Los Angeles Kings: Things To Be Thankful For This Season

by Puck Pawn

With Thanksgiving almost upon us, everyone here at Puck Pawn wants to wish you all a safe and happy celebration this holiday season. That being said, it’s time to reflect on the early Kings season and appreciate what there is to be thankful for in the hockey world.

Thankful For A Fast Start

After a torrid start (11-2-2 after an OT win against Anaheim November 7th), the Kings have cooled off drastically, going 1-5-0 in their last six games. Winning 11 out of 15 games allowed the Kings to weather this slump and still hold the Pacific division lead. Vegas, Anaheim, Calgary, and Vancouver have kept picking away at that lead, and all are now within 3 points of Los Angeles.

Thankful For A Healthy Jonathan Quick

When Jonathan Quick was injured in the first game of the season last year against the San Jose Sharks, Kings fans were fed a solid diet of Peter Budaj. There was also side of Jeff Zatkoff and later in the season, Ben Bishop, after acquiring him and a 5th rounder for Budaj, defenseman Erik Cernak, a seventh-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and a conditional pick in the 2017 NHL Draft for his services. While Budaj was serviceable in the 53 games he played, it’s just not the same for Kings fans if Jonathan Quick isn’t between the pipes. Many Kings personnel over the seasons have praised the leadership and intangibles that Quick brings to the locker room, let alone his on ice contributions. He started hot with the team this season, and cooled just as fast, but his numbers are solid (9-7-1 with a .926 SV% and 2 SO) and having him for a full season can only help the Kings try to reach the playoffs again.

Thankful For The Resurgence of Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown

We’ve all seen and heard the grumblings from a large percentage of Kings fans who are adamant that Dean Lombardi gave Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown too much money for too long of a term. They were especially vocal last season when the Kings failed to qualify for the postseason and blamed the regression of Kopitar and Brown relative to their contract size. Anze Kopitar finished the year with his lowest point total ever (12g, 40a, 52pts) for a full season. Dustin Brown has struggled for a few seasons, failing to reach the once attainable (for him) 40 points in a single season since 2012. This season has seen them both break free from whatever was ailing them (I think we all have some input as to what, or who, that was) and both are on pace for record seasons. Dustin Brown is on pace for a 30 goal season, which would be his first since 2012, 3rd overall. Meanwhile Kopitar has led the team in scoring for most of the season, putting up 23 points on 21 games, good for the pace of a 90 point season, which would be the highest ever for his career.

Thankful For The Rookie Explosion

Another complaint from many Kings fans over the last few seasons was the past administrations unwillingness to infuse the lineup with youth. Since 2012, the NHL has seemed to shift from being a big, lumbering, lane clogging league, to a more limber, quick and agile style of league. Many felt that the Kings were falling behind by not adjusting and holding back many capable younger players in favor of more established veterans. Well, fast forward to the Stevens regime in Los Angeles, where the kids are given every chance to succeed as their aging counterparts. Newcomer and rookie Alex Iafallo managed to wrestle and hang onto a top line pairing with Kopitar and Brown, showing flashes of Justin Williams with his board play and tenacity. Adrian Kempe has also been a pleasant surprise, putting up 7 goals, 6 assists, and 13 points. He just missed the cut for games played last season, and is still qualified as a rookie. His point total puts him inside the top 10 in rookie scoring. If his scoring contributions stay consistent, expect to hear his name in Calder Trophy talks.

Thankful For John Stevens and Rob Blake

It’s crazy to think that just 3 years ago, the Los Angeles Kings had just won the second Stanley Cup in their history. Their General Manager, Dean Lombardi, and their head coach, Darryl Sutter were riding high after 2 championships in 3 seasons. To the hockey world, it seemed they could do no wrong. Their additions of Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Marian Gaborik were executed with the greatest of ease, and each time helped them over that perceived hump, and allowed them to reach the promise land. Then came the Slava Voynov domestic violence charges. Then came missing the playoffs. Then came the Mike Richards prescription pills arrest. Then came the Jarrett Stoll arrest in Las Vegas. Then came the players lockout of the coaching staff. Then came missing the playoffs again. It seemed all of their luck had run out upstairs and the players were really worn down with playing Darryl Sutter brand hockey for 4 plus seasons. Enter the Rob Blake/ John Stevens Era. The quiet additions early on when everyone was ogling the high dollar free agents have proven to be incredibly frugal and smart on the part of Rob Blake. Adding players who have managed to crack the starting lineup and contribute tremendously has helped propel the Kings back into the playoff discussions, after most hockey talking heads and analysts had L.A. finishing outside of the postseason bubble. Players like Alex Iafallo, who is eating up top line minutes at a fraction of the salary. Players like Christian Folin and Oscar Fantenberg, who have been platooning throughout the defensive units and earning their minutes. Blake also shored up a shaky and very thin goaltender situation, by adding Darcy Kuemper (unbeaten in regulation this season), to play behind Quick, and Cal Peterson to split time in Ontario with Jack Campbell.
The other side of this coin though, is John Stevens. He is well known throughout the league as a player’s coach, and his approach to the game is exactly what the Kings needed to reboot their struggling players. He has been a part of the Kings organization since 2010, and has been a huge part of some of the longest tenured Kings’ developmental years. The biggest difference from Stevens to Darryl Sutter has to be his treatment and management of the younger players on the team. He is less abrasive, and allows them to make mistakes as part of the learning process, but isn’t afraid to cut minutes or demote any player he deems isn’t cutting it in any particular game. Adding Pierre Turgeon as an ‘offensive coordinator’ was a game changer, and I anticipate a lot other teams may experiment with that approach as well. While the season is early and it’s hard to say if this team will be able to prove the naysayers wrong and secure a playoff spot, it’s hard to argue that there’s currently a better option behind the bench for this group of players, and a better option upstairs in Blake.

Lastly, Thankful For Bob Miller

As we all sit down to demolish the neatly laid out assortments of various Thanksgiving foodstuffs and feasts, let’s all raise our glasses, goblets, boots, bottles, or whatever else we’re drinking out of, to thank and toast the most amazing broadcaster to ever live. May the hockey gods bless Bob Miller!