When the regular season started, the Los Angeles Kings played anything but reigning Stanley Cup champions. They couldn’t generate any offense, they couldn’t score on the man-advantage and their goaltending was subpar at best. With that said, however, the Kings were 3-5-2 to start the year. While said record certainly isn’t anything to write home about, their play early on would indicate that the Kings’ record should have been much worse.
On the afternoon on Sunday, February 10 in Detroit, Los Angeles tied the game in the final minute against the Red Wings only to let the game literally trickle through their legs in the dying seconds of regulation. Three weeks into the season, the Kings had already lost their fifth game and worst of all, their Conn Smythe-winning goaltender Jonathan Quick was not himself. Having allowed the game-winner in Detroit which he really should have had, it was evident that Quick was having a hard time regaining his form from a year earlier.
Since that afternoon in Motown, however, the Los Angeles Kings started heading in the right direction going 11-3-0 since then, gradually becoming a force to be reckoned with. While players like Kyle Clifford and Jeff Carter helped out in the offensive department early on, they weren’t receiving much support elsewhere. Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell were both sidelined which prompted the skeptics to say that Los Angeles would be giving up goals at will with a depleted defensive unit to go along with their already-subpar goaltending. I remember watching one of hockey shows on TSN in early February and since most TSN shows show related tweets from various fans, I paid extra attention to them – and that’s when I came across one that particularly ticked me off. I’m paraphrasing but in relation to the Kings, one fan wrote that they (the Kings) were who we (the fans) thought they were and suggested that they just got lucky at the right time, referring to the team’s championship run last spring.
While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, that particular comment underlines just how ignorant many fans are who do not live in Los Angeles or the Pacific Time Zone in general. In an age where getting news 24 hours a day, seven days a week isn’t even impressive anymore but simply the norm, to say that fans and experts can’t follow the Kings simply because they start too late is inexcusable. Yet that is still the reason why the Kings get slighted, although it is interesting that they received a plethora of attention early on when they struggled out of the gate. After just a handful of games, there were those fans who said that the Kings needed to right the ship in a hurry given that this was an abbreviated season. Even yours truly was losing patience. While I gave Jonathan Quick the benefit of the doubt due to his off-season back surgery, I wasn’t so lenient with the likes of Mike Richards, Justin Williams, Dustin Penner and even Drew Doughty, all of whom were vastly underachieving for the first few weeks.
But if the Los Angeles Kings really were who everyone thought they were, then perhaps fans and experts alike need to reassess a few things. After all, since the Kings won 11 of their last 14 games, what is the excuse now? I don’t know what kind of rebuttal we should expect but I’d love to hear it nonetheless.
Kyle Clifford hasn’t been scoring as much but Jeff Carter not only leads his team in goals with 16 but is within striking distance of taking over the league-lead in said department. Not only that but Carter has also reignited his chemistry with Mike Richards and the same can be said for the synergy between Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar. With four goals on the year, Trevor Lewis has already matched his season total from all of last year, Jordan Nolan has come into his own as an enforcer and Colin Fraser is even proving that he’s much more than the consolation prize some thought he was when he was shipped over from Edmonton in that controversial Ryan Smyth trade nearly two years ago.
While Jonathan Quick still has some room to improve in order to fully return to his playoff form, he has been playing better and the same can be said for his backup Jonathan Bernier and then some. But the biggest concern involving the Kings thus far has been their defense. As I already mentioned, Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell are both injured and while their absences hurt, it’s certainly not making the Kings throw in the towel. In fact, while Drew Doughty has yet to score a goal so far, he has been crucial in setting up plays and even picking up his defensive game a bit. Rob Scuderi continues to be the blue-collar workhorse as is mid-season acquisition Keaton Ellerby. While Slava Voynov continues to play well, rookie Jake Muzzin is turning a lot of heads making fans lose any sense of impatience or desperation they had earlier in regards to awaiting the returns of the aforementioned Greene and Mitchell.
While most teams have already reached their halfway point either over the weekend or last week, the Los Angeles Kings just reached their point following Monday night’s win and despite a few necessary tweaks here and there, they can’t look much better than they are right now – and they have every intention of keeping up their winning ways.
If the Los Angeles Kings really are who everyone thought they were a month ago, then what are they now? While they may look great now, let’s just wait until the second half of the season gets under way. The next month-and-a-half will separate the men from the boys and don’t surprised to see the Kings finding themselves relating to the former.