The Los Angeles Kings are no longer merely a 'hot team'
The Los Angeles Kings are on a roll right now and are just one win away from winning the Stanley Cup. But this isn't a team that got hot a few weeks ago. They've been on a roll since the middle of December.
I suppose there is some level of truth to that.
They were after all the eighth seeded team in the Western Conference playoffs -- a fact that cannot be disputed -- and they are on an incredible run right now, just one win away from winning their first ever Stanley Cup. They've needed just 17 playoff games to reach this point, and cruised through the Western Conference by knocking off each of the top three seeds -- losing just two games -- and jumping out to a 3-0 lead in every postseason series they've played, including the Stanley Cup Final.
But this isn't a team that just caught fire at the start of the playoffs. This is a team that has been crushing the NHL since the middle of December.
Maybe it was the coaching change that resulted in Darryl Sutter taking over for Terry Murray. Or how about the addition of forward Jeff Carter from the Columbus Blue Jackets just prior to the trade deadline? Or perhaps it was an offensively challenged team that for a few months was plagued by an unsustainably low shooting percentage and simply had a change in its luck around the net?
Or perhaps it was a combination of all three events resulting in a juggernaut of a team that hasn't been slowed down for the better part of the past five months.
Whatever the case, this is a team that we all should have seen coming when the playoffs started based on the way they had been playing and winning games since around the middle of December.
Way back on Dec. 13 the Kings were shutout, 3-0, by the Boston Bruins and dropped their record to 13-13-4. That was also their lowpoint for the year when it came to their record.
From that point on they finished the regular season with a 27-14-11 mark, which is a points percentage of .625. That's a pace that would see a team finish with 103 points over an 82-game regular season, which is generally good enough to win a Division and finish as one of the top seeds in a Conference.
If you add in their current 15-2(!) record during the playoffs, they're 42-16-11 since that point.
When do we stop looking at these Kings as a team that simply got hot at the right time and start recognizing them for what they really are: a great team that is absolutely loaded with All-Star caliber players up and down their roster.
If there is anything about this team that was a fluke it isn't their current playoff run, it was that stretch through November and early December when a lot of their top players -- particularly Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown -- were producing well below their normal career levels. It put the team in an early season hole they had to dig themselves out of.
The Kings haven't had an issue controlling the puck this season and dictating the pace of the game, especially since Sutter took over. Actually, they've been one of the best teams in the league this season when it comes to their ability to possess the puck. This is a key fact that Daniel Wagner addressed at Backhand Shelf when he pointed out that the Kings were only outshot 26 times during the regular season, the third lowest total in the NHL. That's something that should have been a positive sign for their future performance, especially when so many players on the team with proven track records (like, one again, Kopitar and Brown) had room to improve when it came to their goal-scoring (and man did they improve).
Their offense has been steadily improving as the season has progressed, as illustrated by their goals per game average through Game 3 on Monday night.
That's a line that's moving in the right direction, and I'll again point out that I don't think it's a coincidence that it really started to climb right around the time they added Carter to the lineup and reunited him with his former Philadelphia linemate, Mike Richards.
Barring an historic comeback from the New Jersey Devils the Kings are probably going to win the Stanley Cup, and it's not because they just started playing great hockey a few weeks ago.
It's because they're simply a great team.
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