If you were to tell Los Angeles Kings fans on Oct. 14 that their team would be holding a significant division lead at the halfway point of the season, few would believe you. Some would laugh but most skeptics would simply dismiss the thought. Nevertheless, here we are at the halfway point of the regular season with the Kings holding a nine-point lead in the Pacific Division. Of course, while their battle is far from over, the silver-and-black and their fans have plenty to feel good about looking back on what was a memorable start to the 2015-16 campaign.
After being outscored by a dismal 12-2 margin in their first three games, many were quick to dismiss the Kings. Asinine suggestions to fire Darryl Sutter, even Dean Lombardi, and to trade Jonathan Quick ran rampant. Regardless how ill-conceived said suggestions were, many fans were fed up after just one week. But then, the Kings turned things around, and did so with a vengeance.
Following their 0-3-0 start, the Kings reeled off seven-straight wins. Later, they would go on winning streaks of six and five games respectively while celebrating a production-by-committee-type of success.
First and foremost, a great deal of kudos needs to go out to one of the newest Kings.
When he was acquired by Los Angeles in June, Milan Lucic was met with a great deal of skepticism. While some were sold on the big man for his vast offensive and physical contributions, more (or so it seemed) were reluctant about the Vancouver native’s volatile ways on the ice, claiming him to be much too petulant to fit with the silver-and-black. In due time, however, Lucic gradually sold said skeptics and now, fans cannot go to STAPLES Center without seeing a slew of Lucic shirts and jerseys — and who can blame those fans? In 41 games, the 27-year-old has 11 goals and 13 assists while dishing out a team-leading 141 hits. He also found success on a line with Tyler Toffoli and Jeff Carter as well as Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik. Needless to say, Lucic has been a tour de force in his brief time with the silver-and-black. The overall success, though, did not end with No. 17.
Here are just a few of the bright spots for the Kings thus far:
To suggest that he has had a comeback season would be mildly inaccurate. After all, Jonathan Quick never lost his step, if you will. With that said, the 29-year-old is putting up some of his best numbers in a few years.
In his 34 games, Quick has won 23 of them, which is good enough for second-best in the NHL right now trailing only Washington‘s Braden Holtby. In addition, the netminder has posted a 2.05 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage to go along with three shutouts. The latter stat has moved him into a career tie with most by a U.S.-born netminder with John Vanbiesbrouck and the late Frank Brimsek with 40.
Currently, Quick has been a difference-maker, making clutch saves late to either win games or, at the very least, force overtime. Not bad for a guy who should have been traded in October.
Through 41 games, the Kings have allowed a mere 88 goals, which ties them with the resurgent Florida Panthers for tops in the NHL. A combination of the clutch play of the aforementioned Quick to solid, attentive play of the club’s defensive corps has made scoring against the silver-and-black a grueling chore for opposing teams. The club’s 2.15 goals-against-per-game is also impressive, good enough for third-overall behind only the Capitals and Panthers.
Speaking of the defensive corps, there have been quite a few members who have been spectacular. While Drew Doughty‘s exceptional play shouldn’t surprise anyone, his efforts are nonetheless valuable. Alec Martinez is also relied upon to be great but few could have predicted the levels in which he has elevated his game lately.
With the departures of Willie Mitchell and this summer with Robyn Regehr and Andrej Sekera, the Kings entered 2015-16 lacking in defensive depth. Martinez, though, took the proverbial bull by the horns and has filled in admirably. So far, he leads Los Angeles with 93 blocked shots and even throws his body around with 87 hits. He also has 168 totals shots attempted while his corsi rating is a very respectable 53.3 per cent, all while logging just under 22 minutes of average ice time.
While fans in Los Angeles anticipated this, they are nonetheless impressed with Tyler Toffoli thus far.
Through 41 games, the 23-year-old leads the Kings and with 19 goals and shares the points lead with Anze Kopitar with 31. In 76 games last season, Toffoli scored 23 goals and 49 points. Expect those numbers to be eclipsed by quite a fair margin this season.
Like Lucic, Toffoli has benefited from great chemistry with linemates, starting with, well, Lucic, in addition to Jeff Carter and, on occasion, Tanner Pearson.
Toffoli’s contributions are making Kings fans miss Justin Williams gradually less as the days turn into weeks and months, and that is exactly what the Los Angeles Kings need to do.
Four have reached double-digits in goals, 10 have double-digits in points while eight have double-digits in the plus-minus category. From the more reliable scorers like Toffoli, Kopitar and Carter to the streaky scorers like Dustin and Marian Gaborik, the Kings have gotten offensive production from anywhere they could find it. Even Michael Mersch, despite having just one goal so far, looks more confident with each passing game. Nick Shore, while he has been a healthy scratch as of late, has done his part by winning key faceoffs and setting up crucial scoring opportunities.
Even dealing with injuries has been a pleasant surprise. When then-leading scorer Jeff Carter was sidelined with an upper-body injury, the Kings answered by winning four-straight games. Not too bad.
It was unfortunate that the Jordan Weal experiment didn’t work out but the Kings did receive Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn in return, both of whom are already making their mark with the silver-and-black.
This time last season, the Kings had 48 points at a mark of 19-13-10. Their seven-point improvement this season speaks volumes about just how dangerous this team really is and how seriously they took last year’s playoff miss.
If the first half of the regular season was any indication, then the second half should be just as, if not more, excitement, more thrilling. In fact, count on it. The best is yet to come.