The injuries to Drew Doughty and Sean Walker were blows the LA Kings blueline. Here’s a look at how the pairs have performed since then.
It has now been ten games that the LA Kings have played without either Drew Doughty or Sean Walker. It seems like a good time to get a look at how the defensive pairings have fared in that stretch, and with Doughty still a month or so away, is it enough to keep the Kings afloat?
As a team, the Kings went 7-2-1, including seven straight wins and an eight-game point streak. From a possession and scoring chance perspective, here’s how the last ten games have gone (note: all numbers below will be 5-on-5 per Natural Stat Trick):
|Los Angeles Kings||49.78||49.93||45.67||47.48||45.41|
Perhaps a bit fortunate to have the stretch that they did, but league-highs in 5-on-5 save percentage (.959) and high-danger save percentage (.917) will certainly offset some below-average possession numbers. At the end of the day, we’re all going to sign up for a 7-2-1 stretch.
But as I’d mentioned, the purpose of this article is to get an idea of how things have looked on the back-end.
Two of the three pairings have performed admirably during these ten games. The first of which being Mikey Anderson and Tobias Bjornfot, are getting the bulk of the minutes at 5-on-5. Here’s a look at how their possession and expected goals numbers during these previous ten games have looked via Natural Stat Trick:
|Mikey Anderson||Tobias Bjornfot||18.89||48.55||49.81||50.87||52.2||51.25|
Considering you have two very young defensemen, one of which is moving to his off-handed side, hovering around the 50% mark at 5-on-5 in terms of possession, I think is something that can be viewed as a positive, particularly since they’re doing a better job than their opponents when it comes to creating scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances.
This has been evident as both Anderson and Bjornfot have been more active in the offensive part of the game recently. It hasn’t necessarily led to more points (they only have three assists between them in these ten games, all from Bjornfot), but they’re certainly contributing in other ways offensively.
What’s impressive to me is the ask of Anderson to play his off-hand on the right-side. The 22-year-old defenceman has adapted quite well, and he’s frankly been awesome at 5-on-5 all season:
During this stretch, Olli Maatta and Matt Roy have seen the most time together, though we’ve seen them split up more recently, with Maatta playing with Kale Clague and Roy skating with Alex Edler. It’s for the better that Maatta and Roy aren’t a pairing anymore; it didn’t go well:
|Olli Maatta||Matt Roy||10.36||41.67||42.96||29.42||32.32||33.33|
Edler and Roy, much like Bjornfot and Anderson, have been solid if unspectacular:
|Alexander Edler||Matt Roy||8.51||50.31||48.7||50.82||56.1||48.15|
Edler’s contributions can be seen in other ways too, as he leads the team in blocked shots. His most recent partner in Roy is second.
As for Maatta and Clague, it’s been a little bit more of a struggle. As you’ll see, though, this isn’t a pairing that Head Coach Todd McLellan has been interested in using all that much at 5-on-5:
|Olli Maatta||Kale Clague||4.89||46.34||44.44||45.67||43.75||52.63|
It seems that McLellan is much more comfortable playing Clague with Edler, as they’ve played nearly double the minutes together on a per-game basis in these last ten.
In fairness to Clague, his value is more going to be tied to the power-play. While they certainly need him to be competent at 5-on-5, the loss of Doughty left a gaping hole on the first power-play unit. Clague has filled that role adequately so far. He’s picked up five assists in his nine games, with three of those coming with the man advantage.
Additionally, McLellan recognizes where Clague’s strength is, the offensive zone. He leads all Kings defensemen in the percentage of shifts starting in the offensive zone at 5-on-5 (per MoneyPuck):
Austin Strand has been around the team but only has played in one game, and he seems to be pretty entrenched in the 7th D role.
Credit should be given to the group as a whole, however. To lose your best two defensemen and almost immediately go on an eight-game point streak is impressive. I don’t think it makes much sense for the team to make a trade for a short-term fix on the blueline, especially if they haven’t by now (and have been quite successful to boot).
There still isn’t nearly enough offense from the back-end. After Doughty, Clague leads all Kings defensemen in points with those five assists, and he’s played the fewest amount of games for any defensemen not named Strand. I know there’s been the ask from the Kings’ coaching staff to have the entire defense group push, and I think we’ve seen the effort to do so. But at the end of the day, the personnel is the personnel, and it’s not a group that’s built to produce offensively.
All in all, as long as this group can stay healthy, I think it can survive until Doughty gets back. When he is ready, I would keep Clague on the Kings and send Strand to Ontario. I would also have Clague in my top-six and anchoring the second power-play unit:
Anderson – Doughty
Edler – Roy
Bjornfot – Clague
If we’ve learned anything, though, projecting a potential lineup with this LA roster too far into the future is borderline impossible, so your guess is as good as mine.
A significant left-side blueline acquisition wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if the team can stay in the playoff race. There are still questions on that side, but with the way Anderson, Bjornfot, Edler have played, they’re certainly buying the Kings some time.