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November 18, 2016 | 1:34am ET
The Trickle-Down Effect

LOS ANGELES, CA -- The hockey injury gods have done no favors for the Los Angeles Kings during the first two months of the season. The rash of ailments commenced prior to the season opener with Marian Gaborik's broken foot in the World Cup of Hockey and their misfortune has not subsided as the season approaches the quarter pole.

The biggest news coming off a roadtrip that saw them lose four out of games was that Anze Kopitar lost time with a wrist injury suffered last week's Ottawa loss. At this point of the early season, losing a player of significance seems to be a daily occurrence in the NHL and business as usual in Los Angeles.

In the short-term, the injury scourge looks to be relenting with the presence of Kopitar, Gaborik and Andy Andreoff taking turns on-ice as extras this week (Kopitar has a legitimate chance to play in LA's afternoon tilt against New Jersey).

With the return of goalie Jonathan Quick still far off in the horizon, the returnees canít hit the ice soon enough.

One the hallmarks of the Kings in the Darryl Sutter/Dean Lombardi era has been its consistency, but as they continue to tread water in the Pacific Division, this yearís model is the poster child for streakiness. Coming into Thursdayís game against the no-longer Pacific Division leading Edmonton Oilers, their 8-9-1 record has been constructed by multiple game winning and losing streaks.

Injuries aside, youíd think that an early season sub-.500 record for a team that considers itself in the running for a third Stanley Cup would be littered with sub-par performances and while there are some that need to raise their levels (more on that later), there are some positives coming out of Staples Center in the early going.

At the top of the list, Nic Dowd looks to be the productive third line center the Kings have been looking for since Jarret Stollís game started to decline a few seasons ago.

Dowd is yet another case of the organizationís ability to recognize potential NHL talent in the later rounds -- he was a seventh-round selection in 2009 -- and his partnership with former captain Dustin Brown seems to solidify with each game. Heís passed Nick Shore on the pivot depth chart due to his offensive instincts -- heís the playmaker that Shore that never developed into and though his NHL career is in his infancy, he is not.

At 26 years of age, he played four full seasons at St. Cloud (MN) State, then two seasons in the AHL before getting a five-game cup of coffee with the big club last season. His journey only assures him of one thing, he will not take this opportunity for granted -- if the Kings can coax a 35-40 point season out of him, itís a huge win and frankly a necessity come playoff time.

Just a couple of words here on Brown, the one player whoís filled up my Twitter timeline over the past year and never doubted the player had juice left when others suggested he could no longer play effectively in the NHL.

A lesser person would have come in with a bad attitude after his off-season (and believe it or not, there are some Kings proxies out there who still claim he wasnít stripped of his captaincy), but this proud athlete has been as effective as any Kings winger. Iím not saying heís destined for a 25 goal, 50 point season, but anyone whoís observed closely can see what heís done not only for Dowd, but his own, and to a lesser extent, Devin Setoguchi.

Kevin Gravel got a second look due to, guess what, an injury -- this one to Brayden McNabb, whose first games showed signs that he was ready to shake off the inconsistency tag that has been attached since his arrival from Buffalo. Gravel has reprised his 2015 debut during this recall, he moves the puck with confidence and has been a solid defender -- he has only been on-ice for one goal against in seven games.

Despite Sutterís choice to pair Derek Forbort with Drew Doughty in recent games, in my eyes Gravel appears to be the better choice for the left side, third pair defenseman once McNabb returns. But the one mitigating factor is that Gravel is waiver-exempt, so unless Lombardi plans to move either Forbort or Matt Greene to accommodate Gravel (and given their goaltending situation, I would not eliminate that from the realm of possibility), itís the better bet that the 24-year-old Gravel take a ride on the Ontario shuttle.

But when a team has only won eight of its first 18 games, there are not a lot of bouquets to throw around. Iíve pointed at Lombardiís off-season as a key factor what determines the fate of this team, not only for this season but for the near-future.

Iím not worried about the likes of Tyler Toffoli and Jeff Carter, theyíre gonna get their points and while Toffoli may be feeling the pressure of playing for a long-team contract extension, those wrists no doubt have 30 goals in them when we arrive in April. As unlikely as it seems, the one player they need improvement from is the one that is arguably their finest, current Norris Trophy holder defenseman Drew Doughty.

Doughty will always be a minutes-eater, his 27:14 average time-on-ice this season is a shade below the 28 minutes a night last season and itís likely that when weíre through 82 games, his usage wonít deviate far from that mark. Sutter has been judicious with his usage, using him some nights close to 30 minutes but then backing off when games have been decided (less 24 minutes in each of their big wins vs Toronto and Calgary). And yes, while he did play in the World Cup of Hockey, I wouldnít consider those minutes stressful, so itís doubtful that he is fatigued this early into the season.

So, while weíll assume Doughty is one of the few elite Kings who has avoided the injury bug, his effectiveness on the ice isnít tracking anywhere near the level of play that was in evidence throughout his Norris season. With his time-on-ice as proof that heís not ailing physically, it may be the mental and emotional part of his game is more the cause for his lack of production in the early going (2G, 4A). This is not meant to be an indictment of Doughtyís overall play, just a showcase that a trickle-down effect of a roster with a significant talent gap has on an elite player.

With players falling like dominoes around him, Iím observing that his warrior mentality is clicking in and heís attempting to fill the void of the missing -- especially as it pertains to the Kings unproductive power play that presently languishing at 26th overall with a 10.5% conversion rate. As the powerplay quarterback, heís the heart of the first unit and itís stunning to see that in 57 powerplay opportunities, Doughty has one point, a lone assist.

No doubt that will change over time, but clearly Doughty has not been the force that he was last season. Setting aside the teamís ugly power play numbers, Doughtyís five even strength points has an impact to the teamís sluggish start.

As for the why... while there is plenty of time for him return to a more accustomed scoring pace, the missing in action likely affect Doughty more than any other roster player. More than one close follower of the team feels itís simply a matter of Doughty overcompensating for the absence of talent on the current depth, while others feel that the recent assignment of Forbort as his defense partner has served as a bit of distraction to his duties in the attacking zone while he breaks in a still-learning rearguard. While those are valid reasons, in speaking to a couple of former NHL players, an interesting theory on the mental aspect of the injuries surfaced.

First and foremost, Doughty is a superior defender and Job 1 is to prevent the puck from entering the net especially in Los Angeles. With Quick going down in Game 1 of the regular season, Doughtyís security blanket between the pipes vanished and with it, the potential end to end rushes become less frequent and the riskier plays that a player is willing to take with an elite goalie behind min donít materialize.

And while it doesnít explain away the lack of production with the extra man, it is a valid explanation for the other 50+ minutes of game play. As things normalize and the wounded return, Doughty should be more confident to re-establish his presence in the offensive zone.

Evander Kane trade rumors vs. value

Spent a few minutes with the boys from Buffaloís Beyond The Blade podcast, Chad De Dominicis and Bill Schake, to talk about the Sabres troubles in the early going.

While Buffalo is another team with severe injury woes, losing both Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly to injuries and with their absence affecting their ability to control the middle of the ice, their offensive woes place them in the nether regions of the Eastern Conference.

As it is with team that struggle out of the box, trade rumors hit those teams first and itís to no oneís surprise that Evander Kaneís name has surfaced as a potential moveable asset.

Kane is just returning from a cracked rib -- very slowly (one lone assist in six games and -6 rating) -- and he needs to do a few things before he can be considered a legitimate tradeable asset.

A) He needs to stay healthy.

B) When he returns to full health (and letís give him the benefit of the doubt coming off a rib injury), he needs to produce at a clip that merits his $5.25 million cap hit. Kane has one season remaining on his deal after this one, so there is time to rebuild his value especially when Eichel returns.

C) Most importantly, even if he can re-establish his productivity in the 20-25 goals per season neighborhood, the biggest factor in a potential acquisition could have nothing to do with his size speed or skill.

Evander Kaneís inability to fit into a teamís locker room may anchor him in Buffalo until the end of next season. His antics in Winnipeg (remember that track suit in the shower) contributed to his departure to a lineup with established veterans. In Buffalo, itís the opposite: a roster with youngsters looking for leadership, and while Brian Gionta is a more than capable captain, the question must be asked -- if Kane canít fit into either one of these locker rooms, where can he fit?

The thought that a move to his hometown of Vancouver could be the tonic that is needed for the realization of a skill set that has never been realized to its fullest, but given where the Canucksí season looks to be trending to is, is Kane the type of player that will contribute to a turnaround?

When you add into the mix the Loui Eriksson contract that has not come close to paying the dividends expected ($6 million per over six-years) and still one more season remaining on the Sedin twins contract ($7.5 million cap hit x2), itís difficult to see GM Jim Benning taking on Kaneís deal and surrendering the defenseman the Sabres are looking for.

Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.

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