In advance of today's Flyers-Kings game at the Wells Fargo Center, we checked in with a Kings blogger to give us a closer look at a team we don't often get to see in action. Here's our exchange with Rudy Kelly of Battle of California.
You wouldn't believe how many people read the site for 6 months and then say, "Oh, I get your user name!" Or how many times the other guys who write for the site call me Rudy in person and then are confused when I don't know who the hell they're talking to. But yeah, Kelly Hrudey is the best goalie ever and I wore a bandana when I played goal until I was like 10 (AKA the age I realized wearing a bandana was stupid).
The Kings are currently in last place in the Pacific division, yet only five points out of first and two points under of the playoff bubble. Heading into the season, where did you expect they’d be at this point? What do you think their ceiling for this season is?
The whole West is weird, with everyone from 3rd place to 14th place all bunched together. I expected the Kings and Sharks to compete for the top of the division but I didn't expect the Ducks or Stars to have the record they do. The Kings had an 8-game home stand in January and promptly went 2-6; that's a big reason they're near the bottom. Still, I think talent-wise the Kings are better than the teams around them and I'm hopeful they keep this point streak of theirs going.
Looking back over their schedule, they appear to be a pretty streaky team, including a terrible run through most of January that actually started just before they last played the Flyers on 12/30. Is there any specific reason for their peaks and valleys?
None that I can really see. The Kings went on a lousy run in December where they couldn't defend, then they fixed that and couldn't score. Kopitar plays well, everyone else sucks; then everyone else gets back on track and Kopitar can't score. It's just one of those things that they have to work through. When everything's clicking, from goalie to defense to forward, the Kings can be pretty formidable.
They’ve gotten a point in their last 8 games, but it can be hard for an outsider to evaluate having not seen the games. How are they looking as they head into Philly on the heels of a W in DC?
It hasn't really felt like they've won 6 of their last 8, definitely. The Kings have been in 1-goal games 5 out of the last 8, and their 3-goal win yesterday was the largest margin of victory in a while. The Kings have been very solid defensively recently, and their defense is probably one of the best corps in the NHL. They've had troubles scoring but they're winning on the road (3-0-2 on this road trip) and that's all that really matters.
After the jump, Rudy's thoughts on today's game, how the Flyers can beat the Kings, what the former Flyers are up to in LA, and the ever popular topic of Philly-LA player swaps.
Coming directly off a pair of away games against two of the top Eastern teams in Pittsburgh and Washington, the schedule gods continue to bone your Kings with a trip to Philly on no rest. The Flyers meanwhile have played only once since last Saturday but have sometimes shown rust early in games when well rested. What are you expecting on Sunday?
Yeah, the schedulers (along with the Grammys and NBA All-Star Game) really screwed the Kings this year. The Kings have two 3-games-in-4-night scenarios, with a 2-day break separating them; after today, the Kings play Columbus and the Rangers, wait a day, then play the Islanders. I'm not too optimistic about this particular game against any team, let alone the Flyers, but I'd expect the Kings to start strong and then fade as the Flyers come on later in the game. It would be funny if the Kings won this game, though, because they would have beaten the Flyers and Capitals while losing to the Crosby & Malkin-less Penguins. Funny in a "Shoot yourself in the head" kind of way, but funny nonetheless.
If you were to turn Benedict Arnold and do an opposition scouting report for the Flyers, what would you say they need to do to beat the Kings?
It kind of depends on how the Kings skate today; yesterday they put their best 2 defensive players up with Kopitar to counteract the Capitals line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin, so I don't know if they're going to change up again to counter the depth of the Flyers. But I imagine the Flyers will put Mike Richards on Kopitar, attack the Smyth-Stoll-Williams line with Jeff Carter's line, and then mop up with Briere's line. It's possible all of this is wrong because I don't care about your stupid team, though.
The most surprising thing about the last time these 2 teams met was how dominant the Flyers were in front of the Kings' net. The Kings usually own that area but the Flyers were finding room in that 10-foot area in front of the crease constantly. Here's a look at where the Flyers scored their goals last time: That was probably the worst the Kings have been in defensive coverage this season, and I'd be shocked if the Flyers can duplicate that performance.
Ah yes. We remember that.
Several front office members (Dean Lombardi and Ron Hextall) and your head coach (Terry Murray) and an assistant (John Stevens) all have roots in the Flyers organization, causing some fans back here to call the Kings “Flyers West.” How are our former guys doing with the Kings?
Dean Lombardi is probably one of the smartest GM's in the league in terms of drafting and developing talent. He's done a great job of developing a core of players the Kings can build around: Kopitar (& hopefully Schenn) up front, Doughty & Johnson on defense, and Quick & Bernier in net. Lombardi's faults lie in his ability to attract free agents and make trades, as most people will tell you that he's too risk-averse to make the big move that'll put the Kings over the top. The Kings have been also-rans on 3 different forwards that could help take some pressure off Kopitar: Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik, and Ilya Kovalchuk. The Kings are in a similar position to where the Sharks were in '05: Lombardi built up a solid core that was then used to trade for an elite player (Joe Thornton). Thing is, another GM traded for that elite forward after Lombardi got fired.
Terry Murray is... pretty cool. Most Kings fans hate him because most fans in general are pretty stupid but he's been fantastic at developing Anze Kopitar as a two-way player and has turned the Kings into a solid, defensively responsible team. The Kings are incredibly predictable, though, and you're going to figure out the Kings' offensive cycle in about 5 minutes. The common thought is that Murray has been good at development but the Kings are going to have to get a new coach before they become contenders.
John Stevens looks like a bird. In fact, all the Kings coaches do. It's weird.
Ron Hextall... I'll say nothing bad about Ron Hextall because I'm afraid he'll read it and beat me up. Hextall's in charge of the Kings' AHL team and yelling at people. He's an intense dude and I never want to get on his bad side.
How about Michal Handzus and Justin Williams? Former Flyers have a way of killing us, and if we lose by a late goal, my money’s on it coming off the stick of Williams.
Handzus is probably the best free agent signing Dean Lombardi has made. The Kings were a defensively inept team when Handzus came in and he's been a bedrock on the Kings' shutdown line. He gave Kopitar cover while Kopitar figured out the defensive game. Handzus will probably be gone next season but all Kings fans appreciate the work he did to develop our younger guys.
Justin Williams had a rocky start but he's finally healthy and producing like most people thought he would. He's the 2nd most skilled forward on the team and the leader of the Kings' 2nd line. He, Smyth, and Stoll have probably been one of the better 2nd lines in the league, along with Toronto's line and yours. And Malkin before he got his knee broken by a giraffe.
What are your impressions of the current Flyers team?
My roommate's actually a big Flyers fan so I see them quite a bit. They're the best team in the league and they're going to win the Cup, barring something weird going on in the playoffs. They're probably the deepest team in the league offensively (holy shit, Nik Zherdev barely plays!) and they have Chris Pronger who, while an asshole, is still really, really good. I hate the Flyers and I hate my roommate but yeah, pretty good.
Finally, the Kings are a team often brought up when Flyers fans are playing GM around trade deadlines and free agency periods. If you’re Dean Lombardi, what is one legitimate deal (an even trade, something each side might realistically do) that you’d initiate with the Flyers?
We'll take 1 Ville Leino in the off-season, please!
But yeah, I guess I could see something around one of your offensive guys for younger players that can fill that gap, depending on your cap situation. Not at the deadline, mind you, but in the off-season. We're not trading a goalie for at least 2 seasons. If the Kings fall off pretty soon I think Michal Handzus, Matt Greene, and Ryan Smyth would be available.