We’re 1-6-1, It’s Time To Panic
I won’t try to sugarcoat it. Going 1-6-1 in the preseason is bad. Here are three reasons to panic:
- Some of the “new look” Kings lines are struggling to gel. Kovalchuk/Carter/Kempe seems like a good idea in theory, but in practice: meh. Kovalchuk was the big move of the off-season, and while he’s showed off his puck handling skills more than a few times, he hasn’t been able to make a dent in the scoresheet. Sweet dangles are fun to watch, but ultimately meaningless if he’s not scoring goals. Adapting to new linemates, a smaller ice surface, and a return to a country long left behind can all be challenging, but Kovalchuk is going to need to put the pieces of his puzzle together sooner rather than later.
- The same problems that plagued the Kings for most of the season, plus their dismal playoff performance, were on full display during the preseason. The Kings were outshot in the first period in five of seven preseason games (the eighth game, the one in Utah, had no detailed stats recorded). They were outscored in the first in five of eight. They only held a lead in two games, both against Vancouver, and in one case, they gave up a 3-1 lead and lost in the shoot-out. The issue of not playing a full 60 minutes has been readily apparent throughout the preseason, and despite everyone saying the right things, it appears that no one on the team has been able to physically translate that to on-ice success.
- In Darryl Sutter’s final season, the Kings were responsible for 54.77% of the shots taken on ice at even strength, 48.85% of goals, 53.46% of scoring chances, and recorded a 54.99% Corsi for, the highest in the league. They’re stats that, except for the goals for, under normal circumstances wouldn’t be enough to get a coach fired. The switch to Stevens was as much about morale as it was on-ice results, and that at least showed in the fact that the players didn’t look to be just going through the motions, and that players like Dustin Brown were given opportunities to succeed. The numbers for the first year of the Stevens era were dismal, though: 49.91% of shots, 49.32% of scoring chances, 50.01% Corsi for. The Kings scored more, recording 53.31% of goals, perhaps largely due to the stellar performances from Kopitar and Brown. While it’s far too early to really suggest a coaching change, the “fire Stevens” crew is already out and vocal. The promised changes to the team’s system, including a more up-tempo style of play, have generally failed to materialize, and nothing about the preseason would lead an onlooker to believe that’s going to change this year.
We’re 1-6-1, But Don’t Worry, It’s Chill
The games are meaningless warmups! The season is 82 games long! Here are three reasons not to panic:
- Look no further than the Detroit Red Wings’ preseason stats: 7-1-0. Pretty much all of the hockey pundits having Detroit finishing near the bottom of the league — not quite Ottawa bad, but also definitely not very good. Preseason success — or failure — isn’t ever that much of an indication of regular season wins and losses. The 2017-18 Washington Capitals were 2-5-0 in the preseason and the Oilers were 6-2-0. The 2016-17 Avalanche were 6-0-0 and then proceeded to put up a historically bad regular season. Heck, the 2013-14 Kings were 3-3-1 and we all know how that ended.
- Perhaps more than any other recent year, the Kings have had a lot of re-configuring to do, particularly among their forwards. The addition of Ilya Kovalchuk, the uncertainty around Gabe Vilardi, the injuries to Jonny Brodzinski and Dustin Brown — all have thrown more than a little bit of chaos into the team’s plans. The closest the Kings got to playing with a full line-up was the game against the Canucks in Utah, where Brodzinski was injured. Ever since then, the Kings have been playing catch-up, trying to re-envision their roster and find lines that work. While other teams seemed to settle very quickly on their A-team lineup, the Kings have been tinkering the whole while. Once the team starts to settle on line combinations and create some chemistry, we may have a more cohesive team experience.
- For better or worse, the Kings’ best players turn it on when the going gets tough. (Alright, let’s exclude last season’s playoffs.) Like lots of teams who have won championships, they believe wholeheartedly that they can flip a switch and elevate their game. There’s a lot of experience in that locker room, and a lot of players who know what it takes to win. While as fans, we all certainly want to see them win all of the time, maybe the preseason was just a case of no one trying exceptionally hard. The best players on the ice were frequently the ones with the most to lose: players like Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Austin Wagner, Mike Amadio, and Oscar Fantenberg won spots in the lineup because they forced the team’s hand. What does someone like Jeff Carter — who still led the team with three preseason goals in four games — have to prove?
Look: I can’t actually tell you not to panic. We’re all sports fans. Panic is basically written into our DNA. But the season is long, and sure to be full of some very high highs and very low lows. That’s just the way sports work. On this, Hockey Season Eve, let’s all take one big collective breath and try to enjoy the journey, wherever it takes us.