Time of the essence for shuffling Kings
Defending Stanley Cup champs lack firepower
CALGARY -- Los Angeles is, of course, infamous for its rolling of slipshod sequels to hit movies off its vast assembly line.
Remember, for instance, The Sting II (Jackie Gleason? Mac Davis? ... MAC DAVIS?!!!!)? Battle for the Planet of the Apes, Stars Wars: Episode 1 -- The Phantom Menace, Jaws 3-D, Indiana Jones and the Secret of the Crystal Skull?
Or not, depending upon your personal pain threshold.
The L.A. Kings, the City of Angels' runaway sleeper hit only last June, are fighting to avoid joining that rather dubious list.
Over and above the customary championship hangover, the Kings' regular-season struggles of 2013 mirror those they manned up to only 12 months ago.
Languishing 14th in the conference and dead-last in goal production ahead of Tuesday night's clash against the Oilers in Edmonton, the vexing question everyone is asking is this: What in tarnation is wrong with the champs?
Not that the woes of a team as loaded as L.A. is keeping Calgary Flames' boss Bob Hartley awake nights. Pain, after all, is relative. Hartley has other, closer-to-home issues on his mind in the wake of Monday's 4-0 flaying in Glendale, Ariz., by the Phoenix Coyotes.
Such as his choice -- Joey MacDonald or Danny Taylor -- as starting goaltender. Or the fact his Big Three -- Jarome Iginla, Michael Cammalleri and Alex Tanguay -- all chose to huddle underneath Harry Potter's Invisibility Cloak together on Monday night.
They do get L.A. on the ragged end of back-to-backs, but that hasn't seemed to offer any sort of profound advantage so far.
A year ago, given the indisputable wealth of accumulated talent, it was confusing watching as the Kings struggled to gain a foothold during the regular season. Which is why GM Dean Lombardi tied the can to the warm and fuzzy Terry Murray and installed old Silicon Valley pal, the less-warm, less-fuzzy Darryl Sutter, in Murray's place on Dec. 20, 2011.
Well, despite still making it far tougher on themselves than anyone could've imagined, the Kings wound up pipping the Flames by five points to the eighth and final playoff spot and then cranked up the heat to bulldoze through four reputation-defining playoff rounds.
Virtually the same cast. Size. Speed. Depth. Parsiminous goaltending. A sandpaper style. Relentlessly demanding boss. And, as a capper, a silver, jug-eared Cup to hoist at the end of it all as verification of worth.
Shortened season or not, L.A. looked to have a lot in its bid to mount a rare successful defence of the crown.
So to see them in this present predicament seems even more utterly preposterous.
"We have to focus in on the details right now ... that's what's killing us, plays along the wall, getting to the blue-paint," Kings' captain Dustin Brown told the Edmonton Journal prior to Tuesday's game. "We have a skill team, we have our best success when we're the hard-working team we can be, but there's been lapses in that mentality."
The most pressing problem: They can't score goals. Weirdly enough, it's the same ailment as year ago, when a pauper's total of 194 in 82 games placed them ahead of only the perennial bunt-to-move-the-runner-over Minnesota Wild.
A group that includes Anze Kopitar, Brown, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Drew Doughty charging up to join the rush ranked 30th in goal production? That, ladies and gentlemen, qualifies as an authentic head-scratcher.
As with all unpleasant surprises, though, it isn't just one thing with the Kings. The power play was ranked 24th as of the Oiler clash, the penalty kill 17th.
And they'd scored just 21 times at even-strength. That balance, the envy of 29 other teams, simply has not been there with a quarter of this truncated season already in the books.
Individually, Brown had contributed only three snipes and six points. Pre-season Norris Trophy front-runner Doughty had no goals and was wallowing at a league-worst minus-11. Nothing goal-wise from Simon Gagne and only one from Justin Williams.
Netminder Jonathan Quick, an absolute force last season, has only been OK. His goals-against average (2.56) and a save percentage under .900 (. 896) aren't nearly up to snuff.
The loss of two stalwart, defensive-minded and under-appreciated cogs of the Stanley Cup run -- Willie Mitchell (knee) and Matt Greene (back surgery) -- conspired to cripple the back line more than anyone on the outside can possibly imagine, but that's still no rational explanation as to why even the Nash-less Columbus Blue Jackets can generate more bite offensively.
Repeating as Stanley Cup champs is a tall order: Only two franchises -- the 1991-92 Pittsburgh Penguins and '97-98 Detroit Red Wings -- have managed the feat during the past two decades.
On the flip side, only three title titans since as far back as 1970 -- the '70 Habs, '96 Devils and '07 Hurricanes -- have suffered the embarrassment of whiffing on the post-season altogether during their next turn at bat.
These Kings indisputably still possess the means. And they were down this rocky road not so very long ago. They fully understand its pressure points and the dangers of procrastination.
There was never any guarantee the sequel could live up to last spring's surprise mega-hit, but there's no reason it has to be, say, Blues Brothers 2000.
With more than half a season still to go, it's hardly time to panic.
And yet, given this claustrophobic 48-game schedule, time is still very much of the essence.
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