Whether it was personnel or formation, the LA Kings’ power play had issues all season. Here are what I consider the biggest problems.
The LA Kings‘ power play was a pain point for the team and its fans throughout the 2021-22 season. The Kings tried using various players in different spots, partly to shake things up but also out of necessity due to the number of injuries to key players.
For this article, I will focus on the in-zone formation of the top unit only. Zone entries can be a piece for a later day.
If you’ve followed me in any fashion, either on Twitter or on the Making It Reign podcast, you may be familiar with my gripe that the LA Kings have severely under-utilized the bumper role.
Like most teams, the Kings are generally in a 1-3-1 formation on the power play. That top player was Drew Doughty or Sean Durzi throughout most of the season. On the right circle was Anze Kopitar, the left circle Adrian Kempe, while the middle/bumper player saw a few different looks, including Alex Iafallo, Phillip Danault, and, in the playoffs, Arthur Kaliyev. Down low, the Kings utilized a variety of players there, from Viktor Arvidsson, Dustin Brown, Iafallo, and Danault.
In my opinion, and what I will try to illustrate here, the LA Kings failed to give their best player and playmaker (Kopitar) appropriate outlets and forced him to either make a pass along the perimeter or shoot a low percentage shot.
My biggest complaint during the season is having a left-handed shot in the bumper with Kopitar as the primary option on the right wall.
There are two issues with this. One, there is no middle passing option for Kopitar.
In this screenshot, Iafallo is in the bumper role. Because Iafallo is left-handed, he has virtually no option should Kopitar pass it to him. Also, Kopitar has no down low option. Danault is standing near the top of the crease. Kopitar, in this instance, is either forced to take a contested shot or move it high to Durzi.
I have a couple of thoughts here. If there is a right-handed shot in the bumper, it opens up more options. Kopitar can move it to that bumper for either a one-time shot or a bump back to Kopitar, allowing for much quicker puck movement.
Also, there is no down-low option. The Kings did very little of low-to-high movement on the power play. This is partly because of examples like that where there is no behind-the-goal-line option.
If Danault was off to the goaltender’s left, he could one-touch it to the bumper (though again, the lefty bumper makes that play difficult) or hit a streaking Adrian Kempe down the left side.
My second complaint is the players chosen to play the bumper. Not only were they left-handed, but they were players who, while excellent two-way forwards, are not necessarily thought of as offensive-minded players.
Where am I going with this?
The following screenshot is one example of many that I could show of this middle player (in this example, it’s Iafallo) allowing himself to be tied up by the penalty killer.
Even if Iafallo was right-handed, he takes himself out of the play by allowing the killer to tie him up.
The bumper position needs to be a player who understands when and where to move without the puck. It’s what we saw the Ontario Reign work with incredible success. Gabriel Vilardi, Tyler Madden, and Akil Thomas were superb at moving without the puck to make themselves available for passing options.
I’ll also note that all three of those players are right-handed. The Reign operated out of the same right circle that Kopitar was stationed. Imagine that?
Here’s a quick example of that movement without the puck I’m referring to from Thomas.
He feels the pressure coming, has his eyes on the puck the whole time and is quick to get himself open for a shot. This was a constant all season in Ontario.
So, we can see how Kopitar on the right circle with a left-handed bumper option was pretty ineffective. This was the look for most of the regular season.
It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, then, that the LA Kings were among the teams with the lowest percentage of high-danger passes while on the power play:
We started to see Kopitar move over to the left circle late in the regular season. Given the number of left-handed shooters they have available for the bumper, this move made sense. This formation showed some signs of life in the playoffs (more on that in a bit), but it wasn’t a consistent look.
In Game 1 against Edmonton, Kopitar was again on the right circle with Danault down low and Iafallo as the bumper. As we see here, again, Kopitar has no option:
The Kings have three players, all within a stick length of each other, with Kempe, Danault, and Iafallo all too close to each other. The high slot is empty, and Durzi is not an option either. Often throughout the playoffs, there were calls for Kopitar to make quicker decisions. I’m not sure what he is supposed to do here?
In Game 2, we saw Kopitar move to the left circle, and right away, we could see how much better the movement was.
Watch Iafallo as soon as Kopitar gets the puck the first time. He pops out into the high slot.
Though Edmonton takes it away, just the threat of that now with Kopitar on the left circle allows for things to open up a little bit. The left-forward penalty killer now has to suck in to take Iafallo.
Kopitar then draws his killer to him and makes a nice pass to Spence. Iafallo’s movement opened up the lane to Kempe up when Spence gets it. Unfortunately, we didn’t see enough of this from Iafallo – or Danault for that matter – in this position. We saw earlier where Iafallo was much too low and not getting into any useful position.
We started to see Kaliyev as an option in the bumper on this unit in Game 2. I talked earlier about movement without the puck. We’ve seen examples of Danault and Iafallo being caught too low or too close to the goaltender – watch Kaliyev’s movement here and how quickly the Kings move the puck.
Here is another good example of Kaliyev recognizing where he needs to be in that bumper role. Kopitar has the puck on the left wall. Because Danault is locked in front of the net (again), Kopitar has nowhere to go. Fortunately, Kaliyev makes himself available. We see what just a quick bump-out can do as it draws that top killer down just enough to where Kopitar can then move it to Durzi, who sets up Kempe for a shot.
These weren’t the only positives of Kaliyev in the bumper. Consider me one who wouldn’t mind seeing the combination of Kopitar on the left circle and Kaliyev in the bumper next season. Here is a play we never saw throughout the regular season.
While there were signs of life with the new-look power play, there were still problems. I talked earlier about wanting to see low-to-high movement and how the down-low option to utilize that was non-existent. This, unfortunately, reared its ugly head in the playoffs.
With Kopitar on the left circle and a lefty in the bumper (either Iafallo or Kaliyev), this is an excellent opportunity to use a Kopitar to Danault (behind the goal line) and then immediately to the now-lefty bumper for a quick one-time shot. Unfortunately, Danault did not do a good enough job of making himself available.
In this look, Kopitar could take a contested shot, but he opts against it. Unfortunately, his attempt to go to Kempe at the right circle doesn’t go through. If Danault is down low here, it will spread out the killers, opening up Kaliyev. The killers, in this case, can converge on the slot and seam passes because Danault is no threat to them standing where he is.
It was easy to point the finger at Kopitar since he was the one with the puck and holding it. But when you break down his options (or lack thereof), there just wasn’t much he could do.
In this clip, all three times Kopitar gets the puck, Danault stands in front of the net. Kopitar is again faced with a contested shot (one of which he takes and, shockingly, it gets blocked) or trying to hold the puck to wait for something to open up.
To give an idea of what I am referring to when I say I want Danault below the goal line, here is a clip where he does just that. It spreads out the killers, gives more passing options, and eventually allows for a good chance for Kempe.
Now, I’m not sure if Danault was choosing to stand in front of the net on his own or if this was by design. I’m also not sure which is worse. Either way, having him glued to the top of the crease provided almost nothing to the power play.
In the LA Kings’ defense, their options for a right-handed bumper player were pretty slim during the regular season. My choice would have been Vilardi, but that has been beaten to death. What was bothersome is what took so long for the Kings to recognize that if they were going to have a lefty in the bumper, Kopitar needed to be on the left circle. Perhaps if they had made this move months earlier, it would have allowed the unit to gel more?
Overall, the Kings did a poor job of giving Kopitar options. Things improved when he was moved to the left circle and improved again when Kaliyev was put in the bumper.
Lastly, I thought I should at least mention Marco Sturm. In my opinion, to put all of the blame solely on him is a little misguided. Does he deserve a share of the responsibility? Surely. But to what extent, it’s difficult to say. Let’s not pretend that Todd McLellan doesn’t have a say in the power play, particularly the personnel. I don’t have any grandiose point here. I just thought I’d mention that while Sturm is an easy target, I can’t definitively say that he is at fault.
What will the 2022-23 power play bring? With offseason additions likely and the young players gaining valuable experience, the personnel issue should no longer be an excuse.