The Los Angeles Kings: Closer and Closer to Being Crowned
Coming into the playoffs, everyone around the hockey world knew that the eighth seed out West was no ordinary eighth seed. Heading into the 2011-2012 season, many experts and fans alike, around the NHL believed the Los Angeles Kings had built a Stanley Cup contender. A team that should not only easily get into the post-season, but perhaps battle for the top spot in the Western Conference. Things didn’t go as planned for most of the regular season. Nearly all of the Kings forwards had down years production wise. The team was at or near the bottom in scoring, despite having a nice blend of talent up front.
The club would fire Head Coach Terry Murray, while bringing in Darryl Sutter to help turn things around. With Sutter on board, the team began showing signs of life in the win column. The Kings stingy defense and goaltending was already great, but got even better with Sutter. The issue remained despite racking up the points to get back into playoff contention, this team still couldn’t score. Missing left winger Simon Gagne for most of the season did not help, although while Gagne is still a productive player, he is no longer the elite goal scoring threat he was a few years ago during his time with the Philadelphia Flyers. Gagne only had 2 goals in his final 20 games, before suffering a season ending concussion in a game against the Phoenix Coyotes. Mike Richards, the Kings biggest off season acquisition, had a nice start to the season offensively. He was one of the few Kings putting the puck in the back of the net. That would soon change, as Richards suffered a concussion at the hands of the Florida Panthers Sean Bergenheim, and he was not the same player once he came back.
As the NHL Trade Deadline drew closer, all eyes were on Kings General Manager, Dean Lombardi. The pressure was on for this club to win, especially with all the talent brought in during the offseason and the expected continued improvement of the clubs young core players like, Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty. Lombardi made his move dealing defenseman Jack Johnson and a first round pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets for another former Flyer, Jeff Carter. While Carter had played center for most of his career, the Kings acquired him to play on Mike Richards wing, and help jump start the attack. It worked as the acquisition of Carter opened up space for the Anze Kopitar line. This began causing match up issues for the opposition.
After two heartbreaking losses to the San Jose Sharks to end the regular season, the Kings found themselves going from the third seed to the eighth seed to begin post-season play. As I mentioned above, everyone knew the Kings were not your ordinary eighth seed, but the way everything has come together for this club has truly been remarkable thus far. Left winger Dustin Penner, who had struggled with some off-ice issues, has now found his game and is playing the way the Kings envisioned when they acquired him at the trade deadline last year from the Edmonton Oilers. When they are on their game, which they are now, the Kings not only possess outstanding depth on the backend and spectacular goaltending from Jonathan Quick, but now their forward group (which on paper should have been far better during the regular season) has finally found their game. The top six group of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Justin Williams, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner can match up with just about anyone in the league. Their bottom six core shows why this team has such solid depth up front now as well. Rookie wingers Dwight King and Jordan Nolan have been terrific additions, adding to the nice depth the Kings have throughout the lineup.
With a 10-1 record thus far in the post-season, (including a current 2-0 series lead in the Western Conference Finals over the Coyotes) this team has finally become the team that most of us thought they could be going into the season. I don’t think anybody could have predicted the clubs current dominance, as mentioned above only losing one game thus far in the post-season. Anything can happen from here on out, but if this club keeps playing the way they have, the franchise that has not won a Stanley Cup during their 45 year existence, could finally being getting crowned in June.