The plan that Kings coach John Stevens laid out before the season was ambitious but intriguing.
Play faster to trigger scoring and maintain the stringent defensive posture so synonymous with the Kings. At the halfway point, Stevens isn’t quite handing out a satisfactory report card, but statistically speaking he’s implemented most of what he’s wanted in his first season.
Through 41 games, the Kings have averaged 2.95 goals a game, up from 2.43 last season, and lead the NHL with 2.32 goals-against going into Saturday, their final game before their bye week. This without Jeff Carter, their leading goal scorer last season.
“There’s some things that are setting in offensively for us that we really tried to instill in terms of structure,” Stevens said. “We can manufacture offense. I think that part of our game has had some big improvements.”
Leading that movement is Drew Doughty, playing as if he wants another Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman and jumping into the play like a fourth forward. Stevens wants to rein in the latter but said that Doughty has been a crucial element to playing quicker through the neutral zone.
“That might be one of the areas we’ve improved the most, especially when you’ve got a guy like Drew, who’s so good with the puck … he can skate through people,” Stevens said. “But I think he really understands now that he can do that and be a part of the rush as opposed to just leading the rush.
“He joins as much as he leads now. I think he’s been terrific in that sense.”
Stevens said their commitment without the puck “has been everything we’d hoped it would be, but still an area we need to improve on.”
Even when that attack breaks down, goalie Jonathan Quick has operated at his most competitive level in recent memory. Thursday’s 4-3 loss at Calgary was an example of the Kings relying on him too much, though, because Quick could do only so much on a night when Stevens said just half his skaters were on board.
“We take it for granted sometimes, and that’s why we don’t play the way we should because he bails us out the majority of the time, and it kind of gets unnoticed,” center Anze Kopitar said of Quick. “We’ve got to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
With 53 points, Stevens and the Kings are ahead of pace for the 96 points that Stevens pegged to make the postseason. Doughty knows one facet can’t change in that chase.
“If we keep playing that good defensive-style game, we’re going to keep winning hockey games,” Doughty said.
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
On the air: TV: FSW; Radio: 790.
Update: The Predators lost leading scorer Filip Forsberg to an upper-body injury for several weeks. Kyle Turris has filled their second-line center spot with five goals and 13 assists since his arrival from the Ottawa Senators in a multi-team trade in November.