The Los Angeles Kings are set to begin their first round Stanley Cup Playoff series against the San Jose Sharks. At times this season, it appeared that the Kings may not even make the playoffs.
Their offense has been a huge problem for most of the year, but their defense constantly shut teams down all year and put them in positions to win games despite not scoring many goals.
The Los Angeles defense was the best in the league. They only surrendered 174 goals on the season. No other team gave up less than 177.
Jonathan Quick has been one of the best goalies in the league over the past few seasons, but he only played in 49 games. In the 33 games he missed, the Kings got goaltending play from their backups that far surpassed even the optimistic expectations.
Ben Scrivens did an excellent job before being dealt to Edmonton, and a rookie, Martin Jones, has emerged as one of the best back up goaltenders in the NHL. Jones started his career with an astounding 8-0-0 record with three shutouts in his first eight starts.
Statistically, Jones has actually had a better year than Quick. In 19 games, Jones has a 12-6 record with a .934 save percentage. Quick, on the other hand it 27-17-4 with a .915 save percentage. However, Quick has been playing back up at his level of greatness over the recent stretch of dominance for the Kings. He finished the season with six shutouts, which was good for second in the league behind Tukka Rask of Boston.
The Kings finished the season with a 17-7-1 record in their last 25 games. The defense remained dominant but the offense was the big difference for the team down the stretch. Their offense has been scoring 2.8 goals per game. Their season average was only 2.42.
The acquisition of Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline proved to be a big thing for the Kings, but the biggest difference was the emergence of already-star Anze Kopitar. Kopitar got hot down the stretch and finished the season with 70 points. Jeff Carter was second on the team with 50 points.
The Kings are technically the sixth seeded team in the Western Conference headed into the playoffs but appear poised to make a deep run into the playoffs. They have proven that they can win playoff games on the road, and can make deep runs regardless of the seed they earn.
Their first round matchup against the Sharks is definitely a favorable match up. Due to this year’s change in playoff format, the Kings drew the Sharks as opposed to a much tougher stylistic matchup in the St. Louis Blues.
The Kings went 4-1-1 against the Sharks in the regular season and knocked them out of last year’s playoffs in the Western Conference semifinals. The Sharks are a great offensive team, but the aggressive fore check of the Kings should go a long way in slowing that down over seven games.