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Carter, Kings contend for Cup

Jeff Carter has 23 goals in 39 regular season games between this year and last with Los Angeles. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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Jeff Carter has 23 goals in 39 regular season games between this year and last with Los Angeles. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Last season, the Los Angeles Kings finished with the 29th-ranked offense in the NHL, averaging 2.29 goals per game. Even Jonathan Quick’s Vezina caliber performance was barely enough to keep them in the playoff hunt; on March 3, 2012, the Kings were 10th in the West. The story ended on a happy note, though, and that’s because all that offense they possess eventually found itself.

Over their final 18 games last season – in which they posted an 11-4-3 record – Los Angeles averaged three goals per game. Then in the playoffs they averaged 2.85, better than anyone who wasn’t included in the crazy Philadelphia-Pittsburgh opening round series.

And you know about the time it all started coming together? How about right around the trade deadline, when the Kings acquired Jeff Carter from Columbus. Not that Carter was an all-star force for them after the deal, but he did add yet another presence the opposing defense had to pay attention to.

This year Los Angeles is averaging 2.91 goals per game, good enough for 10th overall. And who’s leading the charge? One Jeff Carter. His 17 goals are a quarter of the Kings’ total bounty, while his six game-winners top the league. And with only two assists, he’s the leading Cy Young candidate. Look out for the still-intact Kings, who are finding themselves much earlier (relatively speaking) this season.

Meanwhile,in Philadelphia…

THE HOCKEY NEWS POWER RANKINGS
RK.
TEAM
LW
OVERALL
P10
THE SCOOP
1
Anaheim Ducks
2
18-3-3
7-1-2
To be a top contending team in this league, you need a significant presence down the middle. Last year, Ryan Getzlaf had a weak 11 goals and 57 points and Anaheim missed the playoffs. This year he’s fifth in league scoring and Anaheim is within reach of Chicago.
2
Chicago Blackhawks
1
21-2-3
8-2-0
I know what you’re thinking: “How can Chicago be bumped a spot after the streak they were on, even if they lost two?” This ranking is based on how much, or little, you’d want to play a team at this moment. Chicago has dropped two in a row and lost to Anaheim in their only meeting on Feb. 12.
3
Pittsburgh Penguins
5
18-8-0
7-3-0
Winners of five in a row and seven of their past nine, Pittsburgh is on the verge of taking over the No. 1 spot in the East.
4
Montreal Canadiens
3
17-5-4
6-1-3
Good show winning four of five on the road, including win in Boston. P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov have nine PP goals combined to make best blueline extra-man duo in the league. Habs have 10th-best power play.
5
Boston Bruins
4
16-3-3
8-1-1
Patrice Bergeron is posting the best points-per-game rate (0.95) of his career, making one of the league’s top two-way players even more dangerous.
6
Minnesota Wild
13
13-9-2
7-3-0
Young players still rising for this team and if Charlie Coyle can make shifts like these regular, he’ll be a dandy. (And he will.)
7
Los Angeles Kings
11
13-8-2
8-2-0
Last season, the Kings struggled to work their way into the playoff race until their offense got going – and once it got going, they became a Stanley Cup caliber team. Well, after scoring 29 goals in their first 13 games this season (2.23), they’ve scored 40 over their past 10 and have won eight. Jeff Carter is two goals off Steven Stamkos’ league-leading 19.
8
Carolina Hurricanes
7
14-9-1
6-4-0
Have won five of their past six, but in such a tight and weak division, it’s troublesome that they hold a 2-5-0 record against the Southeast.
9
Toronto Maple Leafs
9
15-10-1
5-4-1
Yes, they’ve lost two in a row, but both were excellent showings against elite Eastern teams. Toronto isn’t at that level yet, but has taken a noticeable step up this season. With a Joffrey Lupul return imminent, it’ll almost be as though they made a trade. Now, to get Jake Gardiner back in the lineup…
10
New York Rangers
18
13-9-2
5-4-1
Like the Kings, the Rangers seem to finally be settling into a groove. Winners of five of their past six, the New York is getting what they hoped for from Rick Nash, who is rolling with six goals and 11 points in his past six games.
11
Detroit Red Wings
8
12-9-5
5-3-2
Strange week for the Red Wings, who won two games in a row before dropping consecutive games (one in a shootout) to the suddenly-hot Blue Jackets. Damien Brunner’s fast start has slowed – he hasn’t scored a goal since Feb. 24
12
Ottawa Senators
10
13-8-4
6-2-2
Managed four points out of a possible 10 on their recent road swing. Mika Zibanejad quietly helping to fill the void with four goals, five points and 18 shots in past eight games.
13
St. Louis Blues
15
13-10-2
4-5-1
Haven’t played particularly well as of late, but have beaten other teams around below them on this list. Unable to catch last year’s lightning – none of their three goalies have a save percentage above. 891 and the team has allowed one more goal than it’s scored.
14
San Jose Sharks
19
11-7-6
4-3-3
Hard to believe Sharks were the talk of the league through seven games. Antti Niemi putting himself in the running for the Vezina, while a lack of secondary offense bites. Sharks have scored 56 goals, 30 of which have come from Marleau, Couture and Pavelski.
15
Vancouver Canucks
6
11-7-6
3-4-3
Canucks hit a banana peel: slip from No. 6 last week and also slip out of top spot in the Northwest. Rightly or wrongly, Alain Vigneault is back on the hot seat as they’ve lost six of seven.
16
Winnipeg Jets
20
12-11-2
6-3-1
We’ll give Winnipeg the nod in the No. 16 spot for their excellent play on the road. It’s been such a backwards year for a team that was so dominant at home and so terrible on the road in 2011-12. But for them to make the playoffs, they must find a consistent effort. Need to get Tobias Enstrom back.
17
Phoenix Coyotes
16
12-10-3
5-4-1
When Mike Smith falters, the Coyotes follow. And Smith has allowed 19 goals on 136 shots (.860 SP) over his past four five games. Oliver Ekman-Larsson getting some early Norris consideration.
18
Washington Capitals
21
10-13-1
5-5-0
Just when it looked like Washington was settling in, they throw up two stinkers against the Isles and Rangers. Alex Ovechkin’s nightmare season takes another turn with his back-to-back penalties that cost the Caps on Sunday.
19
New York Islanders
26
11-12-3
5-3-2
Finished home stretch much better than they started it. Still a bridge to gap to become a playoff team and need John Tavares to heat up again in order to do it. He has three points – all goals – in his past seven.
20
Dallas Stars
14
12-10-2
5-4-1
Back-to-back wins over Kings and Blues would be so much better if they weren’t bookended by losses to Phoenix and Edmonton. Where art though, Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson?
21
Colorado Avalanche
28
10-10-4
4-3-3
Kudos for being the team that was the first to knock off Chicago in regulation – and it came two nights after they almost did it on the road. Any concerns P-A Parenteau would have trouble scoring without John Tavares have been thrown out with the bath water – he has 10 points in his past six games.
22
Philadelphia Flyers
12
12-14-1
5-5-0
Never, ever should have traded Jeff Carter and Mike Richards…and doing it to make room for Ilya Bryzgalov makes it even worse.
23
Nashville Predators
22
10-9-6
3-6-1
No matter how good Pekka Rinne has been, you can’t believe Nashville will be a team of consequence averaging barely more than two goals per game. They aren’t the Los Angeles Kings.
24
New Jersey Devils
17
12-9-5
3-6-1
Six-game losing streak ended, but Sunday’s game against Winnipeg never should have gone to extra time. Back-to-back games against Philadelphia will determine who is playing the worst hockey in the Atlantic right now.
25
Columbus Blue Jackets
30
10-12-4
6-2-2
Won four in a row at home and then beat Detroit on the road in a shootout to get them out of the Power Rankings basement. Sergei Bobrovsky was named NHL first star of the week with four wins, a 0.77 GAA and .972 SP.
26
Edmonton Oilers
25
9-11-5
3-5-2
It’s been a tough haul for the Oilers, who conclude a nine-game road trip Tuesday in Colorado. So far, they’ve won twice and have earned six of a possible 16 points. Still need a solid No.1 defenseman and Sam Gagner’s great season could help get them one.
27
Tampa Bay Lightning
27
10-14-1
2-8-0
Have won only two of past 10, including loss to the lowly Sabres and middling division rival Jets. Tampa Bay is Exhibit A in how expecting improvement from a team with an unproven goalie is folly. (Which isn’t to give the defense a pass…)
28
Calgary Flames
24
9-10-4
4-5-1
Four home wins in a row offset by five road losses in a row. Sven Baertschi’s demotion to the American League after scoring one point in 10 NHL games is a reminder that rebuild will not be quick and easy.
29
Buffalo Sabres
23
9-14-3
3-5-2
Four losses, two points on their just-finished road trip. Buffalo’s power play running at a league-worst 11.8 percent, with six of their 11 conversions coming of the stick of Thomas Vanek.
30
Florida Panthers
29
7-13-6
2-6-2
Three wins in 16 games. It may be hard to find one now, but, try and look on the bright side of life.

 

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