NHL

New-look Kings still struggling to score

Hockey Primetime Curtis Zupke
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LOS ANGELES

A cursory glance at the stat sheet from Saturday night suggests the Los Angeles Kings came out on top.

They won 41 of 63 faceoffs, blocked 16 shots and killed five of six penalties — including a two-minute five-on-three advantage for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Their top line produced two goals and three assists, and goalie Jonathan Quick continued his strong play with 31 saves.

Yet the Kings got only one point out of their 3-2 shootout loss. The two goals were seen as a breakthrough after they were shut out at home the previous two games. They unleashed another two-goal onslaught against San Jose on Monday, falling 4-2.

Yes, it’s early, but it’s difficult to ignore.

The additions of Mike Richards and Simon Gagne were supposed to alleviate LA’s struggling 5-on-5 offense, but the Kings have actually gotten worse.

Through 13 games Los Angeles ranked 28th in the NHL in 5-on-5 scoring with 18 goals. It was 17th last season.

“I am a little bit concerned,” coach Terry Murray said. “We’re now into the season, into November, and we haven’t got that start that we wanted on the scoring side of it.

“Five-on-five scoring is something that we’ve got to get to the next level. I think we’ve got the people in place to do that, we just have to start to get it done. We’ve got some depth. We’ve got three lines that are built, right now, to give us some scoring.”

Richards and Gagne are the least guilty parties. Richards has provided the dirty work — faceoffs and nifty passing — while Gagne has supplied an entertaining spark with linemate Anze Kopitar.

The heart of the problem is a missing shot mentality and a lack of depth.

Murray has implored his club to find shooting lanes and make it difficult for the opposing goalie to see shots.

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But the Kings have been shut down by defensive-minded teams like New Jersey and even Edmonton, which held LA to three shots in the first period and a season-low 19 shots overall in a 3-0 victory last Thursday.

“We’ve talked about that since the start of training camp,” center Brad Richardson said of the shot mentality. “Shots are huge and we really keep of track of that. We’re kind of one of the bottom end teams in shooting the puck.

"It’s a fine line there — taking a bad shot and being blocked — we’ve got to find the right way to do it . . . I don’t know if it’s a concern, but it’s something we don’t want to continue. We know we got guys who can score. It’s going to happen. I think maybe there was more emphasis at the start of the season, too. You’re going to go through stretches where the puck isn’t going to go in for some reason. But we’re still doing all right things.”

Richardson accepted some blame for a lack of production from his line. The third line of Richardson, Ethan Moreau and Dustin Penner has no goals (Murray put Jarret Stoll with Moreau and Penner on Saturday) and the Kings are looking like a top-heavy team offensively.

Penner has been a glaring disappointment with one point in his first 11 games. Murray acknowledged that Penner might not be getting enough opportunity playing third-line minutes, but the real issue is between the ears.

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“We talk about confidence, I think there’s maybe a little bit lacking there on the puck possession side of his game right now,” Murray said.

“I’d like to see the puck on his stick for longer periods of time, to get his feet going and carry the puck through the middle of the ice and challenge defenseman more. He’s got size and strength. He can take the puck to the net. We’re starting to see better skating in the last few days, in the games and practices, so I’m hoping that’s where he’s going to get to in his game.”

To a man, the Kings said they have to stick to Murray’s defensive system. But are 13 games enough of a sample size to be concerned?

“We’ll get it,” Justin Williams said. “We don’t play the type of game that we’re going to win 6-5, 7-6. That’s not the way we’re built and that’s not the way our system is built. Come playoff time, we win by playing our system, by playing good defensively.”

Pacific Division notes

Those who predicted San Jose and Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Final looked pretty smart after the teams turned in a great game Thursday with San Jose erasing a two-goal deficit in the third in a 4-3 shootout win. Not only did the Sharks erase the deficit, but they also overcame falling behind 2:04 into the contest. . . . Anaheim is increasingly leaning on Cam Fowler and Francois Beauchemin as its top defensive pairing. The two average more than 25 minutes of ice time, more than Lubomir Visnovsky and Toni Lydman. . . . Dave Tippett became the fastest coach to reach 100 wins in the 41-year history of the Winnipeg-Phoenix franchise. Tippett did it in his 177th game with a 4-2 victory over Edmonton on Saturday night. . . . Eric Nystrom, acquired to get Dallas off the salary cap floor, has fit in nicely on the Stars’ third line with three goals in eight games. He scored the first goal of Sunday's 5-2 win in Carolina that improved Dallas to 10-3-0. It is the quickest the Stars have reached 10 wins since doing so in the first 12 games of the 2006-07 season.

Tagged: Kings, Flyers, Lightning, Ducks, Simon Gagne, Mike Richards, Brad Richardson, Dustin Penner, Cam Fowler

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