Angeles Analysis – More Like Thursday

Sign me up for a few more like Thursday.

The LA Kings felt that Thursday’s win over Vancouver was arguably their finest 60 minutes of the season. And what a time for it to come. After dropping the first two games of a three-game trip to Western Canada, the finale against the Canucks felt like one the Kings really wanted to have. There’s no such thing as a must win in February, I can assure you of that, but it was bigger than most. Easier said than done, when entering the building of a team that had just five regulation losses on home ice all season long, the fewest in the NHL.

What made that win special was that it wasn’t done the easy way. Drew Doughty said after the game that everyone did what was necessary to get the win. Everyone. He didn’t feel there was a single passenger and when you put together that level from everyone, for 60 straight minutes, the results were evident. Suffocating defensively and opportunistic offensively, the Kings finally put together that 60-minute effort that has eluded them all too often this season. Doughty added that when the Kings play that way, they’re “frustrating to play against”. And he’s spot on. On Thursday, we saw that.

Seeing that level is kind of two-fold though.

On the positive side, we know it’s in there. We’re reminded that when the Kings are at their very best, they can go into the building of the team that leads the Western Conference in points and absolutely stymie them. Cam Talbot likened the performance to the beginning of the season when the Kings rattled off 11 consecutive wins away from home. It’s the type of performance that shows the Kings have a seat at the table among the league’s elite when they play the way they’re capable of for 60 minutes.

That kind of brings up the negative side, though, doesn’t it? We haven’t seen that level over 60 minutes as regularly as is needed to be in those conversations. If we did, we’d be looking at a playoff situation where the Kings were battling the Canucks for playoff seeding, not potentially preparing to face them in Round 1. For 40 minutes against the Oilers, the Kings delivered at a high level, only to fall off in the third period. Against Calgary, the team’s third period was at that level, but it came after 40 minutes in which they struggled to find their best. Against the Canucks, a dominant performance was both needed and received. For it to be needed, though, has an element of concern. Every team has a building block moment and perhaps for the Kings, the win over the Canucks can be just that. Because, if we can see that level from the team consistently, as players eventually make their way back from injury, the ceiling is pretty damn high. It’s only a vaulted ceiling with that level, though.

When Rob Blake addressed the media in early-February upon the decision to make a coaching change, with Jim Hiller leading the team the rest of the way, he said that the season would be defined from that point on by wins and losses. Since that day, the Kings have posted a record of 7-4-0. They’ve defeated the teams with the first and third most points in the NHL. When Hiller took over, the Kings had just a two-point cushion in the Wild Card standings, a lead that’s grown to seven as of today. The Kings sat three points shy of Edmonton and eight points behind Vegas, with those numbers closing to two and three respectively.

From a standpoint of wins and losses, the first 11 games under Hiller have been successful. The Kings have righted the ship and they’ve started to recover the mindset they had earlier in the season. We haven’t seen it consistently and Thursday withstanding, we haven’t always seen it for 60 minutes. But we have seen it re-appear in a positive way. It’s still in there. The month of January made us all question if it was, but it’s still in there.

With a five-game homestand looming, the Kings will now have to find a way to do it at home. Under Hiller, but really all season long, the Kings have done most of their damage on the road. Even recently, with a record of 3-1-0 under Hiller, the Kings weren’t at their best in wins over Columbus and Anaheim. With these same Canucks in town next week, as well as a playoff lock in Dallas and playoff hopefuls in New Jersey and New York. I’d probably be a rich man if I could pinpoint what’s been different between the team’s play at home and on the road. There’s not a rhyme or reason to it, but with five home games coming up and 14 of 23 in total to close out the season, the Kings will have to find something in Los Angeles. Consider that the next step in the process.

For today, they’ll return to practice for the first time in awhile. Game schedule, travel and prioritizing rest have severely minimized practice time here over the last couple of weeks. A day of practice should be good for this group. With several regulars out with injuries, consider today to be a good day to get a group of growing younger players on the ice for a good skate. It’s something that’s eluded the Kings of late and with areas of the game they’d like to touch on, they’ll finally get the chance later on today. Full updates to follow from practice, including the latest on an injured collection of players, as well as anything we see during today’s skate.

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