Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Oscar Moller Returned to Manchester

After making a couple spot starts in the games against Columbus and Dallas, Oscar Moller has been returned to Manchester, where he can continue working on his game.

I think this is a fine decision. While I was somewhat disappointed to see Moller sent to Manchester to begin the season, I think it was the right call. Moller isn't ever going to be an effective fourth-line grinder. That's just not the game that he plays, but he does fill an important role on the team, and can be a legitimate contender on one of the top two or three lines. In all, he responded fairly well to starting the season in Manchester, putting up decent points. This recent call-up is also a good indication that he's on the minds of Murry and Lombardi, and likely will get a couple more call-ups this season when injuries and inconsistency require it.

This demotion is a likely sign that Frolov will be back in the lineup for the next game against Dallas, which should come as a surprise to precisely nobody. The only hope is that the one game sitting on the bench lit a fire under his ass, and is going to get him moving.

Regardless, hopefully Moller's return to Manchester will allow him to continue working on his all-around game, and lead the Monarchs to post-season glory with the other Kings prospects thriving down in the AHL.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bringin' It Home

Tonight the Kings played division rival Dallas Stars. I wish I had a more clever title for this post, or that my introductory sentence was more engaging. But I don't. Live with it. Perhaps the biggest story in this game is the fact that Alexander Frolov would be a healthy scratch. Frolov is one of the centerpiece players for the Los Angeles Kings, and has scored thirty goals twice in his relatively young career. Despite his important role for the Kings, Frolov has not played terribly well this season, and played particularly bad in the last game against the Blue Jackets, making a truly awful pass that lead directly to a goal. In addition to Frolov's healthy scratch, the Kings have been suffering from a flu bug, that's sidelined or weakened a number of their players.

The question then becomes, how will the Kings respond to this adversity. I suppose the other question might be, how will Frolov respond to being benched, but we'll have to wait to see the answer to that question. To begin the game, the Kings looked solid, though not great. After making a few excellent saves, Quick was beaten with only a couple minutes left in the first period, allowing the Stars to go into intermission, down 1-0.

The first period was disappointing, and it didn't seem like it was going to get any better in the 2nd period. The Kings had a 2-man advantage early in the period for almost a full two-minutes, which they were unfortunately unable to cash in on. They did however manage to hit the post THREE TIMES. Once the first penalty expired, Brown fired a weak shot from the edge, which made its way into the net via Ryan Smyth. The Kings haven't been playing terribly well with three straight losses, but as the 2nd period progressed, they seemed like they had their game together for this one, and I know I for one was hoping they'd be able to put it together and close out the longest road trip of the season at 3-3. Another goal, this one by Justin Williams put the Kings up 2-1 and placed the Kings in everyone's most tense situations, the one-goal lead. Shortly afterward, the Williams-Kopitar-Smyth line utterly dominated the Stars, and topped it all off with another goal. Kings 3 Stars 1.

Third period was some kind of stressful, as the Stars dominated the Kings for long stretches at a time. That said, the Kings showed some real grit, and Quick demonstrated why some people think he's got a future as a talented starting keeper for years to come. Simmonds added an empty net goal, to finish the game and the road-trip off.

Next up: Stars (again)

Result: Stars 1 Kings 4

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Game 6 - Rangers v. Kings

So the streak is over. It had to end, and although I'm not thrilled it came against the Rangers, it could be worse. It could have come to an end against the Red Wings... In the end this game was doomed by weak goalkeeping, and bad luck.

Despite all that, this game might have been the most impressive that the Kings have played, regardless of the result. Unlike some of the other teams (Islanders - poor, Blues - still young and inconsistent, etc) the Rangers can not be described as a poor team. Although I tend to think they'll fall back to earth a la Rangers teams of past seasons, coming into this game they're on a five game winning streak, and their key players such as Gaborik have been highly productive. The Kings had their own four game winning streak, so this was truly a matchup of two of the top teams in the league (for right now) even if it's unlikely that both (either?) will stay there for the duration.

Anyway, in this game, the Kings forecheck dominated for long streches of the first and second period, and although they fell behind early, and played more than half of the game from behind, they maintained their hunger for the goal. The Kings bounced back from an early goal against, and helped get some early support for a shaky Ersberg. It's clear that the lack of playing time has hurt his consistency, but hopefully he'll learn to shake that rust off quicker so that he can play as a solid backup for the rest of the year. I do have to say that if the Rangers have been playing the way they did tonight, I have no idea how they're 5-1. Their passes haven't been crisp, the skating isn't impressive, they have a TERRIBLE breakout, and in general are unimpressive. That being said, there's no arguing with results, and the Rangers have gotten them so far.

I also think this game was useful because it demonstrated a completely different challenge than the Kings have (successfully) faced this season. In their four wins, they've jumped out to a fairly significant lead. Other than the first game, which I'm inclined to describe as an abberation at this point, they've never been behind from the start. This game gave them an opportunity to demonstrate their ability to play against a team that was able to match them offensively, and that scores the first goal. In general I'd say the rose to the challenge. While their power play was generally weak (1 out of 6 is not an impressive conversion rate), other aspects of their game were actually fairly strong. Despite the fact that they failed to make the comeback, they held the Rangers to a single shot on in the 3rd period, and played impressively to dominate the bulk of play when they needed to. In the end they were stymied by talented goalkeeping, but they're definitely on the right track.

Next up: Red Wings

Result: Rangers 4 - Kings 2

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Aw Shucks

First, let me say that I apologize for being scarce in my postings lately. I've been moving, and frankly making sure my lights remain on when I get to the new place, so this has taken a back seat. I'll do my best at this point to get back on track, and we'll review the last few games at this point.

All I can say at this point is that... oh my goodness. After the first two games, any impartial observer might have ask themselves, which team are we going to see this season? Game 1's terrible team with disorganization and all around terrible play? Or Game 2's much more straight forward, solid and competent play. Through five games, that question has been (at least tentatively) answered. The Kings are on a four game winning streak, taking them to the top of the Western Conference, and matching their best start to a season since their 92-93 season, which as we all recall ended in a Cup Final appearance. Will this season end in a Cup Final appearance? Or even (knock on wood) a win?

I doubt it.

But one thing can be said at least this far into the season. Watching Kings hockey is fun again. Now onto the games:

Game 3 - Kings v. Wild
This game seemed like a replay of Game 2. Complete with the strong start, a partial collapse, followed by the Kings putting the game away late. While I'm not thrilled about the fact that they let their opponents back into the game twice in a row, I am happy with the way that they managed to lock down the game and play with a lead. Too many times last year the Kings let a lead slip away, and far too many points were dropped as a result, and these two games early may be an indication that the problem has been at least a bit solved. The six goals is also a great sign that the offense has some real potential this season.
Result: Kings 6 - Wild 3

Game 4 - Blues v. Kings
A totally different game than the first three. In the first game, Kings got rolled. In the second and third game there was a wide-open, offensive bonanza. This game was neither. This was a hard-nosed, grit it out kind of game, and the Kings demonstrated another aspect to their game that has been missing in the past few seasons. It's worth mentioning that Jonathan Quick, after couple decent but unspectacular performances, really stepped up his game with 29 saves. After climbing up to a two goal lead, the Blues grabbed one back, making for a tense ending to the game, but in the end the Kings again managed to put the points in the bank. Another nice ending to a solid game.
Result: Blues 1 - Kings 2

Game 5 - Islanders v. Kings
OK so nobody expected the Islanders to be... good. And in all likelihood they'll be at or near the bottom of the league by seasons end. But despite this lack of quality, any Kings fan has to be pleased with the ability of the Kings to step up and take the points they should be taking. In all fairness, if the Kings are able to consistently lock up full points for the wins against mid-level and lower-level teams, they'll be in great shape come playoff time. In another replay of the previous games, the Kings jumped out to a two goal lead off goals from Kopitar and Doughty, before giving one up near the end of the game. Although I would have liked to see the Kings prevent that one goal to preserve the shutout for Quick, who was clearly deserving after another excellent performance.
Result: Islanders 1 - Kings 2

In all there is a lot to like about the team and (obviously) the start. I'd love to see the Kings grab another win against the streaking Rangers to prove that their wins are going to stand up to the top teams in the league.

Kings Statistics Through 5 Games:
Anze Kopitar - 4G 6A
Ryan Smyth - 4G 4A
Drew Doughty - 2G 4A
Justin Williams - 1G 4A
Michael Handzus - 2G 2A
Alexander Frolov - 1G 3A
Jarret Stoll - 0G 4A

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Game 2 - Kings v. Sharks

So as a follow up game to the embarrassment that was Opening Night, this game had some ups and some downs. In general the Kings played MUCH better than the first game, though admittedly that means just about nothing. That being said, a win against last season's President's Trophy winners, and a team that by all accounts is projected to finish at or near the top of the Western Conference is nothing to scoff at. Now onto the positives and negatives:

First the positives. The Kings came out rolling. The team was playing exceedingly well for the first period and change. After coming out with some serious energy, the Kings racked up four consecutive goals and chased the usually consistent Nabakov. The Kings offense was firing on all cylinders for this game, especially for the first half of the game. With six different players getting on the score sheet (five if you leave off the empty-netter at the end of the game), the team is hopefully going to continue their offensive talent. Although it's highly unlikely that they'll put six up every night (obviously), this is hopefully an indication that they've got the firepower that was desperately missing last season. Only time will tell if they can keep it up. The final positive worth noting is the obvious. They managed to snag a solid win against a big division rival, projected to finish at the top of the Pacific by most experts.

Now onto the negatives. Wow what a collapse. After coming out strong, the Kings fell apart after chasing Nabakov. After putting four goals up, the Kings had an important power play near the end of the second period. Instead of putting the game, and the Sharks, away, they allowed them to climb back into the game with an atrocious and inexcusable too many men on the ice penalty. This kind of mental meltdown allowed the Sharks to score the first of four goals on their way back to tie the game. Eventually the Kings managed to pull the win out, but it's not something they are going to be able to rely on. In addition, if the Kings are unable to close out a game in which they are leading 4-0 more than halfway through the game, how are they going to finish out a tight game with MUCH less breathing room? The final (but not insignificant) negative was the Penalty Kill. With all four of the Sharks goals scored on the power play, the Kings failed to kill even on penalty successfully. Hopefully this was a blip on the radar, and they'll turn that aspect around. Special teams will be key this season, and a weak PK could be lethal. We'll see I suppose.

In all, I'd say this was a good turn around after game one. They'll need to build on the positives, and leave the negatives behind. Up next? Kings v. Wild on Thursday. Any predictions?

Kings - 6
Sharks - 4
Kings Scorers: Wayne Simmonds (1), Ryan Smyth (1), Jack Johnson (1), Anze Kopitar (1), Ted Purcell (1), Davis Drewiske (1)
Sharks Scorers: Devin Setoguchi (2), Rob Blake (1), Dany Heatley (1)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Game 1 - Kings v. Coyotes

What a terrible way to start a season. After a reasonably entertaining and somewhat hopeful preseason, the Kings started the game with a big exciting 6-3 loss. I can say one thing without question. It was a terrible, terrible game to watch. From the outset the Kings looked outclassed, and Drew Doughty, the great white hope on defense from last year, played a truly atrocious game. In general it was an embarrassment. I'm not going to get into too much detail at the moment, but suffice it to say, if the rest of the season continues like this, we are going to be in for some rough sailing. That said, here's the box score:

Kings - 3
Coyotes - 6
Kings Scorers: Anze Kopitar (1), Alexander Frolov (1), Drew Doughty (1)
Coyotes Scorers: R. Vrbata (2), M. Lombardi (1), D. Winnik (1), S. Upshall (1), R. Lang (1)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Preseason Review - All The Way Through

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming... (although not without another plug for that awesome polar bear ad. It's awesome, check it out.) Now, after going 3-2 in the first five games, the Kings had three games left on the schedule, including two against the Avalanche and one against the hated Ducks. Unfortunately the results didn't play out quite the way a Kings fan might have preferred (ie. we lost too many times). On to the game by game:

Kings 2 - Avalanche 3
Kings Scorers: Peter Harrold (1), Trevor Lewis (1)
Avalanche Scorers: P. Stastny (1), M. Hedjuk (1), T. Hensick (1)
Recap - Bummer of a start with a loss against the Avs. It definitely not a good sign, since the Avs have been widely predicted to finish outside of the playoffs, and since the Kings will certainly be fighting for a playoff spot, they'll need to make sure to secure as many points as possible when playing substantially inferior teams.

Coyotes 3 - Kings 5
Kings Scorers: Anze Kopitar (2), Alexander Frolov (1), Wayne Simmonds (1), Drew Doughty (1)
Avalanche Scorers: D. Tucker (2), W. Wolski (1)
Recap - A better result then the last matchup between these two teams and I'll take it. With Kopitar's two goals, he's hopefully finding his knack for the net that he'll be able to build upon heading into the season. Another bright spot in this game includes Simmonds' continued scoring touch, and while I'd be shocked if the scoring continued at anywhere near this pace, the offense he's shown, coupled with the teammates he's likely to have make me think 20 goals for the winger might not be out of the question. It's probably worth a mention that this game was played in Las Vegas, Nevada during the annual "Frozen Fury". In the last 13 FF matches, the Kings are 9-2-2. If only they could translate that success into the regular season...

Ducks 5 - Kings 4
Kings Scorers: Ryan Smyth (2), Anze Kopitar (2)
Sharks Scorers: C. Perry (1), B. Ryan (2), R. Getzlaf (1), J. Lupul (1)
Recap - Not the most uplifting way to end the pre-season with a loss to cross-town rival Ducks. That being said, Kopitar put in another couple goals, and Ryan Smyth continued to impress with his performance for the Kings. He's looking more and more like a great addition to this team, and certainly worth the cost. This end to the pre-season put the final record at a solid, if unspectacular 4-3-1. Lest you be tempted to be overly optomistic about this record, keep in mind that the Kings have finished with a pre-season record of .500 or better for 21 consecutive years. Yes, you read that right, they haven't had a preseason below .500 since the 1980's. In all that time, they've also only made the playoffs 9 times. Clearly success in the preseason is not a predictor of success. Hopefully this will be the year that it all turns around and the Kings make the next step into the playoffs.

Thursday, October 1, 2009