Kings coach Darryl Sutter stated the obvious Tuesday when he expressed concerned about the team’s lackluster play at left wing last season. Then he dropped a bit of a surprise on a gaggle of reporters when he said he would play left wing Dwight King on the Kings’ top line to start their regular-season opener Thursday at Minnesota.
The Kings’ roster is remarkably unchanged from the one that won the Stanley Cup championship in 2012. Does that ease coach Darryl Sutter’s mind going into Thursday’s season-opening game against the Minnesota Wild at St. Paul, Minn? Of course not.
This didn’t get much buzz on this side of the border, but the Canadian version of ESPN (except with tons of hockey highlights and games) asked for help from 14 unnamed NHL coaches and general managers to rank the league’s top 50 players. Four Kings made TSN’s list, led by center Anze Kopitar at No. 18. Defenseman Drew Doughty (19th), goaltender Jonathan Quick (22nd) and left wing Dustin Brown (48th) also made the cut.
Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins was No. 1.
It’s all subjective, of course, but the Kings’ Jonathan Quick was Yahoo! Sports pick as the top goaltender in the world. The Puck Daddy blog ranked the top goalies and Quick emerged as the best. Who are we to argue? Here are the site’s comments:
Kings coach Darryl Sutter was hired at midseason last season and inherited a talented but underachieving team. Among the players on the roster he didn’t know much about was a young Russian defenseman named Slava Voynov. Sutter talked Wednesday about Voynov’s progress from then until now.
“I guess what I remember most was he wasn’t playing much if he was here,” Sutter recalled. “It was a big adjustment for him. There definitely was a language barrier. Whether he was uncomfortable with not wanting to converse, whatever it was. That’s an issue.
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner as MVP of the 2012 playoffs, stopped all 30 shots in Saturday’s series-saving 1-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues and 93 of 97 overall for a .959 save percentage. Blues goalie Brian Elliott made 20 saves in Game 3 and has stopped 76 of 79 shots for a .962 save percentage. Elliott and the Blues lead the best-of-7 series two games to one.
In addition, Quick has a 2.05 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage in 35 career playoff games. He has a 2.32 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage in 286 regular-season appearances. So, he’s clearly better in the postseason, when the game are more meaningful. Need further proof? Last spring, he had a 1.41 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage during the playoffs.
Given the Kings’ offensive struggles, Darryl Sutter raised a few eyebrows by dressing seven defensemen, instead of the usual six, for Game 3. He offered an explanation Sunday for adding Alec Martinez to the defense corps for Saturday’s game.
“Fourth line hasn’t been playing much and our fourth-line right wing has played hardly at all,” Sutter said, referring to Jordan Nolan. “So, I thought I’d give Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams a couple of more minutes. It gets us away from matchups. It worked (Saturday) night. Gives us more energy.”
Plus, by playing Martinez for the first time since April 2 against the Phoenix Coyotes, Sutter kept penalty-killing specialist Keaton Ellerby in the lineup. Ellerby helped the Kings to deny the Blues on four power play chances during Game 3.
“It gives our defense some energy, and obviously Keaton, you take Keaton out and you’re losing a guy who’s a really good penalty killer for us, and we didn’t want to do that,” Sutter added when asked about adding a seventh defenseman
The Kings won’t have team captain Dustin Brown when they face the San Jose Sharks in the regular-season finale Saturday night at Staples Center. Brown will serve the second game of a two-game suspension from the NHL for elbowing Jason Pominville of the Minnesota Wild during the Kings’ loss Tuesday. Brown is eligible to return for Game 1 of the playoffs next week. Until then, the Kings will be shorthanded.
Anze Kopitar’s streak without a goal reached 13 games after the Kings’ 4-3 overtime victory Sunday over the Dallas Stars. He hasn’t scored since March 25 against the Chicago Blackhawks. It doesn’t mean he’s not productive, however. He had two assists Sunday against the Stars, giving him nine helpers in his last nine games. Overall, he has a team-leading 41 points (10 goals, 31 assists) in 44 games.
Not long after Sunday’s game ended, with reporters clustered around Kopitar and team captain Dustin Brown in the dressing room, a veteran reporter decided to have a little fun with both players. The exchange went a little something like this:
Reporter to Brown: “Now if you just get that Kopitar guy going …”
Kopitar: “I’m sitting right here.”
Reporter: “Why do you think I said it so loudly?”
When the laughter of the players and reporters died down, Kopitar said it was great to see Brown score two goals against Dallas, adding, “We need everybody going. It was nice to see him get a couple. Hopefully, I will get a couple soon, too.”
After a day off after his first game since Jan. 19, Kings defenseman Matt Greene reported no setbacks following Saturday’s practice. Greene played a regular shift in Thursday’s victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, his first game after suffering a back injury that required surgery. Greene wasn’t all that impressed with his play Thursday, which impressed Kings coach Darryl Sutter on Saturday.