After how last season turned out, the news of clinching a playoff spot certainly isn’t something to get too excited about. With that said, considering what kind of start the Los Angeles Kings had to this abbreviated season, getting into the postseason is quite the accomplishment, even if it was for all intents and purposes inevitable lo these past few weeks.
While there was still a lot of anger brewing from the events of this past lockout, much of those hard feelings quickly turned to positive ones – for Kings fans, the excitement of seeing their team defend their championship the right way. While some were content to see the Kings remained champs without playing a game, I was not. A hollow victory is not a victory and a wiped-out season just wasn’t going to do. If the Los Angeles were going to defend their crown, they were going to do it the right way.
Does anyone else remember the afternoon of February 10? That day, the Kings fell to 3-5-2 after a loss at Detroit. Now, while the record itself wasn’t terrible, said game’s finish certainly underlines Los Angeles’s early-season woes.
After being outplayed for much of the game, the Kings entered the final minute of regulation trailing 2-1 when defenseman Alec Martinez tied the game. This contest was heading into overtime and the Kings would earn themselves a point. But not so fast. With less than five seconds to play, a point shot by Detroit’s Jonathan Ericsson trickled through the pads of Jonathan Quick and into the net. Los Angeles’ tough start was forced to continue.
All around the league, however, fans and media alike weren’t holding back. Some suggested that Jonathan Quick’s MVP season in 2011-12 was nothing more than luck as was the team’s run to the Stanley Cup. Since Quick had off-season back surgery, fans in Los Angeles were a lot more lenient dealing with their netminder’s struggles. Yet the 2012 Conn Smythe winner has picked up his game and while he’s not quite as good statistically as he was last season, Jonathan Quick has gradually gotten better as the playoffs near and the Los Angeles Kings will be the first to tell you (along with any other championship-winning club) that the postseason is the most important season.
On the blueline, the Kings were lacking. After their season-opening loss to Chicago on January 19, it was announced that defenseman Matt Greene was to be lost for the season due to a back injury. While panic didn’t necessarily set in, Kings fans were worried about how they would fare without their big, bruising defenseman. After all, Willie Mitchell, whose stay-at-home presence was a significant piece to Los Angeles’ championship puzzle last year, was sidelined with a knee injury.
But after the first couple of weeks, frustration set in especially for yours truly. During their banner-raising ceremony before their opening game, someone decided to have the Kings skate around with the Stanley Cup. After their slow start, I admittedly blamed such a decision as it would be the subject of bad luck – and for the first part of the season, it appeared to be a jinx.
While Jeff Carter was contributing nicely as well as Anze Kopitar helping out, many of the Kings players were MIA. It appeared as if Mike Richards was nowhere to be found, Dustin Brown certainly wasn’t playing up to par and Drew Doughty just wasn’t putting up the numbers he was expected to.
But since that heartbreaking finish in Detroit, the Kings went on a tear winning seven of their next eight and 11 of their next 14. Suddenly, the doubters who suggested the Kings were done simply because it was so hard to rebound in a 48-game season weren’t so boisterous with their expert opinions anymore.
The aforementioned Dustin Brown and Drew Doughty both turned corners and got hot at the right time, players like Trevor Lewis and Rob Scuderi were keeping the Kings competitive even if they’re names weren’t found on the scoresheet very often and as great as Jonathan Quick has been in goal, his partner-in-crime Jonathan Bernier has been admirable as well.
As for their defensive situation, while it was since announced that Willie Mitchell was done for the year having never played this season, Matt Greene’s prognosis was more promising as despite the initial report, the veteran bluelinermade his return to the lineup this past week. But until Greene’s return, the Kings had to fill some holes and that’s where Keaton Ellerby came in as he was acquired from the Florida Panthers earlier in the year and most recently, Robyn Regehr who was picked up from the Buffalo Sabres earlier this month. But now with Greene, everything on the back end seems, for the first time this season, just right. Only time will tell as to how accurate that is but for the time being, no one in Los Angeles has reason to complain about any roster depletions.
In Los Angeles, last season’s mantra was simple: “Win and you’re in.” That carried over into this season and while the Kings are in a better position this year than they were last year, they still appreciate how crucial it is to lock down that all-important playoff spot. They still have a shot at their division but even if they don’t win it, they don’t care. All they care about is getting the word that, thanks to the Red Wings’ loss in Vancouver on Saturday night, they will be officially defending their Stanley Cup title this spring – and while they know there is a greater prize down the road, Kings fans are excited to be back in the big dance.