Examining the Kings’ Struggling Second Line
And why such a sudden drop-off in performance?
One point and a combined negative 18. That's the stat line for the Los Angeles Kings' second line over the last five games.
A line that's usually so reliable and consistent, it's an odd sight for Kings fans to see them struggle so much. And why such a sudden drop-off in performance?
As always, the answer as to why the sudden struggles go beyond, "these guys just suck now."
Yes, Phil Danault, Alex Iafallo and Viktor Arvidsson could all be playing better, but there's more going on than just their individual slumps. Usage plays a big role in how a line performs.
Before coming to Los Angeles Danault was labeled as an all-defense, shutdown center with limited offensive upside. And particularly limited goal-scoring. But, he scored 27 goals in his first season as a Kings, putting those labels to bed. Why? Because he was given a more offensive role.
And that role has been taken away recently.
Over the last ten games, there has been just one occasion the Danault line has taken more than half of their faceoffs in the offensive zone. Against the Philadelphia Flyers, they had seven offensive zone faceoffs and just two defensive zone faceoffs. But that's an outlier right now.
In most games, they've hovered in the mid-30s for offensive zone faceoff percentage. It's difficult to generate a ton of offense when you're starting most of your shifts 200 feet away from the opposition net. It's also more difficult to keep pucks out of your net when a lost faceoff means you're immediately under siege.
Right now, Danault is back to playing a similar role to the one he played in Montreal, shutdown center first and foremost.
Iafallo and Arvidsson are good wingers for this role too. Both are responsible, veteran forwards who can play that role.
But why the sudden shift for these three? Injuries and the lines around them play a big role in this.
Normally, Anze Kopitar and his line would take a lot more of the defensive zone assignments. But with Quinton Byfield now up on that line and Adrian Kempe not being a stellar defensive player, it makes sense to ease that responsibility a bit.
And on the third line, Kevin Fiala, for all of his strengths, is not a good defensive player. Combine that with Gabe Vilardi, who's been the Kings best defensive forward statistically, being injured. And it makes sense to not ask the third line to take a lot of defensive zone assignments either.
The fourth line needs no explaining, three forwards all under the age of 23 shouldn't be starting many shifts in their own zone.
Using Danault and his line the way they're being used is the safe bet for Todd McLellan. It sacrifices a lot of what they can do offensively, but it's a sacrifice that needs to be made given the Kings' roster right now.
And again, that line also needs to play better.
When players like Vilardi, Trevor Moore and Arthur Kaliyev begin coming back from injury, I'm sure this will change. McLellan will be able to trust other lines more and give the Danault line a more offensive role again.
Until then, that line has to do what's best for the team. And right now, in the coach's eyes, it appears what's best for the team is playing a shutdown role.