Waking up with the Kings: February 21
-Yes, I am aware that it is not exactly an early morning and “Waking up with the Kings” sounds slack when it’s posted at 11 am. Think of this as “Sleeping in with the Kings.” Actually, that sounds strange. Forget I said anything.
-The Kings are beating the teams that they need to beat to make the playoffs. The Flames will not be a playoff team, and the Oilers are likely a team that will be on the wrong side of the playoff bubble. While the hockey in both games wasn’t particularly crisp for the full 60 minutes, both games did appear to be vintage Los Angeles wins (at least, in the last two years’ sense) in which they controlled possession, limited their opponents’ chances and relied on excellent goaltending. Jonathan Bernier was the Kings’ best penalty killer Wednesday night, stopping all eight Calgary shots during the man advantage. In even strength play, shots on goal were 31-19 in favor of Los Angeles, and the Kings won 40 of 62 faceoffs. That’s a strong road effort, regardless of the competition. If L.A. is a game above .500 despite A) no goals and a -10 performance from Drew Doughty B) only one player with more than four goals and C) having played the fewest home games in the league, I’d say this is a good time to buy stock in the Kings, who will play 13 of the next 16 at Staples Center and will only leave the Pacific Time Zone to go to Phoenix over the next month.
-If Darryl Sutter assumed responsibility for the goaltenders’ slow starts this season, he’s also responsible for managing them back to consistency. The week off for Jonathan Quick to practice and refocus aided both goaltenders’ rhythms. Since the end of the Detroit game, Quick and Bernier have combined to stop 116 of 123 shots for a .942 save percentage, while three of the seven goals allowed came during an opponent’s power play. Four even strength goals against over the last five games is a remarkable step forward for the goaltending consistency, which leads into…
-There is reason for some optimism over the play of this young defense in the absence of three members of the team’s top-four, though, to be fair, Alec Martinez wouldn’t necessarily a part of the top-four were Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene available. Individually, there have been some mistakes made by Keaton Ellerby, Davis Drewiske and Jake Muzzin, but this is a results-based business, and it’s tough to find major faults when the team defense and goaltending combines to hold five consecutive opponents below their seasonal goal output. Again, there have been mistakes. Ellerby was danced around in the first period against Edmonton and struggled to keep pace with the Oilers’ speed. Drewiske rushed to fling a puck over the boards that led to a delay-of-game call and Edmonton’s only goal. Muzzin turned a puck over in the first period last night, leading to Calgary’s goal. Collectively, this is a back end that has improved since Martinez’s injury and enters Thursday tied for 10th in the league by averaging 2.47 goals against per game. In one week, they’ve jumped 10 spots in the goals against rankings.