With home ice on the horizon, the LA Kings are an excited and confident group heading to Los Angeles

Consider the LA Kings fired up to be heading home.

And for good reason.

For starters, it’s always exciting for teams to play playoff hockey on home ice.

“I’ve thought ever since the All-Star break, our fans have taken it to another level,” Head Coach Jim Hiller said. “The last goal, when Kempe scored the overtime winner against Chicago, I think that was the loudest I’ve ever heard the building, so I would expect when we get back there for it to be rocking and rolling. That definitely gives our guys a boost.”

Quinton Byfield was fired up too after the game.

He was quite complementary of the atmosphere in Edmonton – which was admittedly excellent, as it always is – but said he expects it to be even louder in Los Angeles. Consider that a fire me up moment for Kings fans as playoff hockey returns to Southern California on Friday evening.

Beyond just the excitement, though, is a team that’s really found its stride on home ice in the second half of the regular season.

Following the NHL All-Star break, no team around the league had more points on home ice than the Kings did. No team had a better winning percentage on home ice from February 10 on than the Kings, who were the only club playing at above a .800 clip at home. 14 victories out of 18 games played, with an overall record of 14-3-1.

The Kings understood that home performance was an area that needed to change this season, after a first half that saw them at the other end of the spectrum. With just eight victories from their first 23 games played, the Kings ranked 30th of 32 teams in the first half of the season in winning percentage at home heading into the break. It was something they set out to change and it’s something they’ve certainly done.

“That was the emphasis for us in the second half, to take back home-ice advantage,” Byfield said. “I thought we did that. Going home, we have some confidence going in.”

The Kings are also departing Alberta with a series split for the third straight season, as opposed to heading home in a hole. That gives them confidence. You don’t go into the first two games playing for a split but as the road team, you’re typically not upset when that’s the outcome. As it played out, the Kings depart Edmonton on a high note, confident in what they’re bringing home.

They should be a confident group. They earned it with last night’s Game 2 victory, which saw a performance much closer to “Kings Hockey” than we saw in Game 1. Now it’s about taking that confidence, taking that mindset and applying it tomorrow evening at Crypto.com Arena.

“[We have] a ton of confidence,” goaltender Cam Talbot said. “You win a big game in a building like this, you take home ice back and now we have to go back home and deny them the opportunity to do it to us.”

Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images

When asked throughout the season about the team’s performance at home, there was never a defined answer as to why the wins weren’t there early. There’s not too much of an answer either as to the uptick in the second half. It’s something the Kings talked about as a group and something they set out to achieve. If you look at the season as a whole, the Kings finished up tied for 14th in home points with 51. That was five fewer than last season, when the Kings were a top-five team on home ice, but it’s that thin a margin between fifth and 15th. Five points.

Now, heading into their biggest home game of the season, you think about why there wasn’t really an answer as to why the Kings saw things go so much better in the second half. Kind of ties into what the Kings are planning to do differently from their approach to Games 1 and 2 in Edmonton to Game 3 at home. The answer is not all that much. They certainly set out to change some things up between those games, but with a strong performance under their belt, now they’re just trying to build on Game 2 and go from there.

“I think the biggest point is, from Game 1 to Game 2, we had to play a lot better and I think we played a lot closer to our game last night,” Hiller said this morning. “I think we’ve still got another level. The guys feel good, that was an emotional win for sure, but I think they do understand that we’ve got another level that we need to get to. That will be our focus.”

As the series shifts to Los Angeles, there are certain advantages that come to a coach strategically, beyond just the energy, the atmosphere and the comfort of being in your home barn.

Coaches are afforded the last change at home, which gives teams the potential to control certain matchups when they get faceoffs. Or not, if that’s not the preferred way forward.

There’s always been a ton of emphasis put on the matchups in this series in particular.

When you’re facing elite centers like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, it’s a natural question, with how you plan to stop them. In Game 1, the Kings did not stop them, with McDavid assisting on five of his team’s seven goals. It was a question mark heading into Game 2, but it was clear the Kings weren’t going to chase a matchup, especially on the road.

Last night, McDavid saw more than five minutes at 5-on-5 against six different Kings after that was only the case against Phillip Danault’s line in Game 1. Draisaitl played more than three minutes against nine different Kings last night, after playing seven minutes against Anze Kopitar specifically on Monday. There was certainly more time with the “top six” on the ice than not against those two players, but as Hiller said this morning, the Kings felt comfortable with everybody out there against everybody.

“I don’t think we’re gonna chase that around, we trust our players,” Hiller said. “Last night, everybody played against everybody at different times, so we won’t chase it around. We’ll have a plan for sure, but we’ll make sure we’re playing our game and focused on ourself.”

That’s not to say the Kings won’t have matchups they might prefer and when you get faceoffs, they’ll have the opportunity to set those up if they so choose. The Kings essentially ran just 11 forwards for all but one shift last night and Hiller indicated that it could be more of the same going forward, at least into Game 3. At times, there were different parts moving around the lineup and with that has to come less of a focus on matchups, if for no other reason than it’s organically harder to matchup with 11 than 12.

“There’s times when they play McDavid and Draisaitl together, you’ll be aware of that, but beyond that, I don’t think we’re too concerned,” Hiller added. “We’ll play our game. You’ve got 11 forwards, if we’re playing 11, you see different types of players, different people anyways, so we’re just not going to chase it around, but if they put the two of those guys together, we’ll pay a little more attention to that.”

With the arena expected to be buzzing, the Kings increasingly comfortable playing in their home building and the team not looking to change their approach, the emphasis is singular – raise the level even further. Game 2’s victory put the Kings on level footing for the third straight season heading back to Los Angeles, though they haven’t done so off a victory in either of the past two seasons. Time to continue to flip the script, with home ice now to their advantage.

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