Connect with us


Have the Kings Improved? Defense & Goalies



Vladislav Gavrikov

The Los Angeles Kings made a big splash when trading for Pierre-Luc Dubois and sent a message.

They’re ready to win now.

But, you have to give to get in the NHL and the Kings sent a lot of talent out to acquire Dubois. Leaving some to question, have the Kings actually improved?

Starting with the defense and goalies, I’m going to go through the defense pairings and goaltending duo to determine if the Kings have improved in those departments.


Pairing 1: Mikey Anderson-Drew Doughty:

The top pairing sees no changes for the Kings and there’s no point in messing with success.

This pairing regularly faces the league’s best lines and posts positive numbers while doing it.

The Kings outshot, outchanced and outscored their opponents with these two on the ice. Mikey Anderson’s developed into one of the best shutdown defensemen in the league and Drew Doughty is still a true number-one defenseman.

Barring any injuries, this pair will anchor the Kings’ defense once again.

Because this pairing stays the same, the Kings neither improved or decline here.

Pairing 2: Vladislav Gavrikov-Matt Roy:

I’m shocked how many people have suggested moving Matt Roy to the third pairing next season. Fortunately for Roy, I don’t think Todd McLellan views that as a possibility.

Roy just posted career highs in goals and points while leading Kings defensemen in both goals and wins above replacement. Roy also won the team’s “unsung hero” award, as voted on by players and coaches, he’s all but a lock for the second pairing.

Next to him will undoubtebly be Vladislav Gavrikov. Gavrikov and Roy statistically formed one of the best pairings in the league.

It’s a small sample size, but amongst pairings who played more than 150 minutes together. The pairing had the highest expected goals against percentage, second highest actual goals against percentage, and third in Fenwick for percentage.

They followed that up by leading the Kings in all major categories during the postseason.

These two are fantastic together and McLellan won’t shake things up unnecessarily.

Again, no movement from this pairing as they stay the same.

Pairing 3: Tobias Bjornfot/Andreas Englund-Brandt Clarke/Jordan Spence:

The Kings’ third pairing will be the deal breaker, whatever combination they go with here, both players will be different than what the team had last year.

Most people feel this is addition by subtraction, as the third pair was caved in by the Edmonton Oilers in the postseason and looked like a true weak link.

All three of the players used on that pair in the postseason — Alex Edler, Sean Durzi and Sean Walker — have all either not been re-signed or traded away.

Left Side:

Replacing Edler/Durzi on the left is going to be one of Tobias Bjornfot or Andreas Englund.

It will likely by Bjornfot’s spot to lose heading into camp. The 2019 first-round pick still has time to bounce back and prove he can be a future top-four defenseman, but he needs to prove he can handle the NHL next season.

Bjornfot’s a very different defenseman to Edler and Durzi. He doesn’t have Edler’s size or experience and isn’t the risk-taker and offensive threat Durzi is.

Instead, he’s a smooth skater who uses those feet as the catalyst for his game. Both when defending and moving the puck up ice, Bjornfot relies on his skating to make things happen. In the past, he’s lacked confidence and has been too hesitant to make plays, leading to mistakes and poor defending.

A year in the AHL, playing on the top pair might be the confidence boost he needs to prove he’s an NHL-capable defenseman.

Competing with Bjornfot will be new signing Andreas Englund. Extremely different to any of the Kings’ options last year or now, Englund is a physically imposing defensive defenseman who throws his weight around and will drop the gloves without a second thought.

Englund posted decent results between the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks last season, but I question if the quality is there to be an everyday NHLer. Even if he brings an element the Kings are missing in the lineup.

That physical edge makes him an ideal seventh defenseman, but the Kings should aim higher for their third pairing and Bjornfot needs to be that upgrade.

Whoever wins that spot is an upgrade on Edler though, as father time clearly caught up with the Swede last season.

Right Side:

The right side features the most interesting position battle heading into training camp. The fight between Brandt Clarke and Jordan Spence.

There appears to be an acceptance by many fans that Clarke is a lock for this spot, but I don’t think it’s that simple. Spence has proven to be NHL quality — although he struggled a bit in his last stint — and is due a long look after spending last season in the AHL.

Both are more offensive-minded players, Spence has the edge defensively while Clarke is just more dynamic with the puck.

At every level, Spence has exceeded expectations and forced his way onto rosters and I’ve learned to not doubt him.

Of course, Clarke has the edge in upside and raw talent, but he still has plenty to work on. He’s gotten stronger and improved his skating, but there still needs to be growth before he’s ready to play in the NHL. At least above a player like Spence.

Both are waiver exempt and can head to the AHL next season without complication, although I don’t think Spence would be too excited about going back to Ontario again next year.

Another thing I think people overestimate is how big an upgrade these players will be over Durzi or Walker. Both players caught a fair amount of flak from fans last season, to the point that both were over-hated by the time they were moved.

I do think both players will be an upgrade, but only slightly, at least at first. As they grow into that role, both have the potential to make an impact as depth pieces, but it’s far from a guarantee.

Overall an Upgrade on Defense:

With two of the three pairings staying the same and the third pairing completely changing, I do think the Kings have slightly improved their defense.

Bjornfot and Englund look like an upgrade over Edler, and both Clarke and Spence are at least equal to Durzi and Walker. With the potential for both to exceed their predecessors fairly quickly.


The Kings added two goalies this summer, Cam Talbot and David Rittich, but for the sake of this article we’re going to focus on Talbot.

Pheonix Copley keeps his spot as the 1B for Los Angeles, making the comparison Joonas Korpisalo vs Talbot.

This is another area where people are right to point out the downgrade, but have overestimated how big a downgrade it actually is.

Korpisalo was very good down the stretch last season but fell away a bit in the playoffs. He wasn’t bad by any means but wasn’t amazing either.

Korpisalo’s also a goalie who’s struggled throughout his career with consistency so it’s hard to predict how his next season goes.

I also think there’s too much negativity towards Talbot. It wasn’t a great year for him in Ottawa, but his numbers weren’t horrendous either.

He posted just shy of a .900 save percentage and -5.5 goals above expected. This comes after three seasons in Calgary and Minnesota which saw Talbot post positive numbers in both categories.

The big difference here is switching to a more goalie-friendly system. The Senators weren’t a bad defensive team last year, but the Kings are a step above. Ottawa allowed the 17th most high-danger chances against last season, while the Kings allowed the second-fewest.

That kind of jump will be huge for Talbot.

My initial gut feeling tells me there’s a small downgrade in net here from the Kings. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Talbot bounced back a bit and posted similar numbers to Korpisalo this season.

A Wash:

Looking at the defense and goalies, I think it’s a wash. There’s a slight upgrade on the backend, with the chance for a big upgrade if a few young players really step up.

And a slight downgrade in net.

The Kings didn’t need big upgrades on the backend, however, improving the third pair could go a long way.

And while a lot of people wanted the Kings to go out and acquire a star goalie, I don’t think the right opportunity came up this summer. So, I think the Kings will be okay here.



Copyright © 2023 National Hockey Now. Not affiliated or endorsed by the Los Angeles Kings or the NHL.