The Los Angeles Kings followed their Stanley Cup run of 2012 with a stronger regular season in 2013 and a solid playoff run that took them to the Western Conference Finals. Thus far in 2014 though, the Kings have not been able to build on that success and they’re messing around on the playoff bubble as the league prepares to come out of the Olympic break and begin the stretch drive on Tuesday. Let’s take a look at what’s wrong and why Los Angeles is still a threat.
The phrase “what’s wrong and why Los Angeles is still a threat” might as well be turned into Cliff’s Notes with the words “Jonathan Quick.” The goaltender who put the team in his back in 2012—first by carrying a lousy supporting cast into the playoffs, then turning in a Conn Smythe-winning performance once that cast found itself in the postseason—went through a 2013 where he was mediocre in the regular season and then great in the playoffs.
The first half of that equation is still true this year—Quick is 31st among NHL goalies, meaning in a 30-team league he’s not playing well enough to start anywhere, much less a Cup contender. But the man who was the U.S. Olympic goalie is more than capable of flipping the switch. We know because we’ve seen it happen and that’s why no one will be comfortable drawing Los Angeles if they make it in.
In spite of Quick’s subpar showing in net, the Kings’ team defense is still outstanding and their ability to limit shots is making up for the shaky save percentage. The offense should be better than it is—they do a good job staying on the attack and getting shots, but are not finishing the job.
Jeff Carter, who has 26 goals, is one of the league’s more potent offensive threats, and the right winger gets help from Justin Williams, as well as Dustin Brown on the opposite flank. Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards might be just average scorers from the center position, but they both move the puck well and keep the offense flowing. Why this team is only 29th in goals scored doesn’t add up.
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Los Angeles is currently seventh in the Western Conference, four points up in the race to make the playoffs (which, for our readers who don’t follow hockey regularly, amounts to two games, presuming no overtimes are involved). That’s a little too close for comfort if you’re a Kings fan.
But if you’re a favorite—Chicago, St. Louis or Anaheim—the prospect of facing Los Angeles is not exactly incentive to rush out an earn one of the top two seeds in the bracket. As long as Los Angeles is breathing and Quick is between the pipes, this team is a threat—not just to win a single playoff series, but to again go the distance.