LA Kings Anze Kopitar

Do the LA Kings need a shakeup along their top line? Here are a few combinations to consider.

In the last few games, the LA Kings have been on fire as they’ve won seven of the last eight games and have gained a point in every single one of them. Kings head coach Todd McLellan hasn’t changed the lineups since the winning streak started, and it has seemed to work so far. The fourth line of Brendan Lemieux, Blake Lizotte, and Arthur Kaliyev has been arguably the NHL’s best fourth line, scoring points almost every game. The second and third lines have also found some chemistry and have been hot too. 

Although the bottom-nine forwards have looked amazing and have been helping the team get these crucial wins, the first line has looked a little off. Anze Kopitar doesn’t look out of place, but something doesn’t seem to be clicking, and that’s an issue. Kopitar is LA’s best player by a long shot, and when he’s not performing on 5 on 5, while the team is winning, that’s concerning. 

Adrian Kempe, on the other hand, has looked very out of place. Don’t get me wrong, Kempe just had a six-game point streak, but you’d have to thank his power play time for that. He’s a fast player, and he has the right tools to be a good player, but playing him with Kopitar on the first line isn’t working. The trio of Kempe, Kopitar, and Dustin Brown has accounted for a 31.4 xGF% in just under 55 minutes time-on-ice.

LA Kings Adrian Kempe
Photo Credit: Julio Cortez / AP

In the most recent game against the Winnipeg Jets, Kempe had so many chances to shoot, but he constantly flubbed on his shots. The puck seemed to slide off of his stick so much, and you don’t want first-liners losing pucks that easy. It almost feels like he’s too fast for his hands because of how rough his puck control has looked.

It might really be time to give up on the Dustin Brown first-line dream. He’s not as fast or simply as good as he once was. I fully understand his chemistry with Kopitar, but Dustin Brown is not a first liner in the National Hockey League. It isn’t a knock on Brown at all, but he does not fit on the first line.

That said, a coach will never want to change the lineup, especially when that lineup is on a seven-game winning streak. Now that the streak is broken, change has to happen on the first line. Viktor Arvidsson missing games is a solid excuse as to why the first line hasn’t been producing at five on five, but this should have been expected going into the season.

In this article, we’ll go over three line combinations that the Kings should try out before they square up with Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals on Wednesday.

1. Arvidsson- Kopitar- Athanasiou

Andreas Athanasiou has been nothing short of terrific on the second line alongside Phillip Danault and Alex Iafallo, and the only reason he hasn’t had a shot on the first line is because of how good he’s been on the second line. Kopitar is no longer the fastest skater in the world, and he’s more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. That is exactly why you would want a speedy winger like AA next to him.

Athanasiou reminds me a lot of Kempe, and what makes me think that is because they look so similar. They’re both fast skaters who will always try to get pucks on net and are never afraid of making crazy dangles and stick plays to get to the front. The difference-maker is that Andreas has actually been successful at that this season.

If McLellan wants a Kempe-like player to play alongside Kopitar on the top line, why not give Athanasiou a chance, who has done the little things better than Kempe? Having Arvidsson back on that line would be very helpful too, as he could be the sniper who nets the puck while Kopitar has the brains of the line, and AA has the speed. It seems like the perfect combination. This would be the safest option out of the three lines we will mention.

2. Iafallo- Kopitar- Arvidsson

This is the most basic and probably the most dominant first line the team could think of. It’s obvious that McLellan won’t stack the best players all on one line and leave the rest out to dry, but at some point, you’d think they would try this line in the next few days. 

Iafallo found natural chemistry with Phil Danualt and evidently, you wouldn’t dare to break it up, considering both of those players have been amazing. The line doesn’t need to happen right away, but what if the Kings tried it out during practice or if they were up by a large margin in a game? There’s no shame in giving this line a chance, especially when there’s no risk. 

Iafallo was great on the first line last season, and thanks to him doing so well, he had his breakout year and earned himself his contract extension over the summer. Arvidsson once again stays as he is – the natural sniper. Iafallo isn’t as fast as Athanasiou, but he’s the whole package when it comes to shooting, hands, and game smarts. This line may disrupt the Kings’ second line, but that’s why you’d have to test this line before giving it a shot in-game.

3. Iafallo- Kopitar- Andersson

Not much changes from Kopitar and Iafallo again. The risk stays there that the chemistry between Iafallo Danault is gone, but as you may notice, there is no Arvidsson. What happens if you replace Iafallo with Arvidsson on the second line? Will he be the perfect replacement, or does it crash and burn? That’s why this line is risky too. 

As for this line, Lias Andersson slots into the first line to play on the right side next to Kopitar and Iafallo. We haven’t seen too much from Lias this season due to injury, but he did have some first-line TOI against the Buffalo Sabres. Andersson managed to keep up with Brown and Kopitar and was actually able to create plays and get a few shots on net.

This is undoubtedly the riskiest line combo that there could be out of these three, and it’s understandable. There are so many things that play into this line seeming unstable, but if it does work out, the line could be a gold mine. There’s obviously that risk that Lias Andersson doesn’t succeed on the first line in the long run, but he’s looked good this season, and that deserves to be rewarded. There’s also that risk that the second line suffers without Iafallo, and who even knows if Arvidsson can replace Iafallo’s spot on that line. It’s a very dodgy idea, but why not give it a shot at practice?

Building a strong first line is key because it’s your go-to line, and it’s the line that comes at you hard. The best players are supposed to play on it, and it’s the line that should be scoring the most. We haven’t seen that happen on 5 on 5 in the last few games, and that signals for a change. Hopefully, Arvidsson does help Kopitar out, but it really is time to switch some players up and try a few new things out.

Scott Wheeler of the Athletic | Making it Reign Episode 10

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