EL SEGUNDO, CA — After they melted the ice with a 10-4-0 record in December, the Los Angeles Kings cooled off significantly in January and February, earning a 13-10-2 record over those two months—6-5-1 in January and 7-5-1 in February.
Although the Kings weren’t playing badly, their play during those two months was considerably less consistent in those two months, as their play was up and down in all three zones.
But fast forward to March, and the Kings are flying high once again, sporting a 6-1-1 record this month, and as a team, they are playing their best hockey of the season, and at just the right time.
“It’s just that the team is getting ready for the playoffs,” said forward Trevor Lewis. “We know the playoffs are coming just around the corner here. We’ve got to make sure that we’re ready to go.”
“We’re just playing more of our game,” added Lewis. “We’re paying closer attention to the details, playing our system more. When we check well, we’re a good team. Our checking creates offense for us, and that’s what it’s been doing of late.”
The forward lines have come together, as well.
“We’ve got some chemistry going right now,” Lewis noted. “All four lines are going. We can play all four lines, and that’s huge for our top guys because they don’t have to be on the ice all the time.”
But it’s not just the forward lines coming together.
“First of all, you’ve got your top end players playing really well, and you’ve got the rest playing their roles underneath that,” defenseman Luke Schenn observed. “The big thing is that you try to be consistent, and you try to be in every game, whether it’s a tight, 2-1 game, or, like in the last few, we’ve been able to score a few more.”
“We’re all just playing together, scoring goals at the right times, big goals,” said right wing Tyler Toffoli. “We’re putting teams on their heels, putting pressure on them, using our forecheck, being quick in our own end, and [goaltender Jonathan Quick] is standing on his head.”
“I think it’s just a matter of confidence,” Schenn noted. “But we’re getting huge efforts out of our top guys. [center Anze Kopitar], [Quick], [forward Jeff Carter], Drew [Doughty]—everyone’s playing well. It’s by committee, but the leaders are definitely pulling their weight, for sure.”
Things really started to come together after the team’s annual, long “Grammy” road trip, when Staples Center in Los Angeles hosts the Grammy Awards in mid-February.
“When we went on that long, [seven-game] road trip that started in New York, we didn’t start off so great, not playing our best hockey,” said Schenn. “We clawed our way through, trying to make that long road trip decent. Then, we came back and had a huge home stand. Nine games, with one in Anaheim. We really tried to do our job and take care of things at home. We wanted to establish an identity on home ice and build some confidence.”
“Points at home are big,” added Schenn. “We were able to take that into a couple of road games, and guys played well in Chicago and Dallas [earlier this week].”
“The margin for error is pretty small, so I think the guys are pretty resilient, whether we’re up or down. I think the guys stick to the game plan. Everyone has a goal in mind, and the guys are battling for each other.”
As the players alluded to, a few have made tremendous contributions to the Kings’ ascent in the Western Conference standings, now just two points out of first place behind the Dallas Stars.
One of those players is their most recent acquisition on their blue line, defenseman Rob Scuderi, who has solidified the team’s blue line corps, not to mention their penalty-kill.
“He’s just so reliable and calm out there, at all times,” Schenn observed. “He’s great on the penalty-kill, and he plays well with Drew. He’s had success before, and he’s won the Cup a couple of times. He’s a good, veteran guy. You can’t replace that kind of experience, and he’s a great guy in the room. He’s been a really nice fit.”
“As a defensive defenseman, and as an opposing player, you don’t typically notice guys like Scuderi,” Schenn added, having played against Scuderi before they became teammates with the Kings. “That’s probably one of the biggest compliments you can give [to a defensive defenseman]—to not be noticeable. That means you’re doing your job. You’re putting passes on the tape, you’re making the smart play, if you’re in trouble, you’re getting the puck out of your zone, blocking shots. Those things are often not noticed, as an opponent. But when you see them on a day-to-day basis, you appreciate those things.”
Scuderi has also made a difference in the dressing room.
“I’ve only known him for a few weeks, but he’s already done an unbelievable job, with what we brings to a locker room,” said Schenn. “He has that experience and veteran presence that you can’t just go out and find easily/”
“He’s a great guy, very well-liked,” added Schenn. “Before we traded for him, there was word that we were going to trade for him, and guys were pretty excited about that. That says a lot, when you’ve been in an organization before, and the guys like you so much that they’d want to bring you back, that’s a huge compliment to him.”
Forward Dustin Brown has also come alive, scoring six of his eleven goals this season since February 2, and has scored a goal in each of the last three games.
“He’s getting pucks to the net, and they’re going in for him,” said Toffoli. “He’s doing all the little things right, he’s working hard, and he’s getting rewarded.”
“He’s been getting his chances all year,” said Lewis. “He’s had a lot of energy, a lot of jump. Now they’re starting to go in for him, and that’s great to see. We need it from him, and he knows that. Hopefully, he can keep it going.”
Veteran center Vincent Lecavalier has also exceeded expectations, having scored eight goals and contributing six assists for 14 points in 31 games with the Kings this season, with a 53.2 percent face-off win rating.
“Vinny has been awesome for us, taking draws, taking a little pressure off [Kopitar], being a left-handed center,” Lewis noted. “He’s been great on the power play, too. He’s helped me a lot, just kind of talking to him, and feeding off of him.”
Even though the Kings are on top of their game, their head coach is still pushing them.
“We’re getting closer to accomplishing what we want, so we want to get it,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “We’ve been through a stretch where we’re playing top teams. Teams-that-shut-you-down teams, and everybody’s different, so we’re just trying to adjust to that, while not getting away from our game.”
“It’s a stretch of the schedule you, as a coach, have to manage properly, too, in terms of how you’re using guys out there,” added Sutter. “If somebody’s not pulling their weight, we’re not going to look very good, so to say that we’re playing better than at any point, I don’t think that. Maybe, as a group, we are. But I think we have a group of guys who have to raise their games substantially for us to go to another level.”
One player who probably can’t raise his game further—he has been absolutely dominant of late—is Anze Kopitar, who is the biggest reason for his team’s recent surge.
Stay tuned for that story, coming soon.
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings right wing Tyler Toffoli. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
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