We're finally at a point where there's enough data available for 2014-15 season that possession statistics are more than just variance. Unfortunately for the Kings, the team's numbers are downright distressing. After three years of being by far the best puck possession team in the league, the Kings have posted a 45.8% Corsi Tied (26th) and a 49.14% Score-Adjusted Fenwick (19th). Why have these numbers suddenly fallen after years of consistent excellence? Will things improve naturally, or do the Kings need to make major changes to the roster?
I don't pretend to have definitive answers to those questions, but I'll try my best. I think the best place to start is to look at how individual Kings are doing compared to last year and try to see who the culprits are.
One thing immediately becomes clear from the numbers: the Kings' best players are not the problem. When Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty are on the ice together, the Kings are posting a 65.5% Corsi (in 63 TOI). That's a small sample and will regress a bit, but all indications are those two are playing as well as last year (60%). There are some other numbers indicating that the top pairing is fine - Doughty/Muzzin have posted a 58.8% Corsi together in 127 TOI (60.6% last year), and Kopitar's 56% Corsi at evens is second best among Kings forwards.
I don't think the second line is the problem either. Carter and Toffoli are clicking at 55.2% together. While that's not as good as they managed last year (61.1%), it's still quite good and easily outpaces the team average (even after adjusting for slightly favorable zone starts). A lot of the drop-off here (as for all Kings forwards) is probably due to worse defensive depth behind them.
The third line is an enormous problem. Jarret Stoll has been a complete mess. His 44.7% Corsi is horrible and nowhere close to what he did last year (55.6%). Basically, when playing with linemates not named Justin Williams, Stoll has gotten absolutely crushed (40.4% apart from Williams in 121 TOI). That's a big problem. Stoll plays a ton of minutes for the Kings; he has more 5v5 ice time this year than Justin Williams or Jeff Carter. The Kings are getting killed in those minutes.
The fourth line has been very good when Mike Richards has been on it, and absolutely awful otherwise. Richards has been a pleasant surprise this season - he's at 56% with Clifford and 52% with Nolan. Those are very acceptable numbers for a fourth line. When Richards is not centering that line, however, things get ugly fast. Nolan is a 40.2% away from Richards, and Clifford not much better (43.6%). This is mostly because Andy Andreoff has been unspeakably bad in his first NHL stint (39.6%).
Here's a quick table summarizing the forward data I found illuminating (all stats from stats.hockeyanalysis.com):
Selected Kings WOWYs, 2014-15
|Notable Forward Groups||2014-15 TOI||2014-15 Corsi%||2013-14 Corsi%||Change|
|Clifford Without Richards||101||43.60%||54.90%||-11.30%|
|Brown Without Stoll||96||52.30%||57.70%||-5.40%|
- These are small samples so general trends are more helpful than individual cases. Those trends are clear: almost everyone does worse by roughly 6% or so. I think this is mostly because the defense, especially the 2nd and 3rd pair, have been much worse. It stands to reason that that would hurt all the forwards roughly equally.
- Williams is still a puck possession god. He alone can rescue Jarret Stoll. Re-signing Williams has to be the number one long-term priority of the Kings. It's much more important even than Alec Martinez's contract.
- Stoll is a complete mess, and Brown is not good enough to save him. Still, I think WOWYs show pretty clearly that the fault with the Stoll-Brown combo (who have by far the biggest drop) is with Stoll, not Brown.
- Richards needs to stay on the fourth line. I don't think that number with Clifford is predictive (the sample size is pretty small), but the line seems to be decent with him. Without him, it's an abomination.
- Never play Andreoff.
That about covers the forwards. There are major issues with the bottom six, but the good news is I think LA's best players are probably still good.
I've already touched briefly on Doughty-Muzzin. They were excellent last year and they've been excellent this year. The problem is the other four guys. The Kings have not been able to assemble one decent pairing in the bottom four, let alone two. Regehr-Martinez (LA's de facto second pairing since Voynov's suspension) have been ineffective together (47% in 105 TOI). I think this is mostly Regehr's fault. Martinez is better away from Regehr but not exactly lighting the world on fire (51% in 97 TOI) - the Kings need a lot more from him, too.
Greene and McNabb have obvious trouble moving the puck and look like a disaster to my eye test, but they've actually been half-decent together (52.7% in 80 TOI). I am a bit skeptical that they can keep that up. After years of success Greene-Martinez has started off very poorly (46.8% in 66 TOI). McNabb's overall numbers on the year are OK (49.5%), but he seems to have lost the favor of the coaching staff and is barely getting any minutes at this point. Finally, although it's not particularly relevant to the current Kings, Voynov was just awful in his first six games before suspension (44.8%).
On defense, Regehr has been his usual self, that is to say a complete anchor in terms of puck possession. Unfortunately, Martinez and Greene have shown zero ability to drive play this season, unlike in years past. For Greene the problem might be age; for Martinez, it seems like a continuation of a worrying trend (he was worse Corsi-wise in 2013-14 than 2012-13, and worse in 2012-13 than 2011-12). Of course, for both of those guys it might just be a small sample thing they snap out of. McNabb has been serviceable out there but he can hardly carry a pairing.
Here's how I would turn the Kings around.
- On defense, split Doughty-Muzzin temporarily. The two are great together and the Kings should still plan to have them be partners long-term. For now, though, the Kings need to spread the wealth around on defense and put an effective puckmover on every pairing - something like Doughty/McNabb, Muzzin/Greene, Regehr/Martinez. Martinez will have to improve (expecting improvement from Regehr is useless) for the third pairing to be acceptable, but that should still give the Kings a more effective overall mix.
- Realistically, though, if Voynov is not coming back soon, the Kings must trade for a defenseman. If the Kings were to acquire a play-driving defenseman like, say, Andrej Sekera, that would let them scratch Regehr and form a (hopefully) decent bottom four out of Sekera, Greene, Martinez, and McNabb.
- Give Toffoli and Pearson more ice time than Kyle Clifford. Just a thought here.
Put Jordan Nolan on the first lineKeep Richards at 4C and think about trading Stoll. I'm willing to give Stoll a bit of time to turn it around - maybe his struggles are partially a sample size fluke, maybe he'll be fully recovered from his offseason surgery in a month or two. In the meantime, though, he needs to be playing less minutes than Carter. And if Stoll hasn't improved after 30 games, the Kings need to find a new third line center. Fortunately, they have an attractive in-house option - while Andreoff has disappointed, I think Jordan Weal might be up to the task. Or even better, Linden Vey - anyone know what happened to that guy?
- Finally, it bears repeating that it's only been 14 games, and to some extent the Kings' numbers will recover on their own. 14 mediocre games should not completely overrule 200 excellent ones in our minds. I am quite sure the Kings' problems are not just variance. The Kings didn't have a 14-game stretch this bad last year, or the year before that. There are real roster problems causing this slump. While some regression to former norms is to be expected, the Kings must help their cause with some smart roster moves.