At this point last season, every game was a test of every Kings fan’s blood pressure. Heading into the playoffs, the Kings weren’t looking great by any stretch of the imagination. Losing their last two games of the season, both very chippy and close contests against the Sharks, certainly didn’t raise expectations. If anything, they lowered them severely. The Kings didn’t charge into the playoffs with a top seed, they limped into a spot that had never won a major championship in any sport.
So, when people ask me how the Kings are doing this year and I say they’re doing better than they were last season, I’m referring to the regular season. I support my teams wholeheartedly but I have the objectivity to know when things aren’t in their favor. I believe the words I used were, “I’ll be happy if the Kings put up a good fight,” last spring. Could you blame me? They were the 8th seed, set to face league juggernaut Vancouver. Even if they got past them, it would be a tough row to hoe.
So yes, I am much more positive this spring. Not only are the Kings in a better spot than this time last year, but I’m emboldened by their past success in the face of adversity. Nary a Kings fan would count the team out this spring if they were to only have the 8th seed. Especially since they own one of the few wins over Western Conference front-runner and likely No. 1 seed Chicago.
However, I’m not planning the parade yet. First, because nothing is certain except retirement and escrow (hockey jokes!) and second, because I don’t know how to plan a 500,000 person parade. Let’s take a look at some pluses and minuses for the Kings.
-Jeff Carter. The man has a 20-goal season and they haven’t even played 40 games. Carter would be on course for a crazy high goal count and an equally low assist total. No one is crying foul over his lack of play-making because the Kings have struggled to put pucks in the net over the last few years, and Carter is looking like they guy Dean brought him in to be.
-Experience. The Kings are suddenly at that point where no one can say they are young and don’t have playoff experience. Every guy on the roster, even the rookies, have at least black ace experience, if not their name on the Cup. Weird how that happened. Two early exits from the playoffs as novices, a Stanley Cup, now this year they’re playoff regulars.
-Youthful exuberance. While the lack of certain players on IR hurts (as I will reference later), having Muzzin and Toffoli on the team helps inject some drive in my opinion. Having a roster full of guys who just won a Cup can be a bit of a motivational drag (Hey, we just summited Everest, want to do it again?). Yet having those two rookies around can show the guys what they are fighting for and even a little bit of what they looked like just last year. To me, that’s a great thing.
-Bernier. His record and his numbers last year were underwhelming, and going to him in the playoffs back then wouldn’t have made the fans or the skaters very comfortable. This year, Bernier is a solid option in net. Maybe even more so than…
-Quick. He’s been a little shaky. He looks more like the guy who let in a few bad ones from a couple of years ago and less like the Conn Smythe winner of 2012. A lot of goaltenders have their up and down years, even after a stellar playoff series, so there’s hope for Quick success in the post-season. However, he’ll have to play a lot better than he has been.
-Injured defense. The Kings aren’t hurting like the Flyers are on the blue line, but the losses of Mitchell and Greene hurt. Those two guys were the defensive pylons. The Kings defense has played well without them but they are noticeably weaker in front of the net. Either the LA will have to find some help on the trade deadline, or have to toughen up when it comes to crease clearing.
-Doughty. When it comes to Doughty, I honestly have no problems with his defensive play. Even his offense hasn’t been miserable. However, in the playoffs, every power-play is scrutinized and Doughty will be heavily maligned if he can’t bring the cannon from the point on the man-advantage. Martinez is right along Doughty on this downer. Thankfully Slava and Muzzin have stepped up, so the Kings aren’t without hope. A “top of his game” Doughty would bolster LA immensely.
There are a dozen or so games left for the Kings to reinforce those weaknesses and to continue displaying their strengths. Although we know the Kings don’t need a strong finish to the season to have a successful playoffs, it would be nice to see one.