Los Angeles hosted the Detroit Red Wings last night, and after two grinding periods, the Kings scored twice in the third period, giving LA their fifth consecutive victory.
The Kings had a rocky start to this shortened season, dropping seven of their first 10 games. But since their loss against Detroit during their first matchup of this season on February 10, the Kings have won seven of their last eight games, losing only to Chicago.
There are several important factors that have played an important impact in the turnaround in the team’s performance. First is the goaltending. Jonathan Quick won the Conn Smythe award last year for his consistent heroics as the starting netminder, but Coach Darryl Sutter this season sought to mix things up by starting Jonathan Bernier in four games thus far (Bernier has won each of the four games he started). During interviews, Sutter referred to “competition” being healthy for both Quick and Bernier.
Another important factor in the Kings’ recent success is the cohesion of the defensive lines. Without three key defensemen (Matt Greene, Willie Mitchell, and Alec Martinez), younger players have had to step up to take over those critical roles. Slava Voynov in particular has shown seemingly exponential growth in his game this season as a defenseman, and Jake Muzzin and Keaton Ellerby, as recent additions to the team have seemed to settle well into their positions.
Lastly, the Kings have been seeing strong offensive efforts from their players. Jeff Carter currently is on a five-game goal streak, and Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, and Dwight King have been contributing with assists in the last four games. Captain Dustin Brown has also had success in his game, scoring once in three of the last four games. In last night’s contest, Carter’s tip-in came during a two-man advantage for the Kings, and Kopitar’s game winner was a stunning show of dexterity.
At the time of this story’s publishing, the Kings were in fifth place in the Western Conference, with 22 points. This means very little at this point however, considering that third place Vancouver has 24 points, and Minnesota in eleventh place, has 20 points.
Looking ahead to Saturday’s game in Vancouver, the Canucks will be looking to redeem their shootout loss against the Kings in January, and bounce back from their last loss, which was against Phoenix. But Vancouver will be without center Ryan Kesler, who was determined to have suffered a fracture in his right foot yesterday. Meanwhile, the Kings recently traded Simon Gagne to the Flyers for a conditional draft pick.