Kings – Pacific Division Pretender Or Contender?

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There’s an old adage in hockey that says you can’t win a division in the first month of the season, but you sure can lose it. Through the first 15 games of the 2016-17 season, the LA Kings may not be eliminated from Pacific Division contention, but the road to the title is going to be quite an uphill battle. My Top Sportsbooks lists the LA kings as outright 22/1 contenders to retain the Stanley Cup this season.

It took all of 20 minutes for Kings fans to question the season, as star goaltender Jonathan Quick went down after one period of play and is expected to be out for a few more months. Marian Gaborik, a likely candidate to play on the Kings’ top line, was injured during the World Cup of Hockey, and should return sometime in December. Also on the shelf until next month are Brayden McNabb and Andy Andreoff.

With the absence of several every day players, the Kings’ have had to rely on some unexpected names. After being stripped of the captaincy and his name being thrown around as a potential target to be taken in the upcoming expansion draft, Dustin Brown is off to a hot start and looks completely refocused after a series of down years.  Lately, Browns production has cooled down. Currently, the winger is on pace for 36 points, which would easily eclipse his point total from the last three seasons, but his cap hit greatly hurts the Kings from making a move for a true top six forward or top four defender they truly need.

The man who has centered Brown to start the year, Nic Dowd, has also been a pleasant surprise, even to many loyal MayorsManor readers. The St. Cloud State alum has been an integral part of the Kings’ third line and has found a way to make a big impact in a short period of time. Known for being a player who steps up in clutch situations, Dowd scored an OT winner to beat the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

In Quick’s absence, the Kings have had to turn to a name most thought would likely never resurface on the NHL level again. Two seasons ago, Peter Budaj was buried in the Winnipeg Jets system, where he went winless in 19 game in the AHL. Last year, Budaj signed on with the Kings in what likely would have been his last chance to play in North America had he had a repeat of his performance from the previous season. Budaj seized the opportunity to play for the Kings’ AHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign, and asserted himself as the best goalie in the league. A year later, he was thrust into the starter role in LA while Quick and Jeff Zatkoff deal with injuries, and while he has played well at times, he’s also been prone to allowing a weak goal or two. The veteran netminder’s play will be of utmost importance, as the Kings simply have no other options in net currently.

While there has been some positives for the Kings early on, there are still several areas of concern.

The off-season saw Devin Setoguchi and Teddy Purcell both sign one-year contracts with the club. While Setoguchi failed in his short stint on the Kings’ top line, he has settled nicely into a role with Brown and Dowd. On the other hand, Purcell has struggled to contribute, with just two assist through 12 games and sitting as a healthy nine eight times.

Speaking of Kopitar, the new captain has not gotten off to a hot start. With nine points in 16 games, the center’s production has not been terrible, but the team needs much more out of him. Part of the problem can be blamed on his linemates, as Kopitar hasn’t shown a great deal of chemistry with any of his wingers thus far. Kopitar missed five games of action with an injury himself, and we may see his play kick-started once Gaborik returns to the lineup.

A few years ago, the Kings’ defense was the class of the league. Now, there continues to be holes in a group that was once rock solid. Devoid of a top four defender they so desperately need, GM Dean Lombardi went out and signed Tom Gilbert over the off-season. Gilbert, like Purcell, has struggled to even find a regular home in the lineup. Matt Greene looks slower than ever, and Derek Forbort and Kevin Gravel are nice players, but neither is what the Kings need to fix their defensive unit.

With a lack of scoring, holes in the defense, and their star netminder out for an extended period of play, the Kings will be hard pressed to bring home any hardware this year.

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