As the 2005 Brit pop band Bloc Party single put it, so here we are. (Great song/band for those who want to check it out!)
It is the start of a new season, a new chapter, and a new march to the cup. While we sit here today on opening day with a clear idea of what the Kings roster looks like, it took us a while to get here, and a lot may change in this long marathon of a season. Trades may happen, injuries already have, and a lot may change from 1st line to 4th line. As the Kings lineup today to play the San Jose Sharks, we have what is our first real clear idea of the roster. While it was a given that Drew Doughty would be the No. 1 defenseman, and Anze Kopitar likewise would be the No. 1 center, the Kings roster has been in flux with the additions of some free agents, the return of some injuries, and the inclusion of a few young guys on the full time roster. What we have is a team that, as we said yesterday in our five burning questions
does not look all that dissimilar structurally and depth wise to many successful Kings teams of the past.
Driven on defense, on structure, and on scoring by committee, the Kings embark on a new year. What does that roster look like though? What are the strengths and weaknesses? What can we expect top to bottom? As we break down the roster point by point, let's remember one thing: Darryl Sutter loves to change it up. The roster that is today, the lines that are today, might not be the lines of five minutes into the game. But with all that in mind, let's run through the Kings roster and preview a little bit.
Devin Setoguchi - Anze Kopitar - Dustin Brown (Gaborik)
Well aren't we a long way away from the days when I sent out a tweet laughing at the idea of Setoguchi playing in the Top 6? Just a few short weeks ago it seemed highly unlikely that the former Shark would be on the Kings roster, let alone in the Top 6, let alone ON THE TOP LINE. But again, here we are. Setoguchi earned his one-year two-way deal with an excellent training camp and a renewed sobriety and outlook on his opportunity. It is very hard not to cheer for Devin Setoguchi after his personal battles and the journey back, and he gets his shot at redemption alongside the Kings No. 1 center and player, Anze Kopitar. There is not much we can know about how Setoguchi will perform, given he has been removed from the NHL for over a year, and did not look particularly good upon his exit with Winnipeg and Calgary. But a new day dawns, and we have a clean slate to view Setoguchi on.
The Kings also look to reunite in the short term a duo that has had mixed results in the past, and that is Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar. At times Brown and Kopitar have looked strong together with menacing puck protection, but at the same time Kopitar puts up far lower production rates alongside the former Kings captain, as Brown really really really likes to shoot and have the puck. While possession metrics are still strong, take a look at how Kopitar lines have fared with Dustin Brown on them versus without over the past three years.
Goals for drop by over 1.00 per 60 at 5v5.
However, the Kings are in a bit of a bind at the moment with Gaborik's injury and someone is going to have to fill in up top. While Carter played sometime alongside Kopitar at the end of last season on wing, the Kings seemed prepared to move forward with him at 2C for the moment.
(Pearson) Ted Purcell - Jeff Carter - Tyler Toffoli
Teddy Purcell will fill in for the time being on the right side of the 70's line, but once his two games are up it is back to business. The trio of Carter, Toffoli, and Pearson were one of the most potent lines the Kings put together over the past two years. The combination of speed, defensive prowess, and scoring ability made for an exciting and often times dominant combination. The duo of Carter and Toffoli specifically have flourished over the past two years and the Kings are hoping for a similar strong season this year. Whoever you put alongside those two is going to benefit greatly. Dwight King posted great numbers alongside them last year as well despite what was an altogether disappointing season for King. There is versatility in that regard if the Kings want to mix it up. The modern NHL is dominated up front by duos, not lines. WIth Carter and Toffoli as an established, familiar, and productive duo, anyone can punch in at left wing on that group and probably do alright. Purcell gets the first taste with a suspended Pearson, but that does not mean Pearson's role is solidified here. While there is a lot of positive trajectory with Tanner Pearson, he will still have to find his way up the Kings roster on his own. He averaged just 14:28 of ice time last year despite being one of the Kings most productive per 60 minute scorers, up there with both Carter and Toffoli. It just feels like his year this year.
Dwight King - Nick Shore - Trevor Lewis
Dwight King's position, like almost the entirety of the left wing group at this point, is tenuous at best. King could very well move down into the 4th line as Pearson phases back in and Teddy Purcell slots further down the lineup. King needs a massive bounceback year, as last year he took a step back and is facing both age and a contract year this season. While at his best King can play a pestering power forward and retrieval role on the forward group, his future is one that is more uncertain than others at the moment. Granted, a return to the 30 points realm once again would be a benefit to both the 27-year old and the Los Angeles Kings.
Shore and Lewis are a curious duo, but one that proved absolutely dominant at times last season. We've detailed it to a nauseating degree, but the Lewis, Brown, Shore combo were so good for the Kings last season but could not score even if (insert inappropriate metaphor here). Lewis and Shore remain intact, as the Kings continue to post a clear divide between skilled top six and grindy defensive bottom six sets. While the team does have the more offensively oriented Nic Dowd waiting in the wing, it looks like he will play extra forward for the time being. While you are always going to get defensive responsibility and safe play from both Shore and Lewis, the Kings will need to see better production from both. The duo should also figure in heavily to the Kings penalty killing scheme this year.
Kyle Clifford - Andy Andreoff - Jordan Nolan
Old habits die hard, and the grindy "Sandpaper" -esque 4th line of the Kings will maintain through another year. There is, however, a somewhat renewed hope with the Kings 4th line. A healthy Jordan Nolan cannot go another season without scoring a solitary goal right? Kyle Clifford will almost certainly bounce back from his off year last year as well right? And Andy Andreoff can push forward on what was his strong stretch run performance right? Who knows honestly. One of these players will be out of the lineup though come the return of Tanner Pearson, so this could be an interesting group to keep an eye on throughout the year. Clifford and Nolan have been staples of the Kings lineup and identity over the past three seasons, and that is again the case as we open the year. At their best they are a 4th line that brings pace and simple north-south hockey, but better all-around defensive and offensive numbers would go a long way in helping describe them in anything other than hockey cliches.
Nic Dowd, Tanner Pearson (Suspended), Marian Gaborik (Injured)
Dowd remains the extra active forward for the time being but will be joined by someone else upon the return of Pearson. Dowd will have a difficult time it seems cracking the Kings roster, as an already established set of 1-3 centers line up in front of him. Well he could steal a spot from Andy Andreoff, the Kings will likely be tentative to place Dowd on the 4th line. It may come down to a battle between Shore and Dowd, which has seemingly been the trend in preseason. Dowd brings a quicker and more creative game to the table than Shore, and it would be a step in a more offensive oriented direction to give a nod to the former St. Cloud State center.
Jake Muzzin - Drew Doughty
The tandem is back together after a year of playing with each other sparingly in an effort to balance out pairs. You know what you get from this duo. Doughty will play the more cavalier role, while Muzzin can play safety valve and hit forwards with his laser guided stretch passes. It is a great balanced pair, and one that helped Jake Muzzin rise to prominence a few years back.
Brayden McNabb - Alec Martinez
Despite the hate, Brayden McNabb is a pretty solid defender. However, he has to take that and run with it this season if he plans on being separated from Drew Doughty. McNabb only played around 100 minutes at 5v5 away from Drew Doughty last season, and it was on the trainwreck pairing with Luke Schenn. Martinez and Muzzin combined to be one of the Kings best shut down defensive pairings last season, but with McNabb stepping in with Martinez it may allow Martinez to take on even more of a puck moving oriented role. Last year he posted career highs in points, and hit double digit goals for the second time in his career. If the Kings are asking McNabb to be a safety valve type player alongside Martinez, it could either lead to a very strong balanced pairing, or something the team will have to tweak moving forward. An established and strong 2nd pair that allows Doughty and Muzzin to play together would be massive for the team.
Derek Forbort - Matt Greene/Tom Gilbert
The Kings have two options here with the two vastly different styles of their right handed options. Forbort has shown an ability to move the puck well, but really does not assert himself much for the occasion. He plays more of a steady, quiet two way role. Matt Greene would be an interesting player alongside Forbort because it would almost push the young defenseman to assert himself more. Of course, if he does not, it could be a pairing that struggles to get the puck up to their forwards and gets hemmed in their own zone frequently. We saw a similar thing with the Schenn/Scuderi/McNabb carousel last season, where none of them seemingly wanted to move the puck up ice and instead deferred to their partner. Gilbert has had a somewhat rough preseason, but has shown glimpses of a puck moving ability that surpasses that of either Forbort or Greene. If he slots in to the right side it would alleviate some pressures to be more aggressive to Derek Forbort...but the Kings may not necessarily want that from him. It is an interesting scenario on the third pair, and like the 4th line this may be a situation to keep in check as the season moves on.
It is worth noting that the Kings also have Gravel waiver exempt in the minors, heavily breathing down the neck of all parties on the third pair.
Zatkoff had a pretty rough preseason that did not instill a ton of hope that he could take up the mantle of 20 or so games to alleviate the workload of Jonathan Quick. We asked in our five burning questions yesterday if the Kings planned on riding Quick as heavily this year as they did the last two years. Overall though expect Quick to be the every night starter barring something like a back to backs, an injury, or a stretch of very inconsistent form. Even then, in two of those three scenarios he might play. Quick has always been polarizing to the stats community, as he posts fairly average numbers overall, but to the eye makes saves that no human being has business making. Stepping away from the exhaustive and annoying "Is he elite?" debate that often comes up every time he makes a huge save or lets in a howler of a goal, Quick is a stable and competitive goalie who backstops the Kings well night in and night out.
We are not even going to guess lines on this because it shifts by game, by minute, and by momentum. Obviously the Kings will give the regulars their time, like Carter, Toffoli, and Kopitar, but there is a plethora of reasonable options after that. The 2nd unit will be an adventure for sure. Pearson should be in the mix, Setoguchi as well, but maybe we see a return to powerplay usage of shot machine Dustin Brown? His usage on the powerplay has steadily declined since 2011-12, and not ironically so have his point totals.
Perhaps Brown has always been something of a powerplay specialist whose numbers have been propped up in the past by special teams production (Hmmmmm...) but that is a debate for a different day. Point is the Kings have some questions on the second unit. They also have a question on the 2nd pair. Doughty and Muzzin will certainly run the show, but past Martinez the Kings do not have too many options to man the point. Do we see them drift into a 1-3-1 on the first unit to limit defensive need? The Ontario Reign did something similar last season.
Either way the Kings 2015-16 powerplay was actually a great strength, which is something of a rarity on a team that lacks scoring. Another strong powerplay year would be a great help.
Just about everyone plays on the penalty kill for the Kings. It should come as no surprise given the team's attention to detail and disciplined manner that they were passable on the penalty kill last season. In recent times the Kings have been a team that sways from the 10-15 range in penalty killing in any given season. With very little turnover to their penalty killing members, expect this team to once again be an alright penalty kill team. Their expanding box style seemed to struggle at times against potent 1-3-1 set ups, but overall they do well. The fearless shot blocker, Matt Greene, coming back into the fold might also help stabilize the unit as a whole.
Darryl Sutter is the rock behind the bench again after some questioning of his return this offseason. Honestly, it never seemed that much in doubt, as Sutter and the Kings have just seemed to fit in style and mentality over the years. He manages to squeeze water from a rock at times with the Kings roster, focusing on defense, structure, and simplicity to win hockey games. While many criticize the Kings for their lack of scoring, this is a team that still manages to win A LOT of hockey games with a roster deemed sub-par at times from the masses. His in-game management remains some of the best in the league, even if some of his roster decisions can seem at times frustrating and archaic to the old ways of hockey. Hard to critique success, and that is what Darryl Sutter has and will bring to the Kings bench yet again this year.
Enjoy the season everyone, hockey is back.
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