The stretch of success the Kings had when they first brought on Darryl Sutter was improbable and incredible. The team looked poised for bigger things back in 2011 with the pick up of Mike Richards, Willie Mitchell, and Justin Williams. The breakout performances that year were plentiful with Slava Voynov, Dwight King, and (yes) Jordan Nolan all making surprise impacts. Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, and Jonathan Quick were the NHL’s new hotshot stars. That team was fighting for it’s life for a playoff spot and couldn’t score goals.
One Jeff Carter added, along with a new (but older) voice behind the bench, and suddenly, presto, the Kings couldn’t lose. The team ran over everyone en route to a Cup, got to the Western Conference Finals the next year though more depleted, and won again in 2014. It was a remarkable three seasons.
Three seasons later and the Kings have a record of missing the playoffs, a 4-1 first round exit, and (likely) another year missing the playoffs. Following the 2014 Stanley Cup win the Kings looked poised by pretty much everyone to be set for a while at being Cup contenders each season ahead. Obviously, that didn’t happen.
I don’t know how many times the past few years I have written about the drop off Los Angeles had. Yet the weird part is, the past few years have been close to reenactments from the 2011 season. The team seems to have close to all the pieces needed to be contender. But they don’t win, largely because they can’t score.
You can’t expect to have a scorer like Carter or Marian Gaborik fall into your possession every few years, and to be fair there wasn’t much out on the market for the Kings this year. Plus, they already have Gaborik and Carter still on their roster. But this is still a team that can’t score and can’t win because of it.
Part of that will always be the system the Kings implement. They are a defense first, puck possession team. And while I hate cliches, “defense wins championships” is certainly true, but so is “goals win you games”. Problem now is that the second cliche is the Kings’ issue, and it’s no longer the first. Eventually, they’ll have to address their current system, personnel, and long term plan.
Prediction: Bill Paxton voice, “GAME OVER, MAN. GAME OVER.”