Why don't I like this? (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
In the Thursday's preseason game, I saw two interesting things when the Kings were on the power play: one, Jack Johnson was playing the point with Drew Doughty; and two, Dustin Brown was not on the same unit as Ryan Smyth and Anze Kopitar. To the first point:
I'm just going to say it: I hate Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty playing together on the power play. I know, I know, it worked well in the playoffs (although that was more crazy good luck than anything else), but it just... it throws everyone off their rhythm when they're both out there. The problem is that Jack is a high usage player, meaning the puck is on his stick more often than not, but the power play was effective last year because the puck was mostly with Drew or Anze Kopitar. Jack throws that off and turns Drew into primarily a one-time man, a la Jarret Stoll. Drew can do that because his shot is awesome but it's like buying an iPhone so you can play Words With Friends. The Kings need to keep Doughty up at the center spot of the umbrella with Kopitar along the right half-wall and a right-handed shot next to Doughty for the one-timer. Let Jack run the 2nd unit with Drewiske or whoever wins the other defense spot and let him hold onto the puck for as long as he wants.
All I'm saying is that if I see Jack walk the line backwards while Doughty furiously tries to get out of his way this season, I'll snap. It's possible I'm not looking at this from a rational perspective. Maybe Jack does improve the power play. Drew and Jack were both kind of dicking around all game so maybe I didn't see any actual strategy on Thursday. It just bothers me so Goddamn much when Kopitar and Drew stand there while Jack dicks around with the puck because they're so much more effective than him. It's the same feeling I get when Ron Artest would try to go 1-on-1 while Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant watched in disbelief. Jack and Drew will probably play together and I'll probably not like it, I'm just saying. If you're watching the game at home and Jack walks the line and you hear an explosion, don't worry; it's probably just my head exploding. Come on over and grab whatever you want, I won't need it any more.
Speaking of the power play...
I've been wondering what will happen to Dustin Brown's minutes now that he was playing on the first line with Ryan Smyth and Anze Kopitar. Last season, Brown was 3rd among forwards in ice time per game, behind Kopitar and Smyth. His minutes looked like this:
Power Play: 3:10
Penalty Kill: 1:24
Bumping up that even-strength time up to about 16 minutes would give Brown about 20 minutes a night. First line at even-strength, first power play unit, second unit penalty kill... that's a little too much for Brown.
Luckily, Thursday showed us the real reason Dustin Brown is getting bumped up to the first line: Terry Murray wants to increase Brown's even-strength time while dropping his power play time. On Thursday, the first power play unit was Smyth, Kopitar... and Andrei Loktionov. Loki won't be on the first unit during the regular season, obviously, but it's important that Loki was there and Brown was not. I think Brown will be the main man behind the net for the Kings on the 2nd unit. Brown was usually stuck in front of the net on the first unit last season while Ryan Smyth was working behind the net, and that's not a good spot for Brown to be. Brown's best off the net in the corner, where he can control the puck and look for a cross-ice pass for a one-timer. It looks like the Kings are putting Brown in situations where he's best, rather than situations where you might expect him to play. Good.
The only remaining question is: who plays on the first unit with Kopitar and Smyth? Michal Handzus seems like the obvious answer, since he worked well on that unit during the latter part of last year. Alexei Ponikarovsky could work too, although he'll likely team up with Brown on the 2nd unit since he has to play the exact same situations Frolov used to play, I guess. Justin Williams is a solid option because he can go in front of the net or play along the boards. There's also a few intriguiging options the Kings could try: Brayden Schenn or Loktionov if they make the team on a half-wall, Wayne Simmonds or Kyle Clifford in front of the net. The Kings' power play is kind of boring since three people are the only ones who touch the puck and those spots are taken, but there are options if they want to get creative.
Likely Power Play Lines:
Stoll (Takes draw)-Rookie/Johnson/Doughty