The Los Angeles Kings have been hibernating in December, and now, although it’s still a month too early for spring, the reigning Stanley Cup champions have awoken from their slumber with a jolt, winning 6-games straight starting on February 5th. The Kings’ emergence out of their prolonged slump has boosted them up to the second Wild Card spot, forcing the consistently inconsistent San Jose Sharks. Not including the Anaheim Ducks, the point differentials between the top teams in the Western Conference is slim, The Kings shouldn’t be comfortable, but they’re in a better position than the Sharks, who should be filled with at least a degree of panic on their upcoming flight to take on the Dallas Stars.
The Kings appear to have returned to form. Their matchup Wednesday night against the Colorado Avalanche in the mile-high city reminded everyone just how talented their team.
On the backs of the Kings’ line nicknamed “that 70’s line” (named after their jersey numbers), the Kings managed to turn the game around after Colorado dominated the first.
It was Jeff Carter with his 17th of the season, from Tyler Toffoli and Dwight King that got Los Angeles on the right track. King’s efforts to take advantage of a turnover in the Avs’ defensive zone put the puck right on the tape of Toffoli’s stick, who eventually threw it toward the net for Carter to tip in. Toffoli then continued to aid the Kings’ efforts to advance in the standings by scoring the 2nd goal of the game. The Avs’ young star, Nathan MacKinnon isn’t the only player on the ice with speed, and Toffoli took advantage of his rocket boosters to backhand the puck past goaltender, Seymon Varlamov. Los Angeles’ ability to turn a great defensive play on the other end of the ice into a goal should have the remainder of the Pacific Division groaning. The momentum picked up after that and LA captain, Dustin Brown, netted his 10th of the year from Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar to cap off the scoring in the second period.
The Avs sustained pressure through the third, but a solid Kings defense and a few nifty plays from netminder, Jonathan Quick, left Colorado empty-handed. Carter tacked on one more goal for LA, scoring on the empty-net to make the final score 4-1 Los Angeles.
The Avalanche didn’t look bad. Patrick Roy’s group is fighting hard for a play-off spot, and their play against the Kings reflected their efforts. Captain Gabriel Landenskog and Mackinnon helped to generate quality scoring changes. Again, however, LA’s ability to stifle the pressure from the Avs should have Kings’ fans smirking at their doubters.
The Kings are still looking for production from all their lines. Their 5-game win streak has increased all-around participation, but the key is consistency. After sending Mike Richards down to the AHL, players who haven’t been struggling more than others (looking at you, Jarret Stoll), should be playing with an increased sense of urgency. There’s no wiggle room and in the standings and little to no room for mistakes. Tied 66 points apiece, the Kings’ one less game played has allowed them to take-over the second Wild Card spot.
The stakes are now much higher for the upcoming Stadium Series game. The battle of SoCal and NorCal is now not only a battle for pride, but an important match-up in the push for the play-offs. The outdoor game will be played in an audience 70,000 plus at Levil’s Stadium and is expected to light a fire under the butts of the defending Stanley Cup Champs as well as the Sharks who are looking for redemption. Fortunately for the Los Angeles, the Kings are used to playing in front of an electrified crowd, which will be useful because they will need to be able to feed off of the energy.
The Kings’ defense will need to be present and accounted for in front of netminder Jonathan Quick. Although the Sharks have struggled in their past six or seven match-ups, their last game against the Dallas Stars in the big-D, San Jose’s offense looked alive yet again. Spurred by a locker room speech given by Sharks’ alternate captain Joe Pavelski during the first intermission. The Kings lines from top to bottom will need to be producing against this Sharks group, who have successfully been getting sparks of offensive production from their top two lines, as well as their fourth line.
It will no doubt be a blast to see such a historic rivalry in an exciting new venue. Despite the novelty of it all, the Kings still need to keep in mind that these are points that will matter in the over all race to the postseason. Their play against the Avalanche was promising and they’ve been on the rise for the past 6-games. They will have to sustain this kind of elite play if they hope to reprise their domination against the San Jose Sharks.