John Hove, from his Los Angeles Kings blog Maylor's Manor, answered a few Dallas Stars questions for us in preparation for Saturday's game.
Q: Give Stars fans a scouting report on the Kings this season.
GM Dean Lombardi took over the team a few years ago with a plan. He's stuck to that plan, regardless of what critics have had to say. This year it looks like things are finally starting to come together. The Kings have a ton of young, mainly home grown talent up front (Kopitar, Brown, Frolov), on defense (Doughty and Johnson) and in net (Quick). This summer they added two key high character, proven winners -- veterans Ryan Smyth and Rob Scuderi. This complemented deals made prior to last season to get Matt Greene and Jarret Stoll.
The Kings had 12 points after the first 10 games, added another 12 points in the next 10 and posted 13 in the next 10. As a team, they've been very consistent. Individually, they've been very streaky. From day one of training camp Ryan Smyth and Anze Kopitar have had a budding bro-mance. Along with their linemate, Justin Williams, they were on fire the first month of the season. More recently, its been Jarret Stoll and Wayne Simmonds carrying the load. Jonathan Quick has been a workhorse in net, playing all buy three games for the team.
Defensively, the team has been solid. Drew Doughty is finally starting to garner some of the attention he should have received last year when he put up a Calder worthy rookie campaign. Although most hockey people say the Kings overpaid to get Rob Scuderi (a free agent coming off a Cup run in Pittsburgh), he's been well worth the money. On D the Kings are well-balanced with a mix of stay-at-home guys (Scuderi, O'Donnell, Greene) and offensive-minded players (Doughty, Johnson).
Interestingly, the Kings are loaded with US college players, including on defense (Greene, North Dakota; Scuderi, Boston College; Johnson, Michigan; and Drewiske, Wisconsin). Up front the have Scott Parse (Nebraska) and Ted Purcell (Maine). In goal, J. Quick (UMass).
Q: Anze Kopitar sure has collected a bunch of points (tied for fifth going into Friday's game). What makes him so productive?
Most of the credit early on was directed at Ryan Smyth (rightfully so). Smyth has allowed him to play a different type of game than linemates he's had in previous years. Kopi has said playing with a guy that has so much experience has given him a new level of confidence. Wednesday night in San Jose he scored a goal for the first time in 13 games, most of those while Smyth has been out injured.
Not to be overlooked though is the fact that Kopitar stayed in LA most of the summer to train. Management wanted him to treat his body like a professional athlete. That dedication seems to be playing a part in his coming out party this year.
Q: Which line should the Stars look out for tonight?
Actually, the Kings are getting the most balanced scoring in years. They have eight guys with 20 or more points. Smyth being out of the line up with the famous "upper body" injury is reeking havoc on the line combinations. How can one guy cause so many problems? For all the young talent in the organization, they are thin at left wing. As a result, Coach Murray has been mixing the lines up quite a bit the last few weeks to try and jump start some guys ... and its been working.
Specific to your question -- you always have to watch out for the top line, with Kopitar and Williams. However, the second line is probably the hottest line right now -- Dustin Brown and more specifically, Jarret Stoll are playing their best hockey of the season. The third line of Handzus, Frolov and Simmonds has a knack for scoring key goals at crucial moments.
Q: Talk about the Kings' special teams. It looks like the penalty kill has struggled so far this season.
The power play is hot and cold, but much better at home (fifth in the league before Friday's games). Not that it's revolutionary, but Coach Murray likes to play four forwards and one d-man on the PP.
Team defense is much better this year. So, in turn you would think the PK would be OK. It's not, it's awful. The reasons are actually a mystery to everybody. Things have been better the last few weeks though, and with Scuderi back from injury it should continue to improve.
Q: Injury update?
Ryan Smyth is out with an upper body injury, expected back around the end of the month. The team had a variety of injuries in late November -- fortunately, just about everybody else is back. Rob Scuderi just rejoined the line-up a few games ago and that has helped shore up the defense. No other major injuries to report.
Q: Who will start in goal for the Kings? Tell us about him.
Quick. He's started nearly every game (all but three). He has a horrible save percentage (.903), but he's been clutch this month. Tends to give up one bad goal a night.
Q: Who are some players Stars fans should keep an eye on?
Brown leads the league in hits. Doughty leads NHL defenseman in goals. Kopitar is a star on the rise after leading the league in scoring for the first part of the season. Also of note is that he isn't playing in the Olympics, so many expect him to be a monster in the second half of the season.
The three hottest players in the last five games have been Wayne Simmonds, Jarret Stoll and Drew Doughty. D-man Randy Jones, a recent waiver wire pickup, has been strong as well (offensively, not defensively).
Q: Anything else we should know about the Kings?
Raitis Ivanans (the team enforcer) hasn't fought much this year but has been a penalty magnet. He sat out Thursday's game vs. Phoenix, as the team went with seven defenseman.
When leading after two periods, the team is 14-0-0.
The Frolov watch continues. Fro is in the last year of his contract and has been rumored to be going everywhere from Montreal to Chicago. He is a highly talented Russian who tends to take nights off occasionally. Lombardi and his staff are trying to sign him. If they can't extend him, he will me moved before the trade deadline in the spring.
The team is full of guys that could/should make the Olympic squads for their home countries -- i.e. Brown, Johnson, Scuderi, Quick (U.S.); Frolov (Russia); Doughty and Smyth (Canada), Michal Handzus (Slovakia), etc.