NHL's Wild West: Kings Make A Late Push
With four teams separated by four points, it’s anyone’s race for the division championship. If the season ended today, the Los Angeles Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes would be tied for first at just one point ahead of the dangerous San Jose Sharks.
Unfortunately for the fourth team in this frenzy, Dallas, time is quickly running out. Two straight loses to San Jose have put Dallas in ninth place, as the last team looking out with two games to play. The Stars will be praying this weekend for some Kings victories to give them a shot at jumping back into the playoff race.
Regardless of the outcome, the race for the Pacific will be a great couple of days with some very important games on Thursday--must win territory for all four teams.
Los Angeles, at this moment, controls its own destiny and would end up being the three-seed if all things hold. Here’s an inside scoop on the strengths and weaknesses of the Kings as they head into the playoffs.
Record: 40-27-13; 93 Points
Remaining Schedule: Vs. San Jose (Thursday), at San Jose (Saturday)
What’s Coming Up:
A home-and-home series this week versus the San Jose Sharks will ultimately decide the fate for both the Kings and the Sharks as to who will win the division. The Kings can clinch a playoff spot with a single point in one out of their final two games this week. The Kings are 7-2-1 in their last ten games, and look to capitalize on their opportunity Thursday night at the Staples Center to gain full possession of first place and clinch a playoff berth.
Changing of the Guard:
New Coach Darryl Sutter has reenergized this unit, bringing life back to a team that had lofty expectations coming into the season. General Manager Dean Lombardi spent lots of money last offseason bringing in veterans Mike Richards, Brad Richardson and even the inconsistent and rarely effective Dustin Penner. In response to back-to-back defeats in the first round, Lombardi traded away team favorite Wayne Simmonds and defensive ace Jack Johnson to gain Stanley cup experience for deep postseason runs. To help the cause, Jonathan Quick has returned to top goalie form in the second half of the season, and has put the Kings in position to clinch a playoff berth.
Why the Kings will be Dangerous in the Playoffs:
The Kings have three things that will help them fare well in the postseason: a strong power play kill, a top five defense and a strong road record.
This game shows how dangerous the Kings will be in the playoffs. They keep the game low scoring due to Quick and the stellar defense. They can stop power plays, as evidenced by the way they successfully thwarted three Blues power play opportunities. Finally, the Kings rallied behind the sell out Staples Center crowd and won their sixth-straight that evening.
Besides the momentum the Kings possess heading into the playoffs, they also post the third best penalty kill in the NHL. The combination of momentum and a strong penalty kill fuels a Kings defense that allows just two goals a game (the second fewest in the league). Drew Doughty, who last year was a finalist for the James Norris Memorial Trophy candidate, which is given to the best defenseman in the league, anchors this unit.
The Kings also have the second best road record in the west. Over the past few seasons L.A. has boasted a strong road record that speaks to the organization’s effort to promote defense and hard-hitting play. Their defensive, hard-hitting style of play will transition well on the road during their playoff quest.
Another factor that fuels the King success is Quick. What more is there to say, after 10 shutouts this season and a goals against average of 1.89 (which is second in the league, by the )—and he’s only 26. Quick has stabilized the defensive unit and sets the tone on defense with his acrobatic saves, and the elusiveness he shows between the posts.
Why the Kings are no Threat in the Playoffs:
The Kings are still a very inconsistent team with no strong catalyst on the offensive end.
Anze Kopitar is the leading scorer with 25 goals, but Dustin Brown is the only other King more than 20. This team is offensively challenged, scoring just 2.3 goals per game, and ranking next-to-last in the league.
To combat this poor scoring, the Kings’ power play is horrendous. L.A. converts on 15.3 percent of their opportunities , putting them at 25th in the league. The combination of low scoring and terrible power play forces the Kings to rely too heavily on their defense.
Recent playoff failure leaves doubt in the minds of the L.A. faithful about the expectations for this season’s team. The Kings have never won a Stanley cup and have not gone past the first round since 2001. This town is dying for a true playoff contender that can match the recent success of the Anaheim Ducks, who are just a few miles away. The culture of the Kings does not match up well against NHL superpowers such as Detroit, Chicago, and Vancouver who have experienced decades of success.
Most Likely Playoff Matchup:
If the season were to end today, the L.A. would be the No. 3-seed with a first round matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks. This season the Kings are 3-1 versus the Blackhawks. The main reason for most of those wins was Quick, who recorded two shutouts against the Blackhawks.
Their 4-0 beat down of the Blackhawks on February 25 in part fueled the late season playoff push for the Kings. Since the victory, the Kings are 13-5-1, which has pushed them back into the playoff picture.
Still, the Blackhawks are no easy foe, especially when Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hosa and healthy. This unit holds the fifth-ranked attack at 3.0 goals per game, and was the leading team in the Western Conference through much of the first half of the season. Injuries have plagued the ‘Hawks, but expect only the best from a scrappy team that took Vancouver to seven games last season, after falling behind 3-0 in the first round.
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