Remember about a week and a half ago when the Los Angeles Kings were atop the Western Conference?
Yeah, good times.
Having lost seven of their last eight games, the Kings now find themselves sitting 11th in the West and tied with San Jose for last in a Pacific Division separated by three points.
What's gone wrong in the City of Angels? For starters, their power play is 1-for-31 in their past eight games. Dustin Brown(notes) and Justin Williams(notes) have not provided much scoring help for Ryan Smyth(notes) and Anze Kopitar(notes), with a goal a piece over that same eight-game stretch.
Also, Willie Mitchell(notes) and Alexei Ponikarovsky(notes) have been missing from the lineup, meaning 22 minutes of ice time on the blueline needs to be spread around as the Kings' depth has been tested.
And that blueline is now getting noticed, specifically the play of Drew Doughty(notes) and Jack Johnson(notes). After LA's 2-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks last night, head coach Terry Murray said if the Kings are to get out of their funk, his two young defensemen need to step up their games.
"They need to be better. They need to be better," Kings Coach Terry Murray said with more than a hint of exasperation.
"Everybody's battling a little bit. A little fumbling of the puck and maybe a little bit of nervous play with the puck at times but we need those guys. The only way you get out of anything is with your best players taking charge. And we need them to be out best players, the two kids in the back, Doughty and Jack. We need them to be A-plus every night and certainly right now."
Doughty and Johnson have a combined five points over the past seven games, but have also struggled defensively. Last night, Doughty had just left the penalty box before tripping Corey Perry(notes) and allowing the Ducks to score on the ensuing power play. Later, a Johnson turnover allowed Teemu Selanne(notes) and Jason Blake(notes) in on a two-on-one before Blake gave Anaheim a two-goal lead.
At practice this morning, Murray made changes to the lines, putting Williams up with Anze Kopitar despite saying last night, "I'm not going to fool around with the line combinations right now. I'm starting to see some good chemistry develop."
The Kings don't play again until Thursday night against the Florida Panthers (a "must-win" according to Doughty) and all but two of their games in December come against Western Conference opposition -- including three in a row against Pacific Division foes.
The standings out west come Jan. 1 will look drastically different than they do today once the Kings and Sharks, two conference favorites in the preseason, stop underachieving. Despite two tilts with the Detroit Red Wings, the first half of the Kings' December schedule looks favorable for them to break out of their slump.
The jumbling of lines may be what helps spark the offense, but the play of Los Angeles' top defensive-pairing is most important if the team is to take that "next step" this season.