The Los Angeles Kings had plenty of time to sleep off their hangover. But if their play through their first 10 games is any indication, the defending Stanley Cup champions probably wish they could have hit the snooze button a few more times.
The Kings have been one of the league’s biggest disappointments this season, and like the Bruins a year before them, they find themselves in trouble at the 10-game mark. Unlike the Bruins, who had 72 games to right the ship, the Kings only have 38 games to figure things out and get going in the right direction.
It’s a bit puzzling, too. We’ve become almost too quick to blame a defending champion’s early-season malaise on the dreaded “Stanley Cup hangover.” It obviously exists, and to what extent we probably won’t ever really know, but it’s clear the Kings have something adverse going on. The head-scratching thing, of course, is that the Kings were able to soften the blow of what would have been a short summer with an NHL lockout that pushed the season start date into late January.
Only the lowly Washington Capitals, still sorting through the growing pains under new head coach Adam Oates, have fewer points than the Kings. Only the Colorado Avalanche, currently missing Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly and Steve Downie, have scored fewer goals. Only the Caps and the hapless, gutted Columbus Blue Jackets have a worse goal differential than Los Angeles’ minus-9.
You look at the Kings’ stat sheet, and it’s hard to believe they were hoisting the Stanley Cup about eight months ago. Anze Kopitar, expected to take the leap into the game’s elite, hasn’t found his stride this season. He’s tied for the team lead in points with six. To put that in perspective, the Bruins, who will wouldn’t be confused with an offensive juggernaut this season, have six players with at least six points.
Reigning Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick hasn’t been horrible this season, but he hasn’t been dominant either. He put a five-goal embarrassment on opening night against the Red Wings, but he hasn’t gone on anything resembling a sustained hot streak yet.
Don’t forget about injuries. The Kings are clearly feeling the effects of key injuries to defensemen Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell. The loss of both has left the Kings scrambling to find some sort of depth on the blue line, something that they’ve obviously struggled to do. Dean Lombardi tried to address that this past week by acquiring former first-round pick Keaton Ellerby from the Panthers.
But maybe the Kings’ struggles were to be expected, for reasons other than the Cup hangover. While L.A. dominated the playoffs last season in historic fashion, it’s easy to forget they did so as a No. 8 seed.
Granted that was only by a couple of points, but the point remains that the Kings didn’t necessarily take the league by storm last season during the 82-game stretch, and they were helped along by 15 overtime losses, which was second to only the Flames in the Western Conference. So maybe, just maybe, they weren’t that good.
Maybe the Kings are about to turn things around, though. Following a heart-breaking loss to the Red Wings on Sunday, Kopitar declared it was the Kings’ best game of the season. Yet it was still a loss, and the Kings are nearing desperation territory.
They turned it on at the right time last year, no doubt. They brought their best when it mattered most, and that’s why they got to open this season with a banner raising ceremony. However, if the Kings don’t start channeling some of that late-season magic this year, they’re going to get plenty of time this summer to sleep off that hangover for good.