LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings are 1-1, two games into the 2010-11 National Hockey League regular season, and while it is way, way too early to identify trends, either positive or negative, the Kings have scored just twice in the two games, once on the power play and once in a five-on-five situation.
To make matters worse, the Kings generated few chances during five-on-five situations in both games, in part because of tight checking by the Vancouver Canucks on October 9 (Kings won that game at Vancouver, 2-1 in a shootout) and by the Calgary Flames on October 10 (Flames won, 3-1, in Calgary).
As stated earlier, two games into the season is way too early to identify this as a problem. Nevertheless, Kings head coach Terry Murray has to be a bit concerned.
Although his first line of Ryan Smyth and Dustin Brown centered by Anze Kopitar has created scoring chances in the two games, the second line of Jarret Stoll centering Brad Richardson and Justin Williams has struggled to generate opportunities, and that extends back into the pre-season, including when left wing Scott Parse was on the left side prior to suffering ankle and groin injuries that put him on injured reserve to start the season.
Despite the fact that Williams came into training camp in outstanding physical condition and has looked faster and stronger since his first pre-season game, and while Richardson has been effective in his role, battling for loose pucks along the boards and in the corners, the line has been unable to get much of anything going as Stoll has not yet gotten untracked.
Heading into training camp, Murray pointed to Stoll as a player he expects more offense from.
“Jarret Stoll is a player who I talked to in our exit meetings,” said Murray. “I really want to see him on the puck possession plays, making offensive zone plays, shooting more, scoring more.”
“It’s there for him, in my eyes, the way he can skate and shoot, along with his attitude of getting to the net, looking for rebounds,” added Murray. “We need him to put up more in the offensive part of the game as a second-line center.”
Stoll did not score a goal during the pre-season and has been held off the scoresheet in the first two games of the regular season, even though he was credited with five shots on goal, along with one missed shot, against Vancouver.
But against the Flames, Stoll fired just two shots on goal and missed on one attempt.
Although he has been strong on face-offs, winning nine out of eleven against the Canucks and eleven out of 13 against the Flames, Stoll knows that expectations are higher for him.
“I feel good out there,” Stoll said just prior to the end of training camp. “I want to carry the puck more, have the puck on my stick more. That’ll create more confidence, and, obviously [from that] you get pucks on the net and you shoot the puck.”
“In talking with Terry and the coaching staff, they really want me to carry the puck more through the neutral zone and have better routes on the breakout where I do get the puck more,” added Stoll.
Despite the second line’s slow start, again, drastic measures are not in order just two games into the season.
“We’ve just got to keep working, talking, communicating with each other, and just working off each other,” Stoll stressed. “It can’t be one guy going. It has to be all three of us going and on the same page.”
“Richie and Willie are both great players with skill. They’re great with the puck, so I’m just trying to get’em the puck, move for’em and get open.”
Lewis, Harrold Biding Their Time
With rookie defenseman Jake Muzzin, and rookie forwards Brayden Schenn and Kyle Clifford making the Kings’ opening night roster, a couple of players have found themselves in a familiar setting to start the season.
Indeed, forward Trevor Lewis and defenseman Peter Harrold made the team, but, much like last season, have found themselves as extra players on the roster, at least for the time being.
Clifford’s quick rise to the NHL level after a brief stint with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League (Kings’ primary minor league affiliate) at the end of last season following three seasons with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League has not only pushed winger/agitator Rich Clune back to Manchester, but, along with Schenn’s strong play in training camp and in the first two regular season games, it also means that players such as Lewis have to wait patiently for an opportunity to get into the lineup.
“We finished last year with Clune on the left side and he brought that physical play, that grit,” Murray told LAKings.com. “He was willing to battle, he was a very vocal guy. I look at Clifford as a guy who’s bigger. He matched up against some pretty big guys during the training camp when he had to drop his gloves and fight somebody. That’s what I was looking for—more size.”
“Clifford has some potential to move up as he gets further into his career and become a player who could play on your top nine easily,” Murray added. “That potential is something we’re going to continue to work with. At the same time, he’s a 19-year-old in a man’s body, and I have no reluctance whatsoever to have him out there against bigger, stronger veteran players because of the physical strength that he has.”
With Clifford locking onto a spot on the wing for the time being, and with Schenn putting in impressive performances against Vancouver and Calgary, both players could find themselves with the Kings beyond the nine-games played mark, after which, their NHL contracts kick in.
Both Clifford and Schenn still have junior eligiblity and cannot be assigned to Manchester. They could still find themselves back with the junior teams at any time this season, but would not be available to the Kings until after their junior team’s season ends.
Indeed, with Clifford and Schenn looking solid on the fourth line, Lewis, 23, finds himself as a healthy scratch once again.
Going into training camp, the knock on Lewis had been consistent effort and strong play along the boards and in the corners. But with greater strength and improved conditioning, he appears to have improved in that area.
“That’s got to be his game,” said Murray. “He’s got speed, he’s got that ability to hunt pucks down behind the defensemen to kill time, whether it’s five-on-five or penalty-killing.”
But with Clifford’s size on the wing and with Schenn looking like he could move up from the fourth line, Lewis may find himself on the sidelines for quite some time, or even back in Manchester.
In similar fashion, Harrold, 27, is biding his time, also waiting for an opportunity to contribute, as youngster Jake Muzzin has moved into the number six defenseman spot, even though Harrold has looked good in Murray’s eyes.
“Peter Harrold has looked pretty good,” Murray noted prior to the end of training camp. “He’s been a defenseman throughout the whole camp, his natural position. I think he’s enjoying playing defense, rather than moving around different forward positions [as he did last season]. He’s played well.”
As Murray noted, Harrold was a utility player last season, playing both on defense and as a forward. But his ice time was limited, at best.
“My year didn’t go as either one of us expected,” Harrold said. “Some of it was just a numbers thing, some of it was putting different forwards in, with me playing at forward or playing [as a defenseman]. It wasn’t the way either one of us [Harrold or Murray] really wanted it to go, so I did what I could during the off-season to force their hand this year and do my best to take that spot.”
Nevertheless, at 6-0 and 185 pounds, Harrold lacks size and strength compared to 19-year-old Muzzin, who is 6-3. 215 pounds. But Harrold is stronger coming into this season, and in better condition.
“I think I’m in much better condition,” Harrold stressed. “Last year, over a long period of time, my skating wasn’t as good. I worked on that a lot this summer, so it’s better.”
“Obviously, I’m not going to be running anyone over out there, so it’s going to come down to being in the right position and the right spot in the defensive zone and making good plays out of my own zone, contributing offensively when I can,” Harrold added. “That’s one of my strengths, so I play to that.”
Of course, if the Kings need him to move back up to the wing, he will gladly take advantage of the opportunity.
“When they asked me to play forward two years ago, I took it as an opportunity,” he said. “It’s one more thing I can learn how to do that makes me more valuable. If I can help the team that way, I will.”