Los Angeles Kings Need To Solve Power Play Woes Soon

LOS ANGELES — After a blazing hot 12-3-0 start to the season, followed by a stretch where they lost seven out of eight games, the Los Angeles Kings are now in a 4-0-1 stretch heading into St. Louis, where they will skate on December 16 against the Blues, who trail the Kings by two points in the Western Conference standings going into action on December 15.

This season, the Kings have won games primarily on the strength of their defense and the goaltending of Jonathan Quick, who is in the top five of all major goaltending statistics as of this writing.

Penalty-killing has been a big part of that defensive effort, as the Kings are ranked fourth in the National Hockey League, with an 86.0 percent rating.

But as Kings head coach Terry Murray often says, while penalty-killing can lose you a game, the power play can win it for your team, and, so far this season, the Kings’ power play has been anything but powerful.

Indeed, the Kings have struggled mightily with the man advantage since day one of the 2010-11 season, scoring just 17 goals on 113 power play opportunities, good for a very poor 15.0 percent rating (ranked 24th in the league), and there seems to be no end in sight for their power play woes, even with the Kings scoring three power play goals in their last three games.

While that may appear to be a positive sign, it took the Kings 17 chances with the man advantage to accomplish that feat—a still poor 17.6 percent rating.

“We’ve been working really hard on our power play in practice,” said defenseman Drew Doughty. “We’ve been watching a lot of video. We’ve been doing a lot of the right things, they just aren’t going in for us.”

“It’s been a struggle for us all year,” said right wing and team captain Dustin Brown, who plays on the Kings’ second power play unit. “We’ve got to work on it and figure it out.”

“Tonight, we had some good chances,” added Brown following the Kings’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild at Staples Center in Los Angeles on December 11. “[Wild goaltender Jose] Theodore played well for them on the penalty-kill, but we had a lot of power plays where we didn’t even get set up.”

In that game, the Kings managed to score one power play goal, but that came on nine opportunities with the man advantage, including a four-minute power play in which they managed to record just one shot on goal.

“We had a nice goal on the power play tonight, but, in a game like tonight, our power play should win us the game with that many opportunities,” Brown lamented. “It’s something that’s a work in progress. You can’t dwell on it now. It’s done. You just have to be prepared to be better in Detroit [their next opponent on December 13].”

The Kings won that game in Detroit decisively, 5-0. But that score is entirely misleading because it took a Herculean effort by Quick, who stopped 51 shots—26 just in the second period and 38 after two periods, to steal victory from the jaws of defeat.

Defenseman Jack Johnson scored a power play goal in the third period, giving the Kings one power play goal on two opportunities in the game, a fifty percent rating. But to say that the Kings are showing improvement with the man advantage after that would be premature.

The Kings employ a simple power play scheme: get the puck to the top of their five-man umbrella, blast shots from the point with traffic in front, and go after rebound chances.

“Some of the best power plays are just that—get it to the point and hammer it,” Brown explained. “The key to that is getting it to the net with the traffic there.”

But the Kings are having a boatload of trouble getting pucks to the net from up top, as Doughty and Johnson, along with centers Anze Kopitar and Jarret Stoll—all play at or near the top of the umbrella—have struggled to get shots or have passed up shooting opportunities in favor of making the extra pass.

After the Kings picked apart the Vancouver Canucks with their power play during the first three games of their playoff series last season, the Canucks made some adjustments on their penalty-kill, pressuring the point men on the power play, taking away their time and space, not to mention, the shooting lanes.

That proved to be the turning point in the series for the Canucks, who won the series, 4-2.

Other teams have picked up on that and the Kings are seeing those very same tactics from penalty-killers in every game, and are struggling to adapt.

“Part of it changes with the penalty-killers,” said Murray. “They put a lot of pressure on and take away those lanes pretty well.”

Despite the tactics used by penalty-killers, Murray firmly believes in his simple approach to the power play.

“In most situations, I’d like to see it come back up top in the umbrella and put a lot of pucks to the net,” he stressed. “You can really wear the penalty-killers down. They’re limited in the number of guys they’re using on the penalty-kill.”

“If you simply get pucks to the top in the umbrella and get pucks to the net with a lot of traffic and make them battle and compete, you’ll get a lucky break, you do the right thing, you find those pucks and you score a big goal,” he added.

On one power play during their overtime loss to Minnesota on December 11, the Kings moved the puck around and had lots of movement of their players around the Minnesota zone, which resulted in an easy, tap-in goal by left wing Ryan Smyth.

Despite the fact that one of the Wild penalty-killers had lost his stick, the Kings’ movement on the play had the penalty-killers chasing the play throughout—a look not seen from the Kings on the power play all season.

But don’t expect Murray to make any changes to his power play scheme.

“We’re looking to pass it into the net, like we did on that one goal, which looks great,” said Murray. “But it’s the part of the penalty-kill and special teams that teams talk about all the time. That’s the one they’re focused on, that back door, those passes through the seam.”

“But up top—you’re shooting the puck and you get the penalty-killers turning around and facing their goaltender, they’re trying to find pucks,” added Murray. “They’re just ordinary players now. They’re not special penalty-killers. They’re just ordinary guys out there, standing around, trying to find pucks, and it’s very hard to do.”

But it has been the penalty-killers making the Kings’ power play look ordinary so far, not the other way around, and with Murray firmly believing in his power play scheme, the players must do more and work harder to create time and space to get more shots on goal.

“All five or ten players on the power play are capable of making plays,” said Brown. “I think it’s about the right decision-making. Sometimes, we’re making the difficult play when there’s an easier play available. Maybe it’s as simple as getting it to the top and getting the shots through from the point with net traffic.”

“It’s five guys that are out there,” said Murray. “It’s a group that has to recover pucks, they have to make the plays, they have to do the right things with the puck and get it to the right place.”

The problem with Murray’s steadfast belief in his power play scheme is that the Kings are entirely predictable when they have the man advantage. Everyone knows that they want Kopitar to get the puck on the half-wall, and when the Kings get traffic in front of the opposing goaltender, they want Kopitar to feed Doughty, Stoll or Johnson for a point shot, preferably a one-timer.

Under that scheme, there is almost no movement by the Kings’ players on the power play. Instead, they remain mostly stationary, waiting for a pass or a shot to go to the net.

As stated earlier, entirely predictable.

To be sure, the Kings’ players at the top of their power play umbrella need to step it up and get more pucks to the net. But perhaps the time has come for the Kings to tweak their power play just a little. Nothing major…a little twist here and there, maybe a different look every once in awhile, to keep penalty-killers honest?

If you listen to Murray, that will not happen anytime soon. But even he knows that unless his team solves their power play problems soon, his team’s playoff chances, let alone the expected improvement over last season, could begin to disappear quickly, especially in the hyper-competitive Western Conference.

“If you take a look at our power play, it’s dropping [in the league rankings], percentage-wise,” he lamented. “[The power play] has to be good whenever you’re playing in this league, if you’re going to be a good hockey club. We have to find a way to get it done.”

“Players on the power play need to take responsibility for it, to make the right plays out there.”

  • Neil Ellis Shafton

    Denial is not a river in Egypt, but it is definetly the excuse or stance which seems to be the status quo of the Los Angeles Kings coaching and management.
    Example: While we were hearing from Bob MacKenzie and Darren Dreger that the Kings were discussing a trade with the Boston Bruins, which stated, Marco Sturm had waived his no movement clause, making Sturm available, so Boston could move him to the Kings for a reported conditional pick, or future consideration, our GM stated there were no such talks going on between Boston and Los Angeles.
    2 or 3 days later, again, it was reported that now there was an agreement, that meant if Sturm was examined by the Los Angeles Kings medical staff, and pending their examination, if Sturm was given clearance by the Kings, the trade would in fact be consummated.
    I read what Gann is reporting, and it sounds like the Kings are placing the blame on themselves, which is very nice, but if they are in fact doing a lot of video review, and then working on improving their “predictable” powerplay, this then sounds like the coaching is not advanced, or creative enough to actually improve this critical component. The Kings need to be a complete hockey team, if they want to be considered a legitimate threat in the Western Conference.
    Right now, the Kings are struggling to score even strength goals, so not having a good powerplay hurts their chances every night of getting a win. If a team knows the Kings are not doing well when they have an advantage like a powerplay, they are more likely to take advantage physically, since they know that more than likely the Kings are not going to make them pay, by scoring on the powerplay.
    I am not sure Marco Sturm is the answer, if and when he does start to play for the Kings, however, the Kings coaching staff, need to change direction, and look at a more effective way of getting the powerplay back to where it was during the end of last season, going into the playoffs.
    It almost seems like the guys out on the powerplay are over thinking, and allowing the defenders that extra second to shutdown or identify what the Kings are attempting to setup.
    Even when the Kings are getting someone to the front of the net, the point shots are missing way to high, or too wide of the net for any sort of tip play, the Kings might be trying. In addition, the rebounds, or lack of rebounds that the Kings are trying to get the goalies to give up are just not happening with the shots coming from everywhere when the Kings do have the man advantage.
    I’d like to see Smyth, Handzus, Poni, even Clifford standing right in front of the goalie, to create a screen, or be able to pounce on loose pucks, which are the result of shots coming from the Kings on the powerplay. The problem right now is these shots are not consistent, or the Kings just not getting them through.
    Hopefully, things will start to get better for the Kings both at even strength and when up a man or 2 on a power play, but if things continue to be a struggle, then the coaching staff do not have anyother option but to find someone else to help get this key piece of the Kings arsenal back to being productive.
    Call them garbage goals, or ugly goals, or anything else you want, but Luc made a pretty good living, picking up the garbage infront of the net, and there is no reason why the Kings can’t find someone or someway to generate these types of goals.

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