@ Los Angeles Kings
Thursday, Jan 6, 2011, 7:30 PM PST
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If you're anything like me, you woke up yesterday morning, played with your awesome puppy, and then checked LAKingsInsider and promptly said, "Whaaaaaaaat?" As Rich Hammond posted yesterday, the Kings are rolling the following lines tonight:
At first sight, Terry Murray looks crazy. After thinking about it, though, I'm thinking the wily ol' fox may have a rationale behind the changes.
First, let's take a look at who's been on the ice for even-strength goals the last 3 games. According to Hammond, Kopitar's line was on the ice for 0 goals for, while Stoll's line had 4 goals for and Handzus and Lewis' line each had 1 goal for. This is... not true, and I'm not sure where he got that. Actually, I am pretty sure: Hammond looked at which players were on the ice for a goal for and then attributed the goal to whichever line had the most people on the ice. This is kind of dumb because it focuses only on who is on the ice, rather than the situation that line produced in.
Take, for example, the first even-strength goal the Kings scored against the Phoenix Coyotes back on Dec. 30th. The goal was scored by Brad Richardson with assists by Kevin Westgarth and Anze Kopitar. Hammond attributed this goal to the 4th line, but really, it's Kopitar's goal. That line was out against Shane Doan's line, AKA Phoenix's top line, and was mostly created by Kopitar digging the puck out of the corner and feeding it to Westgarth. I attribute that goal to Kopitar. It's the situation the centers are playing in, and not the people next to him, that need to be looked at.
The Kings have mostly been using Kopitar against other team's top offensive lines for this homestand; he's played against Jonathan Toews, Joe Thornton, Jeff Carter, and Ray Whitney in each respective game. The Kings ideally want him winning those match-ups and to have a positive goal differential, but even is acceptable. Handzus is going to get the 2nd toughest match-up and you hope for him to be even but a little negative is OK as long as the goals against isn't too high. Stoll gets a relatively easy match-up and you want him winning by a bit. Lewis could do nothing and that'd be a win for the Kings.
Looking at the numbers, Kopitar was on the ice for 3 goals for and 3 goals against.* Stoll was on the ice for 2 goals for and 3 goals against. Handzus was on the ice for 1 goal for (a goal he scored on a line with Marco Sturm & Justin Williams) and 6 goals against. Lewis did nothing, either for or against. Yay Lewis! As you can see, Kopitar is mostly doing his job, as is Lewis, while Stoll and Handzus aren't really up to snuff. This has been the big problem the last 4 games and it's why Murray needed to change something.
*It's not that important but 2 of those goals were bullshit. One was Devin Setoguchi's limp wrister that beat Jonathan Quick and the other is Jonathan Toews' lucky bounce. It doesn't matter because it'll even out eventually, but in the short term I guess it kind of matters.
So, what did Murray do? He changed Kopitar's line, which is fine because it's been mostly Kopitar doing everything the past few games, and he switched Handzus' and Stoll's responsibility... I think. Handzus is now in more of a scoring role while Stoll is mostly checking, but I wouldn't be surprised if Handzus still kept getting the 2nd toughest assignment with the idea that he now has to outscore his opponent, while Stoll will be required to only stay even since his linemates are a 19 year-old kid and a goofy injured German. Handzus can still try to play defense while his wingers score (it's not like Stoll was helping them anyway), while Stoll has less pressure and can be more of a distributor.
Real quick on Marco Sturm: he hasn't looked good since he came back because he's coming back from major knee surgery. I think he's better off on the right side if he doesn't mind it because there's less defensive responsibility and more opportunity for a quick break, which is where he is best. That's also why I'm not too worried about Dustin Brown on the left wing again, since he had been hanging back more to play defense with Sturm on his wing.
I'm not entirely sure the new lines will work; I'd feel a lot more confident about them if Alexei Ponikarovsky were back and on that 3rd line. But they do have a logic behind them and it's important to realize that Murray has thought and looked at the numbers and then thought some more. It's not like he's pulling this stuff out of a hat.
The World Juniors ended yesterday and they were great if you're a Kings' fan.
Brayden Schenn tied the record for the most points in one tournament, beating Eric Lindros and Wayne Gretzky's highest scores by 1. Fun fact: Brayden Schenn is 2 months older than Taylor Hall, despite being drafted a full year before him.
Maxim Kitsyn was 3rd on his team in scoring while providing a steady net presence and solid defense for his team. He looked like he had the game of an NHLer already; now we just need for him to get bigger. I was very impressed with him.
Derek Forbort... didn't have a great tournament. He was reportedly injured right before and didn't get much playing time, generally serving as the 6th defenseman. Still, he looked good in the little he played and I think next year will be the year we see what he can really do. He's like a certain puppy we all know and love; talented and adorable but gawky and clumsy.
Oh, and Canada lost. That was hilarious, especially if you saw the commercials in the TSN feed that espoused how hockey was "Canada's game!" Oh Canada, never stop being awesome.
Prediction: Kings win, 3-2. Goals by Simmonds, Handzus and Doughty.