Feb 24, 2011, 1:52 AM EDT
Things were not going well for the Los Angeles Kings a month ago. Coming off a 2-6 season-long homestand, they were staring a franchise-long 10 game road trip in the face. The road trip couldn’t have come at a worse time as they struggled at the beginning of the calendar year and were engaged in the tight Western Conference playoff race. Expectations were huge at the beginning of the season, yet this was a team trapped in 12th place in the race for the playoffs.
But just before the road trip, the team started showing signs that they were going to bounce back. A three-game winning streak, including wins against Boston and San Jose, gave fans a sense that the team would be able to compete. But it didn’t change the fact that the Kings were heading out on the road for almost a full month and had a poor road record.
Fast forward to tonight and things are looking much better for the Kings. With their win against the Ducks in Anaheim, LA wrapped up their North American trek with a 6-1-3 record. Taking it a bit further, the Kings have earned points in 12 of their last 13 games. In a tight race where every point counts, this stretch couldn’t have come at a better time for the Kings.
Just about every single game was a closely contested battle on the road trip. Three of the losses came in extra time (one loss in OT, two in shootouts), and two of their wins were in the shootout. Take away the five games that went to extra time, and the Kings had two additional 1-goal wins. Razor thin margins any way you cut it. The only game where the Kings were dominated was in Long Island last weekend as they were shutout 3-0. Who would have thought the only loss in regulation would have been to the Islanders?
Some of the pessimists will tell you the Kings are a flawed team that needs to score more. Over the road trip, they only averaged 2.1 goals per game. There’s no question that rate won’t translate to a successful record over time. But for a team built on defense, the more important number would be the 1.8 goals they’re allowing per game. Yes, they need to get a sniper for their top 6; but any time a team can hold their opponents to under 2 goals per game for an extended period of time, they’re going to continue to win.
Earning 15 out of a possible 20 points is easily the most important stat for the Kings after the road trip. Teams always want to dominate, but they’ve been winning the tight checking, low scoring games that we can expect in the playoffs. From that point of view, the road trip showed they could be a team to be reckoned with in April and May.
Unfortunately, there’s no rest for the weary in Southern California as the Kings face the Minnesota Wild on Thursday in another huge game with playoff implications. The teams are tied with 70 points and are currently holding the 5th and 6th places in the West. You’d think they’d deserve a little rest after such a long trip—but the rest will have to wait.
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