The Kings’ power play has not been very good this season, to put it mildly. After last night’s 0 for 3 performance against Carolina (including a shorthanded goal against), the Kings have dropped to 28th overall at 13.86%. This is coming despite an 8th place finish last year and a whole boatload of talent. The team has been missing a few players this year due to injury, as well as Milan Lucic moving to Edmonton, but that shouldn’t be cause for this large of a drop. There was a glimmer of hope against Montreal, as the Kings’ big guns came away with two powerplay goals. So why did those goals work, can it tell us anything else about what they are doing, and what can they do moving forward?
Los Angeles 1, Montreal 1 - 0:56 2nd Period
Jeff Carter (11) from Drew Doughty (9) and Anze Kopitar (10)
There are three keys to this goal, and all three of them rely on the same thing. As you can maybe guess from the players picking up points on this goal, the Kings had said big guns doing fun stuff with the puck. Without the perfectly saucered touch pass from Kopitar to Doughty, the one-touch laser of a pass from Doughty to Carter, or Carter’s ridiculously placed quick-release shot, this is not a goal. Those are some big boy plays there, made by three of the more talented hockey players this side of the Milky Way.
On the downside, there isn’t much else to like about what the Kings do on this powerplay. They have some great skilled players, but so do a lot of teams. To start, let’s look at the very start: the zone entry.
This is so ugly. Kopitar skates the puck right into Tyler Toffoli. Tanner Pearson is over at the far blueline. Kopitar skated the puck all the way from the goal line, and both Pearson and Toffoli were basically coasting when Kopitar hit the blueline. The Canadiens had all four guys back and had this totally shut down. The only reason this even stayed in the zone is Toffoli getting away with some light interference on Andrei Markov.
After Carter tries to throw a puck on net from the moon and a brief scramble to collect the puck, the Kings finally get set up for the powerplay. Here is their setup.
This is also ugly. The Kings have two guys jammed in front of the net (Toffoli and Pearson). Carter is in the high slot, Doughty is as far from the net as you can get and still be in the offensive zone, and Kopitar is on the half wall. The only reason this isn’t worse is because Montreal has a ridiculously passive penalty kill. The nice thing about how Toffoli and Pearson are setup is they can be defended with one player. The Canadiens could easily swing into a diamond here, have one player in Carter’s shooting lane, one shading to Kopitar, and still have a guy to pressure Doughty. Instead they use three guys to cover the two least dangerous players on the ice.
This looks a lot better. We finally get a glimpse at how the Kings powerplay is actually supposed to work. Toffoli slides up high to present himself as a potential option for a shot or a one-touch pass, Pearson moves down low as a passing option, and Carter tries to get lost in the Geico ad.
This is a solid setup. Carter is the weak-side shot option. Doughty and Kopitar are the primary puck-handlers, with Toffoli and Pearson sliding from the netfront to their respective locations pending what the others are up to. The problem is how slowly they do it. They need to do these things in a way to present themselves as actual options. Toffoli doesn’t ever find the space, which is critical for the role he is playing on this powerplay. Pearson is slow to read Doughty moving the puck to Kopitar, and isn’t down low in time to be a passing option.
The key to this kind of setup is to move the puck quickly, have the players move quickly, and get the penalty killers confused. One of the major keys to scoring at the NHL level, and something you will see droned on and on about in these posts is getting defenders moving. If done well, Pearson can quickly jump low, Kopitar can hit him with a pass, and Pearson can quickly pass to Carter (sneaking backdoor), Toffoli (if he finds space), or a give-and-go with Kopitar. If Toffoli finds space, and turns his body in a way that he can actually shoot, he can one-time a pass from Kopitar, pass to Pearson down low, or (my personal favorite) make the tip pass to Carter on the weak side. You will note in the next screenshot how many of those dashed arrows (representing puck movement) zig right past a Canadien. You are forcing movement and switches from the defense at a quick speed. However, doing so requires quick passes and movement from the Kings.
Fortunately for the Kings, Kopitar made a sweet pass, Doughty made an even sweeter one, and Jeff Carter roofed it. Carter’s shot is about as perfect as can be. He moves into the pass, releases it super quick, and puts it in the perfect spot. He doesn’t do anything funky with the release here, but he is probably the best player in the league at changing the angle of his release as he is shooting. He has dual Jeff Petry and Tanner Pearson screens, though, so he needs no trickery to hide the trajectory of his shot.
Los Angeles 3, Montreal 2 - 10:23 2nd Period
Drew Doughty (4) from Jeff Carter (10) and Anze Kopitar (11)
We are right off of a faceoff on this goal, but you will notice a familiar setup the Kings get into pretty quickly. The names are (slightly) changed, but the jobs and locations are damn near identical.
Okay, let’s talk a little power play theory here. You may have noticed I have been pointing out all the space there is on the ice, due to how spread out the Kings are. They are doing it again here. There are a few benefits: 1) you have oodles of passing lanes, b) you can find space to set up for a shot, and 3) the longer passes to open shooters often force the goalie to move side-to-side and make a save, without the time to get set. However, there are some clear disadvantages, as the defense can mostly keep the play in front of them, switches and confusion don’t happen, the longer passes allow more time for the penalty kill to collect themselves, there aren’t as many options, and it requires oodles of skill to pull off. It’s sort of like a home run hitter in baseball. If you can make that rocket rink-wide pass, the shooter can corral it cleanly, and get a good shot off, then it’s probably a goal.
Fortunately, that is what Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty manage to pull off here. Carter’s pass is just about perfect, and while Doughty doesn’t get the shot off quickly, that little hesitation allows for some traffic to build up in front of Carey Price.
This is the reverse angle, which really hammers the point home. Carter doesn’t really have much he can do with the puck here. Toffoli could not be more covered, and while he could pass to Pearson, that requires getting it past one Canadien, and Pearson has another one right by him. His other options are a pass to Kopitar (which would have to go through Paul Byron), or the perfectly threaded pass he makes to Doughty. I don’t love Carter in this spot on the PP either. With Kopitar on the half-wall, he can always walk into the middle and fire a shot, but Carter would be on the backhand. A lefty here could also work a quick give-and-go to Pearson.
The Kings power play hasn’t been great this year, but the foundation is there for something really good. This unit has all the right pieces to be superb, they just need to fully utilize what they have. If they can focus less on the home run, full cross ice play (despite its success here), and work more with Kopitar-Doughty on the half-wall, with Pearson and Toffoli sliding around quickly, and Carter on the weak-side, they could be deadly. That kind of setup, with quick puck movement between the four guys on the strong side, would really take it to their opponents, as opposed to sitting back and waiting. Considering the way the Kings play the game at even strength, it should be a perfect fit.