I've been thinking about this topic for a couple of weeks now, since Kopitar and Williams got hurt. I'm going to use this post from LAKi as a leaping-off point only. The BS is 99.9% elsewhere.
This is, admittedly, starting to reach dead-horse territory, but at the same time it’s difficult to understate the importance of Dustin Penner to the Kings’ playoff chances.
Concur. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the whole point of acquiring Dustin Penner starts on Thursday.
With top scorer Anze Kopitar out, and with Justin Williams’ status uncertain, Penner is arguably the Kings’ most purely talented scorer (and that’s certainly written with a nod to Dustin Brown). Yet, since he arrived in a trade from Edmonton on Feb. 28, Penner has been inconsistent at best.
Well, really I would say he's been inconsistent at worst. He's been dominant at best, if only for a shift here or there.
He had two goals and four assists in his first seven games, but then went without a point in his final 12 regular-season games. Even within those point-free games, there was inconsistency. Some nights, Penner looked active, mobile and aggressive. Other nights, he looked rather passive.
Penner almost always looks passive.
Which version of Penner will the Kings get in the playoffs? Or, perhaps more importantly to the Kings, how will Terry Murray be able to bring the "good" Penner onto the ice for the start of the series?
MURRAY: "By talking to him, demanding it. I’ve had several of those meetings, and that’s OK. I thought his effort in the game against Anaheim at home was pretty good. He had his feet moving. There was a good intent in his game. The game at Anaheim, I didn’t like, so we talked about it and he brought the kind of effort that I felt he needed to get to. Now, is there more? Yeah, absolutely. Is there more more potential in there? Do we need more from him? Sure we do. He’s got the potential to make a difference in the game. That’s the reason why we add a player who has skill and size and speed like he does. It’s, `Bring it out every day, every shift.’ We’ve got to get to that area and that time, when we’re looking at him at the end of the day and saying, `That’s an excellent game."’
Look. It's just not in Dustin Penner's DNA to fly around at top gear with Brad Richardson (or for that matter, Dustin Brown) energy. I don't disagree with any one thing Terry Murray is pointing to here (keep feet moving, make a difference, bring it every shift), but those observations are absolutely generic and universally applicable. I've been reading comments in the usual places that Penner is "a bust," "lazy" etc., and I think that has more to do with the impatience, short-attention span and ignorance (and toddler temperament) of those commenters (not all commenters) rather than any chronic problem of Penner's.
When big, skilled players don't produce (and especially don't hit and don't produce), they are always always always labeled lazy, soft or stupid. Seriously, would the Kings be any better off if Penner crashed around in perpetual top-gear like Dustin Brown? Would that solve the problem, whatever the problem is supposed to be?
I'm not blind. Penner's production disappeared after his first several games. What, I wonder, could possibly explain that lack of production? Let's brainstorm:
- It's crunch time, when teams start playing playoff hockey, when attention to detail -- especially in defensive systems -- is the difference between making the playoffs and not.
- Penner is learning a new defensive system. Perhaps his "hesitation" or whatever it is, is rooted in that.
- Kopitar, also, is wildly inconsistent in terms of production. He sometimes goes a month or so without contributing offensively. And Kopitar has not exactly found any lasting chemistry with any of his wingers, which is why we're always talking about getting him decent wingers to shake him out of whatever slump he happens to be in. I'm not actually criticizing Kopitar here; I'm criticizing the pundity/commenty/bloggy tendency of sacred cow worship and goat sacrificing.
- I think both Kopitar and Penner have (correctly) put their focus on sticking to the system. That's the Terry Murray mantra. Stick to the system and the goals will come.
- Two-thirds of the line he spent a month getting used to is now gone. That probably has an unsettling effect.
- And it's not just about finding the offensive chemistry with new line-mates. It's about making sure they work together defensively first. Maybe Penner has to double-down on his defensive focus when his line-mates change. And what would that look like? A little tentative, maybe?
- The Kings as a team have been going into a bit of a prevent-defense for the last month or so. As a team, they've been a little fragile. I haven't seen (maybe I just missed the evidence, you tell me) Penner making uncharacteristic defensive mistakes. I've seen glaring breakdowns by Drew Doughty, Michal Handzus, Willie Mitchell, Dustin Brown, Jack Johnson, Ryan Smyth... And I'm not picking on those players, either; breakdowns happen. My point is, maybe Penner sees this happening and battens down the hatches. Don't you think Terry Murray is preaching a return to first principles after such breakdowns? That, too, is a common refrain.
- A last thought about dips in production. Remember that Luc Robitaille guy? Everyone has dips in production. Kopitar has gone 10 games without a goal twice this season, with several spells of five or six games without a goal. Brown went 11 games, including a 2 goals in 22 games run. Smyth? Please. Again, not picking on these guys. Picking on the double-standard.