1-1-1… Thoughts About the First 3 Games

Posted: October 14, 2011 by goaliesgetmorebetches in Los Angeles Kings

(NOTE: This entry was also cross-posted at my Kings’ only blog, The Throne Room)

The regular season is upon us now, and the Kings have played a trio of games thus far. Opening day in Stockholm saw the Kings beat the New York Rangers on a Jack Johnson power play goal in OT 3-2. The next day in Berlin, the Kings were outworked by the re-tooled Buffalo Sabres and beaten 4-2. Tonight in New Jersey, the Kings suffered a 2-1 shootout loss to the Devils. So, all things being symmetrical I thought I would give some of my thoughts on the team’s play thus far.

A Dustin Penner injury brought head coach Terry Murray to move Simon Gagne up to the top line with Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. That line has accounted for 3 of the team’s 5 goals thus far, and while Murray’s original idea was to have Penner flank Kopitar on the left, the seemingly instant chemisty between Kopitar, Williams and Gagne should see that line combination stick around awhile. The Kings’ lone regulation goal tonight was a beauty by Gagne, who was set up by Williams and Kopitar. This line has been dangerous in all 3 games and should continue to be going forward.

Much has been said about Jack Johnson needing to be a plus player this season. Through 3 games, Johnson is a -2. Jack has done much to contribute offensively, particularly in the first two games; but he has yet to escape being caught standing around on an opponents goal in any game this year. Johnson has been on the ice, and has made key mistakes in at least one opposing goal against in each of the Kings’ first three games. This is going to have to change in order for Johnson to make the leap from a good second pair defender to a very good defender, period. It’s early but what we’ve seen from Jack so far is what we’ve always seen – and that isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Alec Martinez was the Kings’ best defenseman in their opening game in Stockholm, hands down; and he continued that solid play into the first period against Buffalo in Berlin. After that, Martinez has vanished. In a sense this is good – he hasn’t made any glaring mistakes worth remembering, but he also hasn’t stepped up and made any significant contribution either. If Martinez can regularly play with the intensity he did in the opener, it would be a huge asset to the club. If he’s invisible, it could prompt the team to give Slava Voynov – who had a dynamite preseason – a look during regular season competition.

Scott Parse’s time with the Kings may be coming to an end soon. After having a terrible preseason and contributing nothing in the opening pair of games in Europe, Parse is a healthy scratch yet again. He’s a guy who probably doesn’t fit into any available role on this Kings’ team right now, and his career as a fringe NHL’er has lasted three years on the strength of one fantastic goal against Mikka Kipprusoff three seasons ago. It would be no shock to see Parse end up on the waiver wire soon, where he’s likely to go unclaimed, punching his ticket to Manchester.

Veteran Trent Hunter has looked good in a bottom 6 role so far, much better suited for that role than the aforementioned Parse. While he doesn’t possess the same scoring touch, Hunter could prove to be a worthy replacement for Wayne Simmonds as the season wears on.

It’s far too early to forecast, but Jonathan Quick has been sharp in his pair of starts for the Kings (he was first star in tonight’s SO loss) while Jonathan Bernier was good but not terrific against Buffalo. Based on Terry Murray’s “play the hot hand” comments in preseason, it’s safe to assume we’ll see a lot more of Quick if these first three games are any indication. Ideally Bernier will step up when his next opportunity arrives and that will continue to push Quick – healthy competition can only be a good thing after all. I expect it to be about like last season. Bernier will play well when needed and Quick will be stellar. In short, the Kings will be fine in goal, and I expect Quick to be part of the Vezina Trophy conversation at season’s end.

How is it possible that Dustin Brown doesn’t have a single hit in the Kings’ first three games? Please tell me that’s a typo.

Speaking of Dustins – Penner’s season debut tonight was less than impressive. He didn’t seem to have a lot of jump and the only time of note he used his size was taking a charging penalty at the end of regulation. One game does not a season make, but Penner looked like the Penner of last season – a colossal disappointment – in tonight’s game.

Now that Drew Doughty is making 7 million a season, he needs to be a guy that can take over games. While he missed all of camp and only played in one exhibition game, and hasn’t been bad by any means, he is being paid like the Kings’ best player, and he hasn’t been that so far. Which leads me to…

Just who has the Kings’ best player been so far? No surprise, it’s Anze Kopitar. 5 points in 3 games so far, you can see the effect that having a legit #2 center like Mike Richards is going to have on Kopitar’s season. The 40 goal, 100 point mark is well within his reach, and ESPN analyst Barry Melrose said on the NHL Network’s “On the Fly” last night that he thinks Kopi might win the Rocket Richard trophy this season. This may be the year the rest of the hockey world officially finds out, just how good Anze Kopitar is.

Mike Richards had a key goal to tie the opener against the Rangers, but he still looks to me like he’s not quite dialed in with his teammates yet. I expect it’ll happen relatively soon – and perhaps if Penner continues to disappoint, moving Brad Richardson to 2nd line Left Wing would better benefit Richards’ play. It’s too early to judge, and Richards has already contributed, albeit not quite as consistently as we’d all like.

All in all, the sky is not falling. The Kings have played 3 games, all of them against good teams. As good as the Kings’ are, you could look at the schedule and say it isn’t out of the range of possibility that they could be 0-3 right now. I’m in no hurry to reach for the panic button.

Much will be revealed Saturday afternoon, as the Kings venture into Philly to take on the unbeaten Flyers, perhaps the toughest test yet.

GO KINGS!

-JS

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