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At season's halfway point, Kings are still searching for an identity

The Kings have been wildly inconsistent after a 12-3 start and have a long way to go to live up to the high expectations at the start of the season.

January 08, 2011|Helene Elliott
  • Dustin Brown, left, and Justin Williams are on pace to significantly improve their scoring totals from a year ago, but the Kings overall have been inconsistent this season.
Dustin Brown, left, and Justin Williams are on pace to significantly improve… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)

After stringing together a zigzagging series of streaks, the Kings hit the halfway point of the season Saturday grappling for balance and consistency. By bouncing from one extreme to another they provided few clues about how the rest of the season will unfold or about which of the faces they presented will prevail.

Will it be the team that had the sensational start built around exemplary home penalty killing and a cohesive team defensive game in front of a sharp Jonathan Quick?

Or will it be the Kings who lost seven of eight games from mid-November through mid-December and took a season-worst five-game losing streak into Saturday night's game against Columbus at Staples Center?

"We've been excellent and we've been disconnected at times," Coach Terry Murray said. "I think the process we go through as a team that has high expectations is right in front of us here from the start of the year."

They've hit some high notes, including a trip bracketed by a 5-0 victory at Detroit and a 5-0 victory at Colorado, and some low notes, such as yielding 13 goals in back-to-back losses to the Coyotes and Flyers on Dec. 29-30.

"There's no in-between," General Manager Dean Lombardi said. "It's hard to get a handle on it. We're defining our identity. We weren't 12-3, but we weren't 1-7. You don't like to see it spike either way."

Inconsistency is a reflection of depth, and in the West only Vancouver and Detroit have had the depth to pull away from the pack.

"Our top-end scoring is actually OK. The depth of our scoring, which is supposed to be our strength, is off," Lombardi said.

Wingers Dustin Brown and Justin Williams are on pace to significantly improve their scoring totals and Ryan Smyth should exceed the 22 goals he scored in 67 games last season, but Wayne Simmonds has regressed in his third season. Left wing Marco Sturm hasn't had enough recovery time after major right knee surgery in May to show whether he can contribute.

Center is a problem spot. Jarret Stoll, who helped fuel the strong start, has disappeared. Michal Handzus, a 20-goal scorer last season, is slowing and might not hit 10 goals. Trevor Lewis is adequate but inconsistent centering the fourth line.

"I think we need speed to our game," said defenseman Jack Johnson, who is close to an agreement on a contract extension with the Kings. "A lot of times I feel like the other teams are a little quicker than we are. They're on us quicker and I know from a defensive standpoint we don't have a lot of time in our own end to make a play.

"I just feel like we're getting outskated, like the teams we've been playing have been quicker than we've been. I don't think there's any reason why we shouldn't be able to be just as fast or quicker."

Their defense, supposedly a strength, has faltered. Drew Doughty is well off the 16 goals and 59 points he scored last season and has had some adventures on defense. Davis Drewiske is a marginal NHL player. Jake Muzzin was in over his head. Peter Harrold is a loyal soldier, but the talent level should have risen beyond his ability to keep a roster spot.

Injuries have played a part — Doughty had a concussion, Mitchell was hurt twice and Matt Greene's season debut was delayed by shoulder surgery — but on defense only Johnson has elevated his game.

Lombardi has ample salary-cap space but seems unable to close an impact deal. He said when he sought a left wing to replace injured Scott Parse that "the big dog wasn't there" so he settled for Sturm, whose contract expires after the season.

"If a deal is there we're ready, but it has to be the right guy and the right fit," Lombardi said.

The Kings have improved each of the last three seasons under Lombardi, but if they're going to maintain that pattern he has to prove he's up to the job just as much as they do.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

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