Los Angeles Hockey: Brian Connelly
January, 28, 2012
By Dan Arritt | ESPNLosAngeles.com
Victor Decolongon/Getty ImagesAnze Kopitar is one of many Kings whose offensive numbers are down compared to the same time last season.
Fifty games down, 32 to go. The Kings are sitting in seventh place in the Western Conference standings coming out of the All-Star break, four points out of ninth and just two short of the Pacific Division lead. Here are the key areas to watch heading into the home stretch of the regular season.
1. Scoring, scoring and, well, more scoring – Look no further than league-wide scoring averages to pinpoint where the Kings need to improve the most. They’re still last in that category at 2.14 goals a game, a hole they’ve been dug into the last two months. The Kings had 143 goals through 50 games last season. They’re sitting at 111 now, more than half a goal per game less than a year ago. Probably not surprising, the numbers for the top three scorers from last season are also down. Anze Kopitar has 15 goals and 29 assists, compared to 16 and 33 through the same stretch last season. Justin Williams has nine goals and 25 assists. He had 18 and 21 through the 50-game mark a year ago. Dustin Brown has dropped from 17 goals and 20 assists to 13 and 14. Last season’s second-line center, Jarret Stoll, has seen his numbers fall the furthest. He’s sitting at five goals and nine assists after racking up 14 and 17 through the All-Star break last season. Even those who were playing elsewhere this time last year, Mike Richards and Dustin Penner, have seen their offensive stats tumble. Water always settles back at its natural level. Hopefully the Kings’ offense will too.
2. Voice in the room – The players seemed to receive a jolt when coach Terry Murray was fired Dec. 12 and replaced a week later by Darryl Sutter. They earned points in 14 of the next 15 games to climb into playoff contention in the Western Conference standings, but another goal here or there would have pushed them even higher. The Kings appeared to be falling back into old habits heading into the break, scoring five goals in four games before a 4-1 victory Monday against visiting Ottawa ended the skid. The lull may suggest that the honeymoon with Sutter is over. For the most part, he has defended his team’s unsteady play, placing a big chunk of blame on the demanding schedule that included two season-opening ‘home’ games in Europe, followed by a two-game East Coast swing. They haven’t had three days or more between games since mid-November. After an eight-day layoff, the Kings play a home game Wednesday against Columbus then embark on a season-long six-game road trip that could go a long way toward determining if they’re contenders or pretenders. They went 6-1-3 during the Grammy trip last season, catapulting them back into playoff contention.