In any North American league, the end of what is called the “championship window” is approaching: the stars age, the entourage disperses or it is not possible to fit it on the ceiling. Typically, the transition from a contending team to a rebuilding team is painful: Coaches try to squeeze every last bit of juice out of their stars by bringing in more veterans, and nothing good comes of it. A striking example is Detroit during the era of Zetterberg and Datsyuk, 35, or today’s Pittsburgh, mired in mediocrity.
Los Angeles also went this route: a few years ago, around the core that won two Stanley Cups, they tried to put together a hockey version of the Expendables. The not-so-young Ilya Kovalchuk and Dion Phaneuf went to California to join Kopitar, Doughty, Carter and Brown, and the failure of the old “LA” for the 2018/2019 season turned out to be monstrous. After this, the Kings’ leadership began to rebuild, trading away most of their veterans.
Photo: Marcio José Sánchez/AP/TASS
Just like 10 years ago, Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty are at the top of the rankings, but their environment has completely changed during this time. Both NHL superstars seem half-forgotten in the context of those hyped youngsters now entering the league, but who are having magnificent seasons: the Slovenian has a points-per-game schedule, the Canadian, at 34 years old, still plays 25 minutes per game, and with success. Under the wing of super-veterans, both recruited youngsters and players traded on the market are flourishing: the “kings” so far have the best defense in the NHL. Can the Kings seriously compete for a championship again after 10 years?
The Kings players have different talents:
The Swede knocked down Malkin with a boxing blow! The Russian took a long time to stand up
Before the season, when Los Angeles gave up three players in the Pierre-Luc Dubois trade, it looked like their depth would take a hit. However, the performance of the “kings” is surprisingly spread throughout the lineup, and this despite the fact that Swedish winger Viktor Arvidsson has not played so far this season. The statistics are surprising: only one Kings outfield player did not score any effective points: defenseman Bjornfot, who played one game. 12 Los Angeles forwards scored the puck at least once.
It is worth noting here the competent transfer policy of Los Angeles: the club once won two titles thanks to its excellent position in the center of the attack. In the 2014 playoffs, Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards most often played on three different lines, cheering up the more modest partners on the flank. In the summer of 2021, the Kings signed Philippe Danault on the free agent market, who in Montreal became one of the best defensive and personnel centers in the league. This offseason, the Club also added Dubois to the roster, and 2020 No. 2 draft pick Quinton Byfield currently plays on the wing for the Kings, who should return to his home position at center in the future.
But even now the main violin of this quartet is Kopitar. This season, Angers set two records for the team: he ranked first in history in number of games played and also surpassed Marcel Dionne in number of assists. “If I had to choose one word to describe Angers, it would be consistency.” He distinguishes him in the training process, in the games and in his attitude towards the game. “He’s a true professional who comes in every day in a good mood,” says Los Angeles forward Trevor Moore of his captain. Now Kopitar plays less than 20 minutes per game, winning 55.5% in points and neutralizing the minority at the elite level: a good application for Selka, who will be easier to win in a degeronized league.
Photo: Rick Scuteri/AP/TASS
Having a two-way center lineup like this helps the defense tremendously. It rarely happens, but Los Angeles ranks first in terms of goals conceded and expected goals – the team’s success is no accident. The minority contributes greatly to this: “LA” neutralizes 89% of other people’s eliminations. The coaching staff became seriously concerned about this issue in the summer after McDavid and his friends scored nine times on the Kings’ power play in the playoffs. The return to the team of Trevor Lewis, one of the unsung heroes of the Sutter era, helped: at almost 37 years old, he is the main forward of the back four. “Los Angeles” abandoned aggression for aggression’s sake and allows opponents to hold the puck, which leads to losses: the “kings” have already scored four times in the minority in just over 20 games.
Absolutely suddenly for everyone, Cam Talbot was reborn. The 36-year-old goaltender had a falling out with Minnesota management last year, he was traded and flopped in Ottawa. Signing the veteran to a $1 million contract didn’t seem like a desperation move, it’s just that the Kings didn’t have better options because of the ceiling. The Talbot-Copley pairing in goal seemed almost the team’s main weak point, and who would have thought that everything would change like this! During a period of catastrophic decline in the quality of goaltenders and their statistical indicators, Talbot ranks second in the league in save percentage, second only to defending champion Edin Hill.
Vladislav Gavrikov (right)
Photo: Mark J. Terrill/AP/TASS
It also helps Talbot to successfully play the team’s defense, which features the team’s only Russian, Vladislav Gavrikov. The octopus, even in the absolutely chaotic Columbus last season, maintained a strong level in his zone, and the “kings” did not simply get rid of their first-round pick for the defender from Yaroslavl. At the end of last season, the coaches paired Gavrikov with Matt Roy, and this combination did a good job of keeping Edmonton’s leaders on equal strength. Now, according to advanced statistics, this is the second most effective pairing in the NHL after Philadelphia’s Siler-Walker combination. Both hosts of the second pair of Los Angeles are capable of accelerating attacks, although not at an elite level, so opponents rarely manage to break this pair.
Gavrikov recently played against the club where he started his NHL career:
Gavrikov shared his emotions upon returning to Columbus Arena as part of Los Angeles
Los Angeles’ stock has been buoyed lately by its incredible 11 road win streak and the overall state of the West, where Colorado has lost depth, Edmonton is still recovering from a disastrous start and Vegas is struggling to attack. Basically, this team still lacks a little depth on defense: in a year or two they will be helped by another highly selected player, Brandt Clarke, who at 20 years old scores a point per game in the AHL.
Many fans are concerned about Todd McLellan’s coaching resume. A graduate of Mike Babcock’s system, he knows how to play bright and aggressive hockey, which we can remember from the 2015 World Cup and the Canadian team, which swept everyone with an asphalt paver. McLellan’s teams traditionally play successfully in the regular season, but in sixteen years of work, the coach only once reached the conference finals, and in 2014 he became the man who left the series 3:0 (against. .. The Angels). . McLellan lost twice to another former team, Edmonton; Opponents almost always manage to adapt to the tactics used by the Los Angeles coach.
The “kings” have internal reserves: Arvidsson has not yet returned to the team, other young talents will join them (let’s not forget Artur Kaliev, born in Tashkent). There is room under the cap to add another experienced defenseman at the deadline if the youth team slows down. Los Angeles already looks like a team ready to make the jump, and it’s unclear why it’s not widely talked about yet.