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What We Learned: Why the West should start being very afraid of the Los Angeles Kings

By Ryan Lambert

Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

Things have been markedly different since Darryl Sutter took over.

A lot of people thought replacing the stern voice of Terry Murray behind the bench with the sterner (and mumblier) voice of Darryl Sutter was a foolish decision by Dean Lombardi, but instead it has transformed the Los Angeles Kings into a truly terrifying, borderline-great power in the Western Conference.

Now, 13 games, seven wins and 19 points later, the Kings are closing in on San Jose's lead in the Pacific, though admittedly the Sharks have five(!) games in hand.

They were just 15-14-4 when Sutter took over, sitting tied for 10th in the West with Calgary (imagine the indignity). But after a little less than a month they just have one regulation loss, are putting together strong defensive efforts and making a very legitimate case that come playoff time, this will be a team to be reckoned with, particularly if they can make up enough ground to get up to the four or five spot.

(Coming Up: Contract drama for Carey Price; BREAKING … Teemu Selanne is really good; travel excuses; the Sharks take their shot; Radim Vrbata is underrated; the Flyers media reaps what it sowed; the awesome nicknames of Ryan O'Reilly; the Devils' money troubles; the Sabres keep finding ways to lose; Flames lose with Cammalleri, but are winners; in praise of Mike Rupp; Tampa is terrible; Malkin is quite good; and a hilarious solution to the Blue Jackets' problems.)

Understandably, there are probably a lot of people who will say that this run of success is just regression. That a team as good as the Kings are on paper couldn't have continued blundering along, playing sub-.500 hockey, for an entire season or even a stretch of more than 25 games or so. It would be pretty easy to say that shots are going in for them now, and staying out for their opponents. They sure don't give up three or more goals a night like they used to.

And if it were under the same coach, that would probably be true. But Darryl Sutter is known for jamming up opposing offenses more than he is for promoting scoring from his own charges. To that end, it's no surprise that Sutter's Kings have allowed three goals or more exactly twice in these 13 games, and only lost one of them. In fact, they've allowed 22 goals since the takeover, with four coming in a shootout loss to Dallas, so they still got a point out of that one too.

It's no coincidence, however, that much of the most recent success has come because guys like Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jason Williams and Mike Richards have actually started producing points again. For whatever reason, they hadn't been doing much of that under Murray but in the last week or so have been driving possession and more importantly scoring goals, which was the most common complaint when the Kings weren't winning.

Drew Doughty's return to form hasn't hurt either, with four points in his last six games (not a ton, but certainly an improvement), big time minutes being gobbled up and the type of strong defensive performance we've come to expect from a Norris candidate. And of course, Jonathan Quick, thanks to playing in a beneficial system, has continued to shine well enough to be in the Vezina conversation alongside Tim Thomas and Henrik Lundqvist, which is no small feat.

Not that the Kings don't have their problems though. Sunday night was the 15th time this season the Kings have gone to overtime, and they've also played in eight shootouts, which leaves far too much to chance through the gimmick skills competition, and therefore given away points of some kind or another more often than they've needed to. More problematically, many of these instances have also been against teams with whom the Kings will likely be competing for a playoff spot (Dallas, San Jose, Colorado, and the like.

It will obviously take more than the phenomenal run the team has been on since Sutter took over for the Kings to become one of the top teams in the West, and they've begun to get the look of a team that can do some serious damage.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Oh like there was even the slightest chance that a story about how great Teemu Selanne is wouldn't lead WWL this week. Please. Oh and I guess the Ducks are 4-0-1 in their last five and scoring by the boatload or whatever too. But Teemu, you guys.

Boston Bruins: For some inexplicable reason, the Bruins absolutely cannot beat the Hurricanes. Three times this season they have tried, and three times this season they have failed. Carolina has scored 11 goals against Boston in those games, 13.6 percent of their total goals allowed this season. In three games.

Buffalo Sabres: Give the Sabres credit -- they keep finding new and inventive ways to lose at hockey. The most recent comes by giving up two goals to the Islanders in the final 183 seconds to lose 4-2, and having Thomas Vanek hit the post on a penalty shot (on a bogus call) when it was still 3-2.

Calgary Flames: Well the Flames lost their first game since the big trade, 4-1 to LA, but at least that one goal came from Mike Cammalleri, who was playing on the Iginla line by the end of the night. Big win for Feaster. You can really tell the team is going for it now.

Carolina Hurricanes: Jeff Skinner played his first game since Dec. 7 yesterday and everyone was very happy to see it. That includes the Capitals, because Skinner was, perhaps understandably, not especially effective in his first game back (0 for 3 at the dot, just one SOG, minus-1).

Chicago Blackhawks: It really doesn't seem fair that the Blackhawks should have to play Detroit and San Jose on back-to-back days with travel involved.

Colorado Avalanche: Ryan O'Reilly has been the Avs' best player this season and with 32 points and a whopper defensive résumé, that's pretty much a given. But more importantly, he also has actual creative nicknames: "Radar" and "Factor." Because I guess O'Reilly-y and O'Reilly-sie don't work.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Rick Nash scored against San Jose on Saturday and that was the first time he had scored in back-to-back games all season. Hell, he's only had seven multiple-point games.

Dallas Stars: The reason the Stars lost to Colorado is because of the scheduling. They've had three whole games since Tuesday! And the travel between Anaheim and Los Angeles is just brutal. Grueling stuff. Surprised they didn't lose by 40.

Detroit Red Wings Presented by Amway: The Red Wings are now tied for the longest home winning streak in franchise history, which gives reporters the terribly easy job of asking stuff like, "Are you worried about breaking that record?" and then writing tap-in columns when Mike Babcock says no. And guess what: That potentially record-breaking home game is tonight against Buffalo. Talk about tap-ins.

Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers are terrible again and everyone is lamenting that their several-year rebuild hasn't worked. Well guess what idiots, there's three reasons for that: 1) They don't draft game-changing defensemen with their high picks and therefore have no ability to prevent goals, only score them, 2) injuries and 3) Steve Tambellini is terrible at his job.

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Florida Panthers: Jose Theodore will probably be back tonight after missing the last few games with a knee injury. Of course, that game is against Boston, which put four past him in 20 minutes last time these teams met.

Los Angeles Kings: Pretty decent second effort on this goal from Anze Kopitar.

Spinning and falling down at the same time, he still puts it in the back of the net. What a player.

Minnesota Wild: Mikko Koivu had his arm in a sling following Saturday's game and could be out a while (and is, in fact, out for at least a month). Which means that the Wild now officially have a 0.0 percent chance of making the playoffs. But that also allows Wild fans to continue acting like injuries and not the team being poorly constructed are the reason it failed.

Montreal Canadiens: So apparently Carey Price was offered the Pekka Rinne contract to stay in Montreal but turned it down (link is in French, which should make the fanbase happy). And it's because he wanted 10 years at $7 million per, not seven. Hey, that Ilya Bryzgalov is working out great in Philly, right? Oh that was only for nine? Haha okay.

Nashville Predators: Boy the Predators got hot very, very quietly, huh? They've won seven of their last eight and allowed just 16 goals in that stretch. More impressively, they've scored 16 goals in their last four. Of course, all but two of those games were at home.

New Jersey Devils: No the Devils aren't on the brink of going bankrupt or anything like that but they're definitely in a financial quagmire. And their biggest financial backer, co-owner Ray Chambers, wants to pull out and will likely do so within the next six or eight months. "[A] new business model will have to be discovered." Trade Kovalchuk.

New York Islanders: Evgeni Nabokov made 23 saves on 25 shots Saturday night to pick up his 300th career victory. Only 101 short of Chris Osgood now.

New York Rangers: Oh man, the passing on this goal from Mike Rupp. Just phenomenal.

Ottawa Senators: Hey look people are starting to write stories about how the Senators aren't that good and they're just lucky most of the East is so damn bad this year. They've won 10 of their last 13 — which is good, obviously — but if several of the teams widely considered mortal locks to make the playoffs (Pittsburgh and Washington, in particular) weren't struggling so mightily, things would be a lot different for their playoff hopes. Oh and also they've played more games than all but two teams in the entire league, which helps as well.

Philadelphia Flyers: Goals off a deflection and a bad bounce were the difference in the Flyers' loss to Nashville, but that would never prevent the Philly media from meeting Ilya Bryzgalov in the postgame scrum like Roman senators waiting for Julius Caesar on March 15. Who was it again that was banging the "This team needs a real goaltender" drum?

Phoenix Coyotes: Radim Vrbata has more goals than anyone in the Western Conference, save for Jonathan Toews. Who on earth saw that coming at the start of the season?

Pittsburgh Penguins: Steve MacIntyre getting sent down is another example of how little enforcers are beginning to matter in the sport.

San Jose Sharks: Pretty interesting stuff from Todd McLellan on why the Sharks have led the league in shots this season and last. Basically, if you shoot a lot (they do) and you're good (they are), you score a lot of goals.

St. Louis Blues: Saturday was St. Louis' first shootout win of the season, which seems a little surprising. They were 0 for 5 prior to that one, which was iced by Kevin Shattenkirk's winner. In addition, they'd scored just on just one of 17 shootout attempts entering the game.

Tampa Bay Lightning: It's been a really bad year for the Bolts, who as of today are tied for dead last in the East (and the Islanders have two games in hand). They're now winless in their last seven, with a shootout loss to Vancouver standing as their only point in that stretch.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Clarke MacArthur wasn't happy with the way the Rangers beat the Maple Leafs 3-0 on Saturday. "You can see why they win a lot of games -- they just try to bore you out of the rink almost." Oh that's so sad. If only they played a more exciting game you could have lost 3-1.

Vancouver Canucks: David Booth came back last night, which is good for the Canucks, who need to get Ryan Kesler going again, and bad for everyone else in the league.

Washington Capitals: It took far longer than it had any right to, but Tomas Vokoun is now officially the No. 1 guy in Washington. If he gets hot, the Caps can go a long, long way.

Winnipeg Jets: The Jets lost again, this time to New Jersey, keeping them with just one win in six during the month of January and a goal differential of minus-12. But hey, at least they're "brave."

Gold Star Award

Evgeni Malkin had a third-period natural hat trick to turn a 3-3 game into a 6-3 win in a hurry. Guess that's pretty good, especially since he assisted on two of the first three as well. Monstrous performance.

Minus of the Weekend

Oh man if John Ferguson, Jr., becomes GM of the Blue Jackets that would be the best/worst thing of all time.

Play of the Weekend

Cool shortie from Tomas Plekanec.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User "CarknerCountry" might be a Sens fan:

To Ott: Bobby Ryan

To Ana: Nick Foligno, Matt Puempel and a 1st

Great stuff as always.

Signoff

Too much confusion, thank you for your time.

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness rather infrequently over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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