At the beginning of the season, the Los Angeles Kings were expected to be a major player in the Western Conference, and in the NHL as a whole. They didn’t do that.
A team that was expected to roll to a Pacific Division title underachieved, along with the rest of their division, all season, reaching the playoffs only by grabbing the final playoff spot in the West, where the Presidents Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks awaited them.
How the Kings were able to make the playoffs is an easy question to answer. It’s not because of the big names they acquired last summer and during the season, in Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, but because of defense and the presence between the pipes.
Jonathan Quick officially established himself among the best goaltenders in the league, finishing the season as a Vezina Trophy finalist. I’d wager that he has a great shot at beating out Henrik Lundqvist for the award, simply because of the fact that Hank had more help in front of him.
Most wondered how a team that relied on their goaltender as heavily as the Kings would respond in the postseason, given that they had such a hard time scoring in the regular season. It’s only taken seven games in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs for those questions to become answers.
The Kings rolled through the first round of the postseason against Vancouver, taking down the “best team in the league” in five games. They scored four goals in each of the first two games of that series, which is almost unthinkable for this team, and Jonathan Quick did the rest for the other two wins.
Against the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Semifinals, we’ve seen a Kings team that looks very much like a threat to make a run at a title this season. They’ve scored eight goals in the first two games and have made the best defensive team in the National Hockey League look like they should have been golfing weeks ago.
A big part of that has been Dustin Brown, who shook off those midseason trade rumors and has turned it on in the postseason, with nine points so far, as well as Mike Richards. But don’t overlook Dustin Penner, who has six points this postseason after a miserable regular season, as well as 13 hits.
With the big dogs having been eliminated from the postseason in the Western Conference, it’s really anybody’s ballgame out west. You have a team like the Phoenix Coyotes who are grabbing a lot of the pub for the run they’re making right now, but don’t overlook this Kings team.
Their goaltending is quite possibly the best in the NHL, and they have elite talent on the offensive end, even if it doesn’t always show up. It’s taken a while, but this is a team that looks prepared to continue to make a real run at a Stanley Cup title this season.