5 Burning Questions the LA Kings Must Answer Early in 2013 Season
I'm sure the Kings would agree that an 0-2 record is not the best way to start the title defense of their 2011-2012 championship.
It's only two games however, but it looks like a lot of the same problems that plagued the team throughout last year are haunting them once again.
A star-filled, yet anemic offense. An ineffective powerplay. And now the team is dealing with injuries to key players, and a test at the organizational depth.
We are just two games into a young 48-game season but already there are some burning questions that the team must answer.
When and Where Is the Offense Going to Come From?
Seems like this was a question last season. Wasn't it?
If I had told you at the start of the season that the first three goals of the King's 2013 season would come from the fourth line of Colin Fraser, Jordan Nolan, and Kyle Clifford, you would have probably not believed me.
But it's true. The Kings fourth line has easily been their best line, combining offensive production with strong physical forechecking.
So the fourth line is doing their job. But, when and where is the rest of the offense going to come from? Brown and Richards are each a minus-four, Gagne a minus-three, and Williams, Penner and Carter a minus-two. The Kings top-six forwards have put completely nothing on the board, and have been on ice for almost all of the eight goals the team has let by.
The power play is struggling again as well, a common sight for Kings fans. They are 0-of-11 thus far and have combined for a whopping nine shots.
So, where is it going to come from? Are the top lines going to figure it out? Are the third and fourth lines going to pick up the slack? Or is the power play going to finally figure something out under new assistant coach Davis Payne? Definitely an early question and concern for the defending champs.
How Bad Will These Injuries Hurt Them?
Matt Greene confirmed is out for at least six-to-twelve weeks with herniated discs in his back. Willie Mitchell is slowly but surely recovering from knee surgery. Anze Kopitar is now back on ice from an ankle injury.
How bad will these injuries hurt the team?
If these early games are any indication, it's actually not as bad as it seems. Defensive replacements Davis Drewiske and Jake Muzzin both have played very capably thus far in replacing the two veteran defensmen. However, how long will that last?
Also, Kopitar didn't look terrible in his first game back. It seemed the flaws in his game were more mental than physical. If he is playing through any sort of pain, it didn't show last night against Colorado.
But injuries in any regard can damage a team. Greene is a leader in the locker room, and his presence is much enjoyed and appreciated by his teammates. Mitchell is a mentor on ice, and he is part of the reason young Slava Voynov looked so good last season.
Without two key leaders, on and off ice, these injuries could be more grievous to the team outside of a depth chart point of view.
Is It Time to Make a Trade?
Yea it's still very early in the season. Very early. However, the Kings are going to have at least one long-term hole in the defense with Matt Greene being out what could be for the year.
The team has two cards in its hand that could be put into play, goaltender Jonathan Bernier, and young forward Andrei Loktionov. Both players have made it clear at one point or another that they want to move on from the Los Angeles Kings. Bernier back at the trade deadline of last year asked for a trade, and Loktionov did during this offseason via his agent.
The Kings will have both Mitchell and Scuderi up for contract at the end of this season as well, and it might be time, although perhaps sooner then expected, to pull the trigger on at least one replacement in the short-term for Greene, and in the long-term for Mitchell or Scuderi.
Dean Lombardi has been very shrewd in his player transactions, and it might happen tomorrow or in two months. But know that Dean Lombardi has generally made the smart move in these situations.
But with injuries to key players: Will it be sooner rather than later? Is the time now?
Who Will Be the Odd Man Out?
After a pretty lackluster first game against Chicago, Simon Gagne was a healthy scratch against Colorado.
After a night in the press box from Gagne, it seems Dustin Penner might be in line for a demotion. He was relegated to skating with the third line in practice as of today per LA Kings Insider.
It's hard to justify sitting any of the fourth line players right now, as well as the third line of Dwight King, Trevor Lewis or Jarret Stoll, all whom have come away from the first two games unscathed with an even plus-minus rating.
With Kopitar healthy, it leaves one guy with the short straw each night. Last night it was Gagne, maybe tomorrow night it will be Penner, maybe in two weeks it will be Lewis, King, Nolan, or Clifford. One thing is certain though, there will be one odd man out almost every night. Who it is will most definitely be based on performances.
Are Carter and Richards Really Good Together?
Let's be real for a second, aside from all the "Reunited and it feels so good," storybook sort of stuff, Carter and Richards haven't been all that impressive as a tandem.
While they definitely had an impact on the post-season of last year, they had some less than stellar games at the end of last season and have started out 2013 flat as year-old opened soda.
It's also important to remember that Carter and Richards, although teammates in Philadelphia, didn't really play on the same line or even with the same roles within the team. Richards, for all intents and purposes, acted as a third-line shutdown center who had that rare offensive upside. Cue the Bobby Clarke comparisons.
Carter on the other hand, was a top-six forward desired for one thing: Scoring. He often centered the second line and was rarely used in any facet of a shutdown role, except when he killed the occasional penalty with the Flyers.
I know it's all good and well that the former "reject" Flyer boys were reunited to win hockey's ultimate prize in dramatic fashion, but you have to be asking yourself right now: Are they really that good together? Would they be better off separate? Ala Brown and Kopitar circa 2007-09?
I'm not saying get rid of one of them. It just might be good to let Carter become Carter and Richards become Richards instead of having it be "Carter and Richards" all the time.