Despite missing out on the Stanley Cup Playoffs by just two points last Spring, the Los Angeles Kings were a team searching for answers.
The mere fact that they were unable to qualify for the postseason was a mild shock to many as they had just won the Stanley Cup the previous year. Compound that with the fact that the team struggled to crate any type of offense for various stretches in the season and a couple players dealt with legal issues, and what you had was a franchise that was in a small amount of disarray.
Through Monday, LA has posted a record of 17-8-1 and their 35 points is good for first place in a Pacific Division that has weakened competitively in recent times. They sit seven points above second place San Jose and eight points ahead of third place Arizona.
The biggest objective for the Kings last summer was to stabilize the roster and get back to the basics that guided them to two titles over the span of three seasons. The main move in their efforts to get back to their identity took place on June 26 when GM Dean Lombardi acquired Milan Lucic from the Boston Bruins.
The objective of bringing Lucic to Los Angeles was to help the team maintain it’s “heavy” identity that puts an emphasis on puck possession. Almost two months into the season, the move seems to have worked. Among players who have appeared in at least 10 games this season, Lucic ranks 24th in the NHL with a 57.37 SAT percentage and the Kings lead the league with a 57.12 team SAT percentage.
The goaltending efforts of Jonathan Quick have also been a huge help, as the former Conn Smythe winner has posted a record of 14-7-1 with a 2.19 goals against average, a .917 save percentage and one shutout in 20 appearances. His 14 wins ranks second in the league in wins, and despite being a smaller sample size, his GAA and save percentage mirror those of last season (2.24 and .918 respectively).
Quite simply, when Quick is “on”, LA wins. He has only given up more than two goals in two of his 14 wins this season.
Not only is LA playing a heavy game that features tough goaltending, but that goaltending is being aided by some tight defense. The Kings have allowed just 55 goals (tied with the Washington Capitals for fewest in the NHL), thanks in part to Drew Doughty.
The Ontario native has appeared in 26 contests and has posted 16 points (4g, 12a), but more importantly has a plus-minus rating of plus-13. In fact, of the six defensemen who have played at least 15 games for LA through Thursday, only one of them has a negative plus-minus rating.
Lastly, the offense has also shown improvement for the Kings. Forward Jeff Carter, who notched 62 points in all 82 regular season contests last year is scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace this year with 25 points (10g, 15a) in 26 games.
Through 26 contests, forward Tyler Toffoli has nearly reached half of last seasons offensive output (49 points) with 11 goals and nine assists. Add the offense from players like Anze Kopitar (16 points), Drew Doughty (16 points) and Tanner Pearson (12 points) and what you have is offensive production up and down the lineup.
Sure, the Pacific Division isn’t looking like an elite class right now, but LA appears to be having a solid showing through the first two months of the season. And as you know from their last two Cup runs, they don’t particularly have to do anything special in December.