Nash up for trade, but Kings’ issues run deep

LOS ANGELES — Columbus Blue Jackets star forward Rick
Nash is on the trading block, and the Los Angeles Kings are allegedly one of a
handful of teams he would waive his no-trade clause to play for, as reported by
Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch
.

That’s all well and good. If an available six-time, 30-goal scorer just
reaching his prime alludes to wanting to play at Staples Center, and the Kings
have the resources and salary cap maneuverability to bring him aboard, it’s a
major opportunity to take advantage of. Rarely do players of Nash’s caliber become
available in the midseason … and the Kings are hungry for offense.

Make that “starving” for offense. Nash would amount to little more
than a snack that would hardly quell the team’s voracious goal appetite, one
that has hardly been satiated through the season’s first 58 games. Los Angeles
currently ranks last in the NHL with 2.07 goals per game after Thursday’s 1-0
home loss to the Phoenix Coyotes. LA has been shut out seven times this season,
four games of which were winnable 1-0 losses similar to Thursday.

“It’s nothing new,” Anze Kopitar said with a hushed voice, answering
questions similar to the ones he’s answered all season long. “We’ve struggled
pretty much the whole year, and again, we’ve got to find a way to score goals
and win games.”

There should be major unease in the organization over the way certain players
who earn a large paycheck haven’t produced in accordance with the hefty salaries
they’re receiving.

At what point do the Kings show concern over Drew Doughty, nearly two years
removed from his 16-goal, 59-point campaign that earned him a Norris Trophy
nomination. While his five goals and 25 points this season aren’t awful, his
numbers are still off the mark from his 40-point lukewarm effort from a year
ago, considering his dynamic ability. It’s not a good sign that someone in the
first year of a $56 million contract is likely to see his production fall two
consecutive years.

There’s Dustin Penner, who despite the good natured “Pancakes
with Penner
” event on Monday that raised over $3,100 for the Kings
Care Foundation, is pulling in $4.25 million and has produced five goals and 13
points in 43 games. He has been a healthy scratch in three consecutive games.

Though Mike Richards does so many things correctly on the ice — Darryl Sutter
called his hockey I.Q. “as good as there is” after practice on
Tuesday — he has no goals and two assists in 13 games. Richards was acquired
from Philadelphia in the offseason to boost the offense and power play, but he
hasn’t been able to consistently produce since the move to LA.

“Those guys that you say are supposed to be scoring are also playing
defense and they’ve done a great job for us in our defensive zone,”
goaltender Jonathan Quick said. “They are one of the biggest reasons why
we are so good in our defensive zone.”

Quick has a valid point. There’s less attention paid to a deep defensive effort
that suffocates opponents into frequent 1-0 and 2-1 games as the attention paid
to the offensive struggles. Sutter might have referred to the NHL as “a
3-2 league”, but only once in the last seven games have the Kings and
their opponents combined for five goals.

The deeper issue is that there are several high-profile players on this Los
Angeles team who haven’t put forth the production necessary for the franchise
to emerge as one of the Western Conference’s elite teams.  Nash would be a
huge help, but the greater concern is getting more out of players already on
the team’s roster.

“It doesn’t really matter if the effort and the chances are there,”
Kopitar said. “If you can’t bear down on them, it doesn’t really matter
how hard you work and how many chances you create.

“At the end of the day, the score counts, and two points — that’s what
you’ve got to get.”

NOTES: Phoenix coach Dave Tippett summarized Thursday’s game: “That
was a very competitive game. We knew they were going to be competitive. We had
to make sure that our team was very competitive. We talked about the importance
of this game and where we are in the standings and where they are in the
standings. We have to be all in if we’re going to have a chance at winning this
game and I thought we were all in. Good effort. … We played a smart hard game
and we found a way to win.” … Of the 62
penalty minutes assessed Thursday, 40 were from fighting altercations. Los
Angeles’ season high in combined penalty minutes with an opponent is 76, set in
a 3-2 overtime win at Philadelphia on October 15. … The Kings have killed
off 22 of their last 23 penalties, though the one failed attempt occurred when
Radim Vrbata beat Quick from the right circle Thursday for the game’s only
goal. … Los Angeles is 10-4-4
against the Pacific Division.