LOS ANGELES — Just one week ago, the Los Angeles Kings were in free fall, having lost three straight games and eight of their previous twelve, plummeting out of the playoff picture.
Indeed, the Kings found themselves seven points out of eighth place in the Western Conference and that light at the end of the tunnel marked “playoffs” was growing dimmer with each passing day.
From the players and coaches to the assistant equipment managers, the Kings all knew that they had to turn things around. There was not a moment to lose and with a three-game road trip against teams ahead of them in the standings next on their schedule, they had a huge challenge in front of them.
“These next three games are our season, really,” right wing and team captain Dustin Brown said before the Kings started the trip. “We’re right there. We need to climb the hill or we’ll fall down the hill.”
“This is a huge test for us, going on the road against three solid teams [Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche],” Brown added. “This is where teams start separating from each other. This will be the test of the year for us. I think it’s a chance we should be excited about as a team. We need to respond.”
“It’s do or die time for us.”
Fast forward back to the present and despite the odds being stacked against them, the Kings are not dead. Rather, they ended the three-game road swing with a 2-0-1 record, earning five out of a possible six points in the standings and scoring thirteen goals over the three games.
In short, although they only gained one point in the standings, now six points out of a playoff spot, the Kings still have a pulse. Prior to the road trip, they were on life support with a power outage imminent.
On the trip, the Kings got back to many of the things that were working for them prior to their recent slump, but most importantly, they regained their lost work ethic, and as a result, got bodies in front of opposing goaltenders with regularity and they actually shot the puck for a change as opposed to constantly making several extra passes while searching in vain for the perfect play.
The result, as reported earlier, was thirteen goals over the three games: a 3-2 shootout loss at Dallas on January 17, a 5-2 win at Minnesota on January 20 and a 6-5 victory at Colorado on January 21.
In the three games, Brown led the way with three goals and two assists for five points. Alexander Frolov was not far behind, tallying three goals.
Kyle Calder was a surprise contributor, scoring two goals with two assists for four points. Anze Kopitar scored a goal and added three assists for four points.
Center Michal Handzus put up three assists, but was far more valuable in the face-off circle, on defense and parked in front of the opposing goaltender, where he contributed to several goals over the course of the three games.
Among Kings defenseman, Drew Doughty led with three assists while Kyle Quincey added two.
The trip also saw the return of defenseman Jack Johnson, who had missed all but the first two games of the season with a torn labrum in his shoulder. Johnson scored his first goal of the season at Colorado on Wednesday night.
On the downside, the Kings found themselves in the penalty box far too often, a problem they have not been able to shake since their slump began. During the three games, they allowed four power play goals on eleven times shorthanded, a rating of just 71.4% and when you combine poor penalty-killing with taking too many penalties you end up with a recipe for disaster.
Despite that, the bottom line for the Kings is that five out of a possible six points on the trip, while not perfect, is enough to keep them going and will have them thinking positive going into the All-Star break.
The Kings’ next game is on Thursday, January 29, one week away, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks at Staples Center and it will be very important for the Kings to win that one because they head right back out onto the road for what looks to be a brutal, five-game road swing against the Montreal Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators, the Washington Capitals, the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders.
Although the Senators and Islanders would appear to be teams the Kings should beat, Montreal, Washington and New Jersey will be huge challenges.
Whatever the case might be, nothing has changed for the Kings over the last week, except that they are playing better than they were before they hit the road. Indeed, their backs are still up against the wall. If they are unable to keep their heads above water with at least a 3-2-0 record on the upcoming road trip, they are likely to find themselves, for all intents and purposes, eliminated from playoff contention once again.
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