The 2010-11 season for the Los Angeles Kings saw them qualify for post-season play for a second consecutive season. In the end, they wound up with the same result as last season, losing in six games in the opening round of the playoffs.
So as they head into the off-season, they again have placed themselves in an enviable position to infuse the roster with more young talent while using free agency and trades to supplement and enhance the current roster.
Over the next few days, we will review the previous season, and look ahead to an intriguing summer. For the second straight season, one of the things we’ve done in helping to evaluate the season was to create a statistic based upon the old age of the importance of goals scored in the first or final minute of play in a given period, as well as the final five minutes of regulation or in overtime.
We’re calling these ‘clutch goals’, ‘clutch assists’, ‘clutch points’, and ‘clutch plus/minus rating’. For these purposes, we’re crediting a plus to any goal scored during these times for or against, which makes it a slightly different number than regular plus/minus where power play goals for and short-handed goals against don’t count.
In this article, we will review the play of the forwards. The next article in this series will review the coaching staff and other management. We’ll also look ahead to the off-season and what additions the club will make to the squad both internally and externally.
Name: Anze Kopitar
Overall Stats: 25 goals, 48 assists, 73 points, +25
“Clutch” Stats: 5 goals, 6 assists, 11 points, Even
Kopitar once again was the leading scorer for the Kings, but his true value to the hockey club wasn’t felt more than when he was injured in late March. He missed the final seven games of the regular season and all six games in the post-season. It was in this span of action that the organization, and those that follow it, understood better than ever just how valuable he was and is to the team.
He will never be a player that can take over games by himself. He will likely never score 50 goals or finish with 100 points. Of course, he still has yet to be paired with a player of his talent level. For Kopitar, staying healthy is paramount to any success the team will have moving forward.
Before the injury, the one area he still needs to improve upon is shooting the puck anywhere near the slot area of the goal. Too often, especially with the man advantage, Kopitar would hold the puck or look to pass (most often back to the point) rather than shoot. He scored at a 10.7% clip on 233 shots. If he were to increase the number of shots to around 300-320, he might pick up 5-10 more goals.
From the standpoint of his body of work this season, including his work on faceoffs and in the defensive zone, Kopitar had another outstanding season.
Name: Dustin Brown
Overall Stats: 28 goals, 29 assists, 57 points, +17
“Clutch” Stats: 5 goals, 6 assists, 11 points, +2
The Kings captain led the club with 28 goals this season, and was one of six on the roster with 20+ goals this season. Brown was one of just three players in the NHL this season to reach the 300 hits mark for the season, and continues to show great puck awareness in all three zones.
Brown continues to lead the team with a quiet demeanor – a lead-by-example type rather than being vocal, and the players seem to react very positively to that.
He is one of the faces of the franchise with his outstanding community leadership, and the result of that is his being nominated for the NHL Foundation Award for a third straight season. Fans love his work ethic, and so do the coaches.
He is the heart and soul of the club, and continues to work on improving his game.
Name: Justin Williams
Overall Stats: 22 goals, 35 assists, 57 points, +14
“Clutch” Stats: 7 goals, 5 assists, 12 points, +5
Williams was rewarded at the trade deadline for his efforts this season with a contract extension beyond this season, when he was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. He worked very hard this season to be more available on the ice, and played in 73 games this season, the most in a season for Williams since 2006-07.
Williams was much better at driving the net to set up scoring opportunities for himself and others, and that came with the confidence of being healthy. He scored key goals throughout the season. As shown above by the clutch stats, seven of his 22 goals came at critical times.
He has bought into the franchise, and this bodes well not just for him but for others that this is no longer a franchise to come to and cash a paycheck. Williams will need to stay healthy to disprove those still doubting whether he was worth the commitment shown by the Kings.
Name: Ryan Smyth
Overall Stats: 23 goals, 24 assists, 57 points, -1
“Clutch” Stats: 2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points, -5
Once again, Smyth has had a significant impact not just on the stat sheet but also in the on-ice play of several young players exposed to his professionalism.
Smyth’s work ethic, especially in practice, has had a very telling impact. He also took Trevor Lewis under his wing early in the season. Smyth continues to play well in the offensive zone, especially with the man advantage. He also at times made big defensive plays that helped the Kings win critical games.
He’s entering the final year of his contract, and he will turn age 36 during next season. But he can still be a very productive player, as he was this season.
Name: Jarret Stoll
Overall Stats: 20 goals, 23 assists, 43 points, -6
“Clutch” Stats: 1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points, -5
In this writer’s opinion, Stoll had an outstanding season for the Kings. He was asked to improve in several areas by the coaching staff, and he did so.
Stoll reached the 20-goals plateau for the first time since 2005-06. He was dynamite on faceoffs, winning 57.5% of draws to lead the Kings and finish fifth in the entire league.
He was also money in shootout situations. Stoll went 9-for-10. His nine tallies were second most in the league, and at 90% efficiency was easily the best in the NHL.
Stoll was asked to shoot more, and he did just that. His 187 shots were fifth most on the team. He also played in all 82 games this season, showing great durability and veteran leadership.
Name: Wayne Simmonds
Overall Stats: 14 goals, 16 assists, 30 points, -2
“Clutch” Stats: 3 goals, 3 assists, 6 points, -1
It was an up and down season for the third-year forward. At times, Simmonds seemed lost, drifting aimlessly on the ice. At other times, he was as intense and forceful a player as any in a Kings uniform.
He scored three game-winning goals this season, was solid with the defensive forechecking aspect of his game, and was appropriately solid in standing up for teammates when it was needed.
The way he played in the final ten games of the season and the six games of the playoffs, when paired with Kyle Clifford and Brad Richardson, showcased just how good he can be in this role. He needs to add a little bit of muscle to his frame, and he needs to do more when carrying the puck and sweeping down the right side boards and shooting from a bad angle.
He can be a solid 20-25 goal per season player every season if he wants to be.
Name: Michal Handzus
Overall Stats: 12 goals, 18 assists, 30 points, -5
“Clutch” Stats: 2 goals, 7 assists, 9 points, +5
Handzus never complained about his role, or how he was used. He was very workman like in helping the Kings become one of the best faceoff teams in the league. He was able to reach double-digits in goals, and was solid as a match-up center against opponent’s best centers.
But Handzus at times showed his age, and the emergence of Brad Richardson to play that third line center role (as someone who can score points and play the defensive side) means that the 34-year old unrestricted free agent will not likely return, especially at the $4 million per year price tag.
Name: Brad Richardson
Overall Stats: 7 goals, 12 assists, 19 points, -13
“Clutch” Stats: 3 goals, 1 assist, 4 points, -2
For much of the first two-thirds of the season, Richardson struggled to find his place. He was juggled around in various lines, and even was a healthy scratch at times this season. It looked as if he had regressed from the previous season.
Then down the stretch, especially after the Kopitar injury, he seemed to gel when sandwiched between Clifford and Simmonds. He has become much more effective as a defensive specialist, and it looks as if he has finally found a fit within this organization. It is important for him to be signed by the club this off-season.
Name: Alexei Ponikarovsky
Overall Stats: 5 goals, 10 assists, 15 points, +1
“Clutch” Stats: 0 goals, 3 assists, 3 points, +5
From the beginning, this seemed to be a strange signing by Dean Lombardi in the summer. Whether it was his salary or the fact that it was done so late in the summer following the failed Kovalchuk chase, Ponikarovsky seemed to never fit just right.
It wasn’t for a lack of effort on his part. Or at least, it seemed like the effort was there when he wasn’t battling early season injuries. By the time he was fully healthy, young players like Clifford and Lewis were playing important shifts and minutes, and Ponikarovsky was relegated to fourth line and/or healthy scratch status.
There doesn’t seem to be any scenario which would see him return next season.
Name: Kyle Clifford
Overall Stats: 7 goals, 7 assists, 14 points, -10
“Clutch” Stats: 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point, -2
During training camp, many weren’t sure there would be a spot for Clifford, and that perhaps a full season in the minors would be more beneficial. Early in the season, he spent just as much time being scratched as he was playing throw-away minutes.
But once given a regular shift, Clifford provided an energy level of controlled intensity rarely seen in a rookie. He was feisty, he was relentless, he was combative, and he was stand-up for teammates that others took cheap shots at.
Late in the season, you could see the confidence peak during the playoffs when he was paired with Richardson and Simmonds. He was used in more pressing situations, and he instantly became a fan favorite because of his play.
Bottom line on Clifford: he gets it, and it’s going to be fun to see where he takes his game next season.
Name: Trevor Lewis
Overall Stats: 3 goals, 10 assists, 13 points, -11
“Clutch” Stats: 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 points, -5
Another young player that no one knew what to expect of as the season began that blossomed into a big component for the Kings.
Like Clifford, Lewis struggled in and out of the line-up the first 10-15 games, but by mid-season he was playing regular shifts. The coaching staff was showing growing confidence in Lewis by mid-season, playing him on the penalty killing unit.
By season’s end, Lewis was taking important second line shifts and playing with a high level of assurance. And like Clifford, we’re excited to see what next season brings out of Lewis.
Name: Dustin Penner
Overall Stats: 23 goals, 22 assists, 45 points, -12 (3-2=5 -2 in 20 games for Kings)
“Clutch” Stats: 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point, -1
Penner was acquired at the trade deadline from Edmonton for defensive prospect Colten Teubert and draft picks. But he struggled while with the Kings and seemed to be out of sorts most of the stretch he was here.
While players of his caliber and paygrade should be able to produce regardless of the situation, my contention is that he should get a pass because the Kings didn’t have the right kind of player playing with him. Go back and look at how Penner played the majority of this season in Edmonton, with Taylor Hall playing the set-up man for Penner around the slot areas for scoring chances. The Kings didn’t really have a player of comparable skill set for Penner to play with.
My feeling is that the emergence this coming season of Brayden Schenn, a player that thinks ‘pass first’, might be just what the doctor ordered for Penner.
Name: Scott Parse
Overall Stats: 1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points, +5
“Clutch” Stats: 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points, Even
When training camp started, Parse was thought to be someone who could fill in on the top six forwards chart and continue to move forward from the promise he showed last season.
Instead, right from the start of camp, injuries hampered his season, limiting him to just five games in the regular season. He then came back for the end of the playoffs. Moving into next season, he is the biggest wild card.
Name: Kevin Westgarth
Overall Stats: 0 goals, 3 assists, 3 points, -6
“Clutch” Stats: 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point, Even
Westgarth is a guy that understands his role and does it well. Would Kings fans and coaches like to see him put the puck in the net? Of course, that would be a wonderful thing.
Westgarth was solid in his role as enforcer, when given a chance to play. He made some early season mistakes, and seemed to learn from them. He never once complained about his ice time, especially in stretches where he was a healthy scratch. In the playoffs, he was pressed into duty because of the Kopitar injury, and played very well, even making a smart offensive zone decision to set up Penner’s goal in Game Five which seemed to put that game on lock down.
He is a solid player on this team and is a fan favorite.
Name: Andrei Loktionov
Overall Stats: 4 goals, 3 assists, 7 points, +2
“Clutch” Stats: 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points, no rating
Loktionov played in 19 games this season. He spent the majority of them playing out of position on left wing, with limited ice time. He then was injured after being sent down to the minors and missed the entire second half of the season for a second consecutive season.
He will be given a long look by the coaching staff this fall. But he could an odd man out because of the development of other players like Clifford, Lewis, and the seeming emergence of Schenn.
Name: Oscar Moller
Overall Stats: 1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points, -1
“Clutch” Stats: 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points, -1
Like Loktionov, there just wasn’t enough of a body of work from Moller to make a determination about his campaign. Moller is likely going to continue to be a player shuttling back-and-forth between the Kings and Manchester in the AHL. Don’t be surprised if he is part of a draft day trade.
Because they only played a few games this season, we’ll talk about Brayden Schenn, Dwight King, and John Zeiler later this week.
The forwards continued to show areas of improvement on the defensive end, and the play of the younger players, particularly Clifford and Lewis, cannot be minimized. There is much more depth now within the organization of quality players as opposed to say even two years ago.
Yet, it is that quality of depth within the organization which should now be utilized to help upgrade the first line, as it still lacks that game-changer. The second line center will need to be addressed as well, but it appears as if Schenn will get every opportunity to do so.
Friday, we’ll look at the coaches and front office, and Sunday we’ll conclude our look back at the season by looking ahead to the summer. Be sure to check out our previous article chronicling the play of the goaltenders and defensemen.
Jon Moncrief has just completed his third season covering the Los Angeles Kings for icedjamb.com, and he also covers the NHL and the Los Angeles Dodgers for Examiner as well. Jon is also co-host of the weekly web-TV sports series INSIDE SPORTS.