight known as Jordan Nolan. The 6'3", 221-pounder can skate and hit, but he's next to worthless with and without the puck. Jewels from the Crown's John Carroll noted just how inadequate he is in various departments.
Richards' underlying numbers become really, really impressive when one considers his linemates.
The most telling figures relate to zone starts. He has enjoyed the fewest offensive-zone starts among Kings centers this season, yet he's finished in the attacking end more frequently than every other pivot on the team.
In a nutshell, he’s consistently driving play toward the opposition’s net.
His improved fitness has benefited him most in this regard. With a motor that runs just a bit longer this season, Richards is governing the neutral and defensive zones, preventing the other team from applying pressure and initiating the breakout.
He’s engaged. He’s in the thick of the action. He's tilting the ice in the Kings' favor.
Sutter has to recognize this and pair him with individuals who can capitalize on his promising start. Otherwise, the Kings will continue to miss out on production that's ripe for the picking.
Before the regular season, I suggested that Richards would bounce back this year. That won’t happen if he’s never tendered a fair shake.
Since the season opener, he’s only been afforded one crack at decent linemates as a center—he spent a few games on Kopitar’s wing—and despite a steady stream of turnovers by Dustin Brown on Tuesday, Richards still found the back of the net in that contest to steal a point from the Philadelphia Flyers.
Any guesses as to which King figured prominently on that marker? Yep, No. 14.
The Kings can only rely on That ‘70s Line for so long.
Once Kopitar returns—LA Kings Insider's Jon Rosen reports that he isn't expected to play against Pittsburgh on Thursday night—swapping Stoll and Richards’ roles would be wise in order to limit the former’s responsibilities and maximize the third line’s two-way potential.