Are the Kings the real deal? Back-to-back success suggests so

 

kings
The Kings have been unstoppable this week (PIC: NHL/Twitter)

It is all starting to hot up as the regular NHL season draws to a close and the LA Kings are emerging as a real force to be reckoned with ahead of the Stanley Cup Playoffs getting underway next month.

Although considered a contender before, the Kings have proved this week that they are in real good shape to reclaim the crown they last won in 2014.

Not content with drubbing reigning holders the Chicago Blackhawks 5-0 in their own backyard on Monday, the Kings travelled to Dallas the following evening and produced yet another feast of attacking brilliance to defeat the Stars 5-2 – outscoring two of the Central Division’s top three 10-2 in the process.

Los Angeles (42-22-5) have now racked up nine wins from their last twelve outings to sit atop the Pacific Division with 89 points – four points clear of rivals the Anaheim Ducks.

The Kings have also won four out of five since falling to the Ducks twice in less than a week, their only loss coming in Overtime to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday. Darryl Sutter’s men are playing arguably their best hockey of the season and sent out a clear message to the rest of the NHL with their two eye-catching and dominant wins this week.

It was all about flying out of the traps in both games as the Kings’ offence really burst into life – while some notable milestones were also reached.

Chicago have made a habit of slumping in March having lost three of four in March 2013, four of five in March 2014 and three of four in March 2015.

And the Blackhawks were powerless to avoid a third straight defeat in March 2016 after finding themselves trailing 2-0 inside the opening four minutes at the United Center on Monday.

Kris Versteeg – returning to his former stomping ground – started the rout at 3:17 before Milan Lucic inflicted more damage just 18 seconds later.

Vincent Lecavalier – who has been a revelation for the Kings since being acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers on January 9th – added a third with his eighth goal of the season before Dustin Brown’s 1st goal in 16 games set the visitors well on their way to a crucial two points.

And there was still time for some gloss to be added to an already emphatic scoreline as Tyler Toffoli recored his 25th goal of the season and his first in 11 games.

But the biggest star of the night was without doubt Jonathan Quick who pulled off 32 saves to complete his 41st career shutout. It was a historic night for the 30-year-old who passed Frank Brimsek and John Vanbiesbrouck for the most shutouts by a U.S. born goalie.

Then onto Dallas where another lightning quick start set the tone for an evening full of attacking brilliance by the Kings.

Versteeg – just like he did the night before – opened the scoring with only 23 seconds on the board, before Toffoli tucked home at the near post on 5:25.

Dallas did respond through Alex Goligoski but the impressive Anze Kopitar restored LA’s two-goal advantage with 2:20 remaining in the opening period after beating Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen with a neat backhander.

Brown then notched his second goal in as many nights early in the second period, which prompted Dallas to pull Lehtonen and place Antti Niemi in net.

That seemed to have the desired effect as Cody Eakin bagged a power-play goal with 6:42 remaining in the middle period, but Trevor Lewis rounded off the scoring less than two minutes later to wrap up a sensational two-day road trip – the Kings are now 9-1-1 when it comes to back-to-backs this season.

And Tuesday was also a landmark night for veteran center Vincent Lecavalier who picked up an assist in his 1,200th NHL career game, while backup netminder Jhonas Enroth made 24 saves in a rare start.

Overall, LA are really starting to find their groove at the right time and are combining red hot offence with a stingy defence, while Jonathan Quick is looking at his unstoppable best and will be key in the postseason.

Ahead of the Kings’ home tilt against the New York Rangers this evening, I’ve picked out four takeaways from the past two games that also act as positives for the upcoming play-offs.

1. New line combination showing signs of promise:

LA’s top line has taken on a different look since Saturday with Anze Kopitar centering Milan Lucic and new recruit Kris Versteeg.

Versteeg had yet to get on the board for his new team since being traded from the Carolina Hurricanes on February 28th, but that all changed this week.

The former Chicago Blackhawks forward got off the mark for the Kings with an early goal against his former team, before new line-mate Lucic got in on the act just 18 seconds later with a nice top shelf effort to extend his points streak to seven straight games.

Kopitar grabbed an assist on Lucic’s effort – his 431st in his career – to round off a good night at the office for the trio with Versteeg also adding an assist to his goal.

And the chemistry on the top line only seemed to get better on Tuesday evening in Dallas after the threesome stumped up four points in total – Kopitar leading the charge with a goal and an assist.

That, coupled with the trio’s aggressive and dominant play, should offer plenty of encouragement to Head Coach Darryl Sutter ahead of the Playoffs.

2. Flying out of the traps:  LA’s success against Chicago and Dallas was all down to a fast start in both games, stunning the opposition early on before proceeding to control the contest.

Kings were aggressive in their offensive play from the very get-go against both the Blackhawks and the Stars, and made two of the Central Division’s big-hitters look decidedly average.

Los Angeles skated hard and fast and won plenty of puck battles in the opening stages of both games – if they can replicate that pace and intensity from the off in the post season then the Kings’ faithful could well be celebrating a third Stanley Cup in five seasons.

3. Vinny proving a shrewd addition:

Kings’ GM Dean Lombardi could well be patting himself on the back come the culmination of the 2015/16 season.

Looking to bolster his roster before the Trade Deadline last month, Lombardi brought in a number of seasoned NHL veterans, including Vincent Lecavalier.

Following a hugely frustrating final season with the Philadelphia Flyers – where he had iced in just seven games – a move to LA has revitalised Lecavalier in what could be his last campaign as a professional hockey player.

The center – who has been playing on the Kings’ third and even second line – has eight goals since being traded and has racked up two points so far this week, including an assist during his 1,200th NHL game on Tuesday.

Lecavalier also has seven assists to his name this term and, despite his well documented struggles in recent years, has proved to be a real smart signing by Lombardi and the Kings.

With his vast experience and a burning desire to go out on top, Lecavalier could well have a big part to play in the postseason as LA go for another Stanley Cup crown.

4. Dominance from Kopitar:

Anze Kopitar – who penned a new 8-year deal with the Kings in January – recorded three points across Tuesday and Wednesday but it was his brilliance in other areas that rightly grabbed the plaudits.

The 28-year-old – who has 62 points this season (22 goals, 40 assists) – had plus-minus figures of 2 against both the Blackhawks and the Stars and is now tied with the Washington Capitals’ Evgeny Kuznetsov for the NHL plus-minus lead.

Kopitar was also dominant when it came to faceoffs against Dallas, losing just three in the opening two periods and finishing the night with a 77% success rate.

He leads the Kings in points and has enjoyed another stellar season, which could result in the forward finally winning the Selke Trophy.

All media courtesy of LA Kings’ official Twitter account.

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