10 points from a six-game road trip, the first time in franchise history the team has done so. Backwards reflections aside – perhaps those questioning the team’s road performance for 50+ years before – that’s an absolutely tremendous trip to the East Coast, with very little more you could have asked of the team heading into the upcoming NHL All-Star break.
The Kings earned victories in New Jersey, on Long Island and in Pittsburgh, coupled with overtime defeats in Manhattan and Philadelphia, before they put the cherry on top yesterday evening with a 5-3 win in Detroit. A fitting end to a trip that featured spells of excellent play, around finding a way to collect points when the team wasn’t at its best. That’s the sign of a good team, learning to win games in different ways, both with your “A” game and your “B” game.
“That was a good trip, that was an excellent trip, an outstanding trip, really,” Todd McLellan said last night. “If you think about the buildings we had to go into, the amount of time we were on the road, dealing with variables that all teams deal with, not just us, we’re not special, but the ability to pinch hit, especially on the backend, it was a really, really good trip.”
Perhaps what was coolest on this trip is that different players contributed on different nights. The usual suspects produced, but the list of usual suspects is getting larger and larger.
It all started with the second line, with each member respectively posting a two-goal game over the final three contests on the trip. Anze Kopitar was a point-per-game on the trip, finishing on a five-game scoring streak, while Drew Doughty had three goals on the backend.
We could talk about the solidification of a third line that has been in flux all season long, or we could talk about the consistency of the fourth line, which continues to chug along with their identity. We could talk about the backend production of Sean Durzi, or the backend stability provided by Olli Maatta, in times when other regulars were forced out of the lineup.
Honestly, it’s hard to find an individual who didn’t chip in. How about Austin Strand with two assists last night, his first career multi-point game at the NHL level. How about Carl Grundstrom with the game-winning goal in New Jersey. How about Jacob Moverare stepping in alongside Drew Doughty and collecting his first career point in Pittsburgh.
That’s the sign of a team growing in identity, mentality and consistency.
“For us, I think we have to evaluate us compared to the other teams and it has been quite consistent,” McLellan said. “We’re getting solid efforts, night in and night out from just about everybody. We make our share of mistakes, we have issues that we have to fix and repair, but for the most part, we’re there. We haven’t seen many games where it’s gone off the rails. For the most part, the game has been pretty steady, no prolonged periods of poor play and for the most part we’ve stuck to our structure.”
That consistency has been incredible to watch. McLellan doesn’t feel the Kings have had a clunker since San Jose, eight games prior. Before that, it was Vegas in the first game following the holiday break. That’s two games in well over a month that the team really hasn’t been engaged for. Since November, the Kings have lost on consecutive nights only during the three-game losing skid that started in San Jose. Other than that, they’ve bounced back exceptionally off of defeats, and built well off of victories.
And that right there is the mark of a consistent team.
Now, it’s off to the “second half” if you will. For teams like the Kings, they’re already well into the second half of the schedule from a games played standpoint, but the All-Star break, nonetheless, presents a midway point opportunity from a time off standpoint. Teams like Edmonton and Calgary have barely broken the 41-game mark and will have a more congested month of February as the gap in the standings narrows. Points will soon become more and more reliable of an indicator compared to points percentage as the games played column evens up.
Through it all, the Kings have set themselves up extremely well heading into a well-deserved break. They’re a playoff team in the here and now by whichever metric you choose to use and they only hope to build on that when they get back to it.
“Guys deserve the time off now,” McLellan said. “We’re looking forward to coming out of it, getting some good practices in. We’ve got to clean some things up and then take a shot at the second half. We put ourselves in a good position in the first half and I’d like to think we can keep pushing.”
Now we head into the All-Star break and Adrian Kempe is the only NHL-King to watch over the next 13 days. Kempe is slated to participate in All-Star Weekend, begnning tomorrow with the Skills Competition and Saturday afternoon with the main event. Kempe is skating in his first All-Star event, a great reward for a player who enters the break one goal shy of his first ever 20-goal season. One of so many success stories the Kings have had in the first half of the season.
That’s not to say there won’t be plenty of future Kings to watch. The Ontario Reign are in action tomorrow and Saturday in Grand Rapids, with a full Reign broadcast expected from the road. The Reign will also play next Friday and Saturday, for a total of four games between now and the next time the Kings hit the ice. We can also watch Kings prospect Brock Faber at the international level, set to begin play with Team USA one week from today, on Thursday, February 10.
From there, Insiders, a few days of rest before the team returns to practice towards the end of next week, in advance of February 15 against the Edmonton Oilers. No rest here on LAKI though!