The Los Angeles Kings have won enough in the past few years to earn a lot of leeway amongst hockey minds. So even though the team entered the all-star break outside of the playoff picture, reporters were still willing to cut them some slack. Perhaps they just weren't getting the bounces in the first half?
"No," said defenseman Drew Doughty. “Too many times we don't have our entire team show up. Some games it's just our goalie, some games it's the 'D,' sometimes it's the forwards. We need the entire team to show up for a full 60-minute game. We got away from playing good defensive hockey, which is kind of the L.A. Kings style of game. When we get back to that, we'll start winning.”
Luckily for Kings fans, Los Angeles kicked off the second half with a rousing victory over the rival Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday night. Jeff Carter led the way with three points and made Hawks captain Jonathan Toews look downright mortal in the process.
And that's the dangerous part with this Kings franchise: There is a switch, and when turned on it goes to 11. Los Angeles has won two Stanley Cups in the past three years and did so as a low seed both times. Not that they enjoy making life hard on themselves.
“Yeah, we're definitely cutting it a little close," Doughty said. "We put ourselves in a hole and we need a lot of wins to climb in the standings. We've been in this position before, so we're comfortable, but we do need to flip that switch.”
There will be obstacles in the way, too. Tanner Pearson is hurt, Mike Richards played himself into the minors and Slava Voynov is in serious legal trouble that could potentially end his NHL career. But if there is a team that can handle such adversity, it's the Kings.
Assuming they get into the post-season, the squad boasts staggering talent. All-world goalie Jonathan Quick didn't even play well at the beginning of last year's playoff run, but recovered in time to steer the ship to glory. Doughty is a minutes fiend who can do it all, while top center Anze Kopitar is still underrated as one of the game's finest pivots.
Toss in Carter, Justin 'Mr. Game 7' Williams and Marian Gaborik and this team still looks lethal.
"We've just gotta win tight games," Kopitar said. "We've been blowing leads and maybe not getting the best breaks, but you create your own luck."
And despite their Hollywood home, the Kings don't see themselves as NHL flag-bearers, nor do they covet the spot. Sure, it's nice to get attention and Doughty should probably have gotten more Norris consideration over the years, but living outside of the spotlight can have its advantages.
So while Chicago will play in its fourth outdoor game next season – the Kings will play their second in late February – Los Angeles isn't jealous.
“We'd rather be sitting behind the Blackhawks, letting them have all the attention," Doughty said. "When the playoffs come around, that's our opportunity to beat them. We're fine with standing in the shadows; it doesn't bother us.”
But it should bother the rest of the league that Los Angeles already has a statement win in the second half. Because if the Kings have woken up, they know how to close out a season.