Alright, so it’s that time of year again. The All-Star game (who cares?) is this weekend, and the Kings have a bit of a gap before their next game. In fact, their next game will start a ten-game road-trip that will shape the rest of the season. Without question, if the Kings fail to perform during this trip, the season could be doomed. Strong play, and wins in important games may mean they head back to Los Angeles nearly a month from now back in a playoff spot. So with that we enter the stretch run.
Heading into the All-Star break, the Kings appear to have shaken off at least the worst of their demons, rattling off three straight wins, including against the division leading Bruins, and division rivals the Coyotes and Sharks. It was a positive turn of events, but far from a truly redeeming moment. Remember, the Kings just ended a 2-10 stretch that saw them fall dramatically out of the playoff race, forcing them into an unenviable position of having to claw back into the picture one point at a time. What happened in the past few games that saw things turn around? I think there are a couple factors:
First, the offense started producing. Not overwhelmingly, but in important moments. During the 2-10 run, the Kings didn’t seem to be able to buy a goal when they truly needed one. Instead relying on strong performances from their defense and goaltending if they even wanted to remain in the game. Despite strong play (sometimes) from those corners, if the offense isn’t scoring anything, it’s bad news. In the last three games, the offense has been increasing their shot count, and has seemed to crash the net with more regularity. These kind of games require that kind of performance, and the Kings have been showing it. At least for these games…
Second, the defense has stepped up their game. The Kings have allowed two or fewer goals in six of their last seven games. That’s an impressive run of play, and it has been a significant bright point. When the game is on the line, the defense has been far from faultless, but in recent games they have appeared to increase their intensity. The game against San Jose might be the closest thing to a playoff atmosphere that I’ve seen thus far this season. It was a good performance all-around, but particularly from the defense.
Last, maybe it seems overly simplistic, but in the past few games the Kings have been playing with much more confidence. Even when they fall behind, or give up two quick goals like they did against San Jose, the players seem to be digging a little deeper and pulling out some strong play. It’s an important skill to learn, and if the lesson has been internalized, it might even be worth this recent losing streak.
If the Kings can get this streak going, and maintain their strong play through the end of the season, they’re still in very good shape to make the playoffs. Once they get there, this team could be very dangerous. The question will be, at least until they seriously address their doubters, which team is going to show up? If and when that gets answered, the results of the season will be much more clear.