Saturday, February 27, 2010

Dustin Brown Olympic Sized Observations of our misunderstood Friend

Watching the US Olympic team, mostly on tape delay or Tivo’d, has given me a bit of extra time to focus specifically on Dustin Brown and what he brings to a team and what he brings as a player.

Often criticized for not scoring enough or not being a true leader, watching Browns Olympic play has made me realize that while not being the scoring machine we would have hoped for-Brown has a couple of assets that while often misunderstood are invaluable to any team he plays. While not putting up big numbers during the Olympics it would be a falsehood to say he’s been invisible or not contributing. Here is what I have noticed in the Olympics and how it relates to Browns play in the NHL.

1) Skating Ability/Fundamental Play
2) Clean Hard Play Draws Penalties
3) Willingness to Drive the Net

Skating Ability/Fundamental Play

There are critical times during a game where simply being able to corral the puck, skate it up and dump it in could be the difference between winning and losing. This is the combination of skill set and hockey smarts that pay dividends when the game is on the line. While Brown will never be described as a world class skater like a Doughty or Niedermayer, he has the speed, power, and moves needed to deke when he needs to and power through when called for as well. How many times late in the game in both the NHL and the Olympics have we seen Brown take the pass from a Dman, find the open lane and either attempt to take the puck deep in the zone or simply dump the puck deep all the while maintaining control without the risk of a bad pass or risky play.

To me-this skill is a lot like having a good strong Dman on the PK who can consistently clear the puck. Think Matt Greene-on the PK he is strong enough to muscle players off the puck and 9 times out of 10 when he gets a chance to clear he can bet the puck will be cleared. Brown brings that same type of philosophy in that late in the 3rd defending a lead he as a forward can be counted on to consistently get the puck into the opponents zone-invaluable asset.

Clean Hard Play Draws Penalties

There have been all types of debates whether Browns hard hitting style should be backed up by dropping the gloves more often and getting more chippy in his approach to the game. I understand the argument but disagree.

Brown’s clean, but hard play means he is not going to be assessed the borderline penalty the way a Jerome Iginla or Corey Perry would and to a more brutal extent Sean Avery. Think about it-Brown is not known for dropping the gloves and he is not known for taking a stupid minor penalty when the whistle is blown. You don’t see talking trash, you don’t see him giving a facewash, you don’t see him going out of his way to shove someone with his stick.

Now while I find all of those things entertaining-Brown not taking part in these type of extracurricular acts mean that Officials will often give Brown the benefit of the doubt they would never give other players associated with that type of play. How many times on the Kings did Avery get called for a borderline penalty or given the second penalty to make matching minors even on the rare occasion he didn’t take a penalty? Like it or not Refs know players and players have reputations. Browns hit are for the most part clean-and we would see earlier in his career where he may have been assessed a charging penalty that we really don’t see as much.

Once again, it’s reputation-think Scott Stevens in his last couple of seasons. He was known as a clean, hard players who generally always got the benefit of the doubt as opposed to a player like Chris Pronger who is the polar opposite in the minds of officials. Not to say Brown is without his faults-his penchant for the occasional dive will work against him the same way for the same reasons.

Willingness to Drive the Net

We saw it during the first US-Canada matchup when Brown made a nice move on Doughty and tried to bring it strong to the net. Brown has just enough skill to make the move and give opposing Dmen something to think about while at the same time not going to the well with it every time in which the Dmen are expecting it. For comparison-think how many skilled players will bring the puck over the line and instead of driving to the net, opt for a curl move and wait for the forwards to catch up with the play. Think how many players will enter the zone and simply stay on the boards only to get rubbed out and cough the puck up to opposing team.

Having the ability and skill to go either way makes Brown unpredictable. Using Frolov as a comparison-we all remember Frolov’s sweet backhanded wraparound in the 2002 or 2003 Frozen Fury that beat Roy. We loved it, we thought it was great. Sadly, that was Frolov’s sole move for the nesxt couple of seasons that was so predictable Bob Miller called it regularly well before Frolov even tried it. I’m not criticizing Frolov, simply pointing out having a couple of different tricks up your sleeve and using them randomly is a valuable tool in itself.

As for the Olympics-Brown is his lines token goalie disturber. We have seen it before on the Kings, not to the extent of Ryan Smyth, but we know Brown will stand in front of the goalie and take abuse in attempting to distract the goalie. While Brown was held off the score sheet I counted at least 2 goals that he directly aided and abetted for lack of a better term.

In Summary, while Brown doesn’t bring the high flying skill set and point prowess of a consistent All Star, while Brown doesn’t have the true power forward build and willingness to fight aka Brendan Shanahan, and while Brown doesn’t have elite credentials and hockey smarts like a Pavel Datsyuk; Brown has a combination of all of the above that makes him an invaluable player and more importantly; a key contributor to any teams success.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Drew Doughty-The not so well kept secret is out

What a strange feeling it is reading Canadian Hockey fans finally giving the respect that Drew Doughty deserves. Not that he’s been criticized or lambasted, but to see others finally echo the thoughts Kings fans have been espousing almost from Day 1 is …..well an odd feeling.

For the majority of his short NHL career, Kings fans opinion of Doughty have largely been discounted or discredited…mainly since being Hockey Fans in California means that our opinions and knowledge of the game can’t ever been as credible as those in Canada or on the East Coast.

I’ve read fans from opposing eastern and Canadian teams continually pound the drum that Doughty was overrated and everything from him being a one dimensional offensive player to that of being inferior to Tyler Myers to that of being a train wreck on the Power Play. Ok that last comment was from a Kings fan once upon a I will begrudgingly admit the Canadian depiction of California hockey knowledge does carry some clout on rare occasions.

Flashback to a midseason game of the 2009 season while watching the game with my brother; we see Doughty make one amazing defensive play to break up an oncoming rush, we watch Doughty play the oncoming man in perfect defensively sound position and take the forward hard into the boards as the forward futilely attempted to drive wide; we then watch as Doughty breaks up another play at the red line while at the same time gaining puck possession, instead of dumping the puck out of the zone he decides to bring out the puck on his own, cutting and slicing up ice as the opposing teams defenders and forwards alike struggle to get back into position only to see Doughty make one final pivot that allows him to move in cold on the goalie. Doughty didn’t score but at that point my brother looked at me and said “If Doughty doesn’t improve one bit from where he is at now he will still be all-star for years to come.” Doughty was 18 at the time.

Flash Forward to this season; Doughty picks up where he left off and is clearly the best young Defenseman in the Western Conference if not the league. My mind recalls my preseason prediction of the BOLD variety that stated Doughty would be a Norris finalist. I also predicted that Wayne Simmonds would finish the season with 20 Goals and 20 assists but I digress.

Doughty has been compared to Ray Bourque as well as Scott Niedermayer. Comparing some stats show that Doughty, currently with 45 pts on the season with 20 or so games to go needs only 2 pts to eclipse Niedermayer’s total season numbers that Niedermayer didn’t best until he posted 56 pts at the tender age of 24 back in the 97 season. Technically one can make the argument that Doughty is putting up numbers at 20 that Niedermayer did at 24. Comparing Bourque however is a different animal given the different time period and different overall skill level of the NHL . That said-if Doughty goes a point a game the rest of the season he will match exactly the average point production of Bourque’s first 4 nhl season with 65 pts. That’s some mighty select company.

Now those who pooh pooh’d the west coasts praise of Doughty are not only seeing him first hand but also on the biggest world stage and spotlight imaginable. One widely circulated quote was “the bigger the game the better he plays.” The Kings sadly, haven’t had too many big in recent years so we haven’t really been able to see that quote in glorious splendor. The medal round in the Olympics however will unquestionably be the biggest test for Doughty in his young career so far. Canada’s record in the Olympics is surprising given they have only brought home the Gold one time since 1952.

Without question a gold medal game will be Doughty’s biggest challenge of his young career and it will be interesting to see his level of play given his play will be magnified the likes of which he has never seen.

It is one thing to think about playing for his Kings teammates and the Fans of Southern California-it’s quite another to think the entire hopes of your country is riding on your shoulders.

A Good Performance means an almost certain Norris nomination as the Canadian Media will finally start to focus a bit more on Doughty’s play. A poor showing could be met with a handful of “I Told Ya So” and a surefire lambasting and second guessing of Doughty’s inclusion entirely.

One thing if for certain, the LA Kings not so well kept secret is on display for all to see and likely to never be ignored, downplayed, slighted, or second guessed again by the Canadian or Eastern media-or any other media itself for that matter.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Kings Beat Ducks; and tie franchise win record as well

Once again the Kings showed rolling 3 solid lines playing as a team buying into the system and not abandoning that approach will win a lot of games. Given the overall youth of the team in conjunction with the young talent in the minors.....its a great time to be a fan. Dean Lombardi if you are reading this.....Thank You!

Jack Johnsons play is much improved but Im curious as to why theyre pairing him with Randy Jones. Jones was responsible for at least 2 of the Ducks goals. I was ready to write about goal #4 solely until I saw the recaps and I think it was Ducks goal 2 or 3 he had botched as well. Honestly I would rather see Harrold as a #6 dman and Jones benched. Are the Kings a better team with Harrold at D and Parse back on the Wing? I think so. Drewiske cant come back fast enough for my liking. And if the Exelby rumors are true Im all for it-provided Exelby is the 6 or 7 Dman and it means Jones gets no more time at all.

IMO, the most important goal of the game was goal #1 at the end of the 1st period. Hiller was amazing the night before against the Wings and looked to be on that same streak before that goal dropped in. It may have been one thing had it been a clean wham bam type goal in which Hiller had no chance but to have Hiller get a piece of the puck and still go in at the end of the period was huge.

Segal played a great game but I would love to see us get Owen Nolan in that role. He can play the boards better the Segal and has not only the veteran savvy but leadership as well. Segal has been great and tonight he was good-but in the playoffs in that Role I would love to see Nolan.

I surely wasnt the only guy surprised TM didnt call his timeout after Ducks goal #4. Had the Ducks scored to take the lead, and at the point it wouldnt have been surprising, he would have been criticized without question and berated unmercifully. Given the team won, chances are it wont be mentioned. I guess sometimes Hockey 101 isnt always right.

God I cant wait for tomorrow mornings "What theyre Saying" Ducks edition. That will be golden.

Bob was very diplomatic regarding the Ducks comeback and heaped a lot of praise to them. Jim not so much. I can only wonder what the Ducks crew would have said in the same situation only the Ducks on the winning end.

On that same note-the ducks crew last night talked about the home and home series against the Kings saying its a rare Thursday-Monday home and home. I guess they didnt bother to check the Kings schedule that showed we play saturday. Dont home and home series normally refer to Back to Backs?

On that same note; Saturdays Game is not going to be easy. On one hand I was kind of hoping the Kings could play a patsy to get the record for consecutive wins and hope the schedule could have landed us Edmonton or Columbus. Then again a win against Detroit to get the record will mean the club really honest to god deserved it 110%.

Did I mention how much I love the Depth on this team? Case in point-without JJ or Simmonds and with a Kovalchuk in this game do the Kings still win?

I am not a Patrick Oneal basher. I like him actually and think he does a good professional job-that said he looked "tired" tonight with bags under his eyes and what not. I know he covered last nights ducks game and all but Im pretty certain he wasnt attending a post game victory party in OC.

Im excited about the Olympics but on that same note hate to see this run interrupted. Im also afraid of seeing Dustin Brown running Doughty. I hope they have a gentlemens agreement-if not Lombardi should force one out of them.

On that same note Brown had a couple of chances to run a couple of Ducks and didnt. Not sure if he was not trying to stir the pot or he is concentrating on becoming a better 2 way player. Either way I found it curious.

Its late and Im out but look forward to reading your thoughts in the morning as well as the Pre Game Happy Hour Tail Gate Monday in Anaheim. I will be there and look forward to hanging with all the LGKers for pregame drinks and hopefully seeing the streak stretched to 10 games. Caps are currently at 12 wins so its possible.

Some other things I forgot to add...

Was Kopitar final goal in the game, along with his razzle dazzle shootout move, making him look more and more like Jagr?

Stoll finished -2 on the night but I love how for a non pest/antagonizer type player he consistently goes right to the opposing teams goalie at the whistle. He doesnt chirp or spary them with ice but he is always the one guy who will stand right over him or be in his field of vision.

Jon Quick is now 5-0 against the Ducks. As if you needed you more reasons to like him.

Jonas Hiller has given up 14 goals in 3 games against the kings. Without doing the actual math thats like an avg of 4.6 something per game. I like.

A win over DET on saturday will give the Kings an 11 pt lead over the Wings. Same can be said for Calgary provided they lose against Florida today.

Pacific is the best division in hockey right now.