Seven years. It's been seven years since the Los Angeles Kings finished a season with a league-average power play. The 2016-17 season saw them finish 15th out of 30 teams with a 19.09% power play. The 2016-17 season was Darryl Sutter and Dean Lombardi's last. Adrian Kempe's rookie season and the only season in the last 15 years that Anze Kopitar didn't lead the team in points. We're talking about a long time ago.
It's been bottom-half finishes for the Kings' man advantage since then. Now, the team is experimenting to fix that.
Head coach Todd McLellan and new assistant coach Jim Hiller have broken up the Kopitar to Drew Doughty pitch and catch game we've seen for the last umpteenth seasons. Instead moving Kopitar to the net front, Doughty to the left flank, and Kempe to the point. Making the power play look like this:
Drew Doughty Gabe Vilardi Kevin Fiala
This is still a very new configuration. The team's used it in just one practice and one game so far. But it looked good in the King's game against the Detroit Red Wings, leading to an early power-play goal. The most surprising change is Kempe, a forward, playing the point. It's not something you see often and McLellan addressed using Kempe at the point after Saturday's game.
"No, if you think about our power play in the past, we've moved guys all over the place," said McLellan. "I believe good power plays are like that, everyone is interchangeable, it's unpredictable. And in fact, by experiencing somebody else's spot, you can understand what may happen in that situation. Adrian had been back there last year too. So, sometimes it's about hands, sometimes it's about opposition. I don't know if we're going to use it again, we'll see."
If Kempe did play the point on the power play last season, he doesn't remember it.
"I haven't played it (the point) since I came into this league," said Kempe. "I used to do it when I was younger, when I was 16-17, I played it a lot but not since. But I've always liked to play there. I think it's more of a threat having two one-timer out there at the same time so that helps too."
Having the two one-timer threats is the biggest change for that top unit. Having Kopitar, a left shot, run the powerplay from the left side with Doughty, a right shot, at the point left them too predictable. Neither player was a quick-shot threat, making it easy for opposition penalty killers to defend, knowing they would have time to get in front of potential shots. If they took away the cross-ice pass, they were fine.
Now, that isn't an option. When moving the puck around the umbrella, the Kings are now a constant shot threat, making them unpredictable and more difficult to defend. The only drawback about this new look is moving Gabe Vilardi away from the net front spot. He's been the team's best forward this season and they have to take advantage of his skill on the power play. Fortunately, he can excel in the bumper position, but the team has to use that option far more than they have in the past.
The King's second unit hasn't seen any changes, but they're still finding success. Phil Danault, Trevor Moore, and Viktor Arvidsson all rotate between the left flank, bumper, and net front spot. While Sean Durzi staffs the point and Arthur Kaliyev sits on the right flank.
Taking advantage of the one-time options of both Kaliyev and Durzi this unit has a constant threat the opposition has to worry about.
Sitting 20th in the league at 19.44%, there's still a lot of work left for the King's power play. The early signs of these changes look good though, and on paper, the moves make sense. With the skill on this roster, the Kings should not be a bottom-half power-play team and these moves might be the key to their success.