LOS ANGELES — Going into the 2010-11 National Hockey League season, perhaps the biggest concern for the Los Angeles Kings was five-on-five scoring, which was a weakness for them the previous two seasons.
Last season, the Kings scored 145 goals during five-on-five situations, ranking 19th in the thirty-team NHL. Compare that to the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, who scored 179 five-on-five goals, and it becomes clear that the seventh-ranked Kings’ power play was a huge factor in their 101-point finish last season, launching them into sixth place in the Western Conference and into a playoff berth for the first time since 2002.
Given their success with the man advantage last season, the last thing anyone was talking about was the power play as the 2010-11 season approached. But after four games, the Kings have been absolutely dreadful on the power play, scoring just once in 16 opportunities with the man advantage, good for a 6.2 percent rating, ranking 29th in the league through games played on October 18.
Even worse, much of the time, the Kings have not been able to get their power play set up at all in the offensive zone.
Right wing and team captain Dustin Brown, who plays on the Kings’ second power play unit, pointed to breakout plays from their own zone as a source of Kings’ power play woes.
“We really need to focus on, especially tonight, we were a little disorganized coming out of our zone,” Brown explained following his team’s 4-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks at Staples Center in Los Angeles on October 15. “There were a couple of times where the defenseman circled back and we all got off the same page.”
“In today’s NHL, guys are too good at penalty-killing, and if we’re not all coming up as one unit, there’s very little chance of getting set up,” Brown elaborated. “My unit didn’t get set up tonight, I don’t think. That’s all the result of what happens below our circles.”
“We have to go back to the drawing board on the power play, look at some film and figure it out. We have to stay on it consistently.”
Following their win over the Canucks, Kings head coach Terry Murray did not seem too concerned.
“We’ll continue to spend the amount of time that we are spending on the power play,” he said. “We think it’s sufficient to keep it going.”
“We give it a lot of work, we give it a lot of time,” he added. “We pay attention to it and I wish we would’ve had some possession play, moving it around and settling things down in the offensive zone. But Vancouver’s penalty-killing was tremendous. They really were aggressive. They jumped on players with the puck and made a lot of smart reads. Give them some credit.”
But in the days following that win, Murray and his staff apparently took a closer look at the power play and found problems…enough to pay special attention to the power play in practice on October 17.
“It’s more about the repetitions and the consistency and execution away from the puck that we were giving a focus to today,” Murray told Rich Hammond of LAKingsInsider.com. “We had gone through a video review before the practice started, to point out some things from the Vancouver game, what needed to be better. That’s what the focal point was.”
“It’s people away from the puck, off the puck, the movement and recovery of pucks before you go to position,” Murray added. “We’ll go back at it again tomorrow and the morning of the game.”
While their power play has been atrocious through four games, penalty-killing has been a key factor in the Kings’ 3-1-0 start.
“The power play wasn’t good tonight, but our [penalty-kill] was,” Brown said following the win over the Canucks on October 15.
Indeed, penalty-killing has been a source of strength for the Kings, who have allowed just two power play goals in twenty shorthanded situations, ranking fourth in the league with a 90.0 percent rating.
A hot start in goal by Jonathan Quick has also played a role, as he has backstopped the Kings with a 3-0 record, a 0.97 goals-against-average and a .963 save percentage—all stellar numbers.
Murray has been impressed with what he has seen from his number one goaltender through four games.
“[Quick has been] really collected, very calm, very composed,” said Murray. “When I see Jonathan Quick playing in the early part of the [Vancouver] game with that kind of an attitude, you know he’s on top of it.”
“He’s very composed, very collected,” added Murray. “I just think there’s a purpose to his movement. Again, when you see that in the early part of the game, you feel good about it. The whole team feels more confident. The team feels good when they see the goaltender in such good control and handling the puck, making plays and stopping the puck.”