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The Kings haven’t had to change to turn around early struggles

Jared Clinton
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Drew Doughty celebrates with Anze Kopitar and Tyler Toffoli (Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

News

The Kings haven’t had to change to turn around early struggles

Jared Clinton
By:

Los Angeles has rattled off five straight victories and are looking like the Kings of old. By dominating the puck possession game and limiting scoring chances, the Kings have snapped their early season slump and look like one of the West’s toughest teams again.

Three games into the season, the Los Angeles Kings hadn’t come close to winning a game. The Kings had mustered just two goals for, allowed 12 against and there was some talk that coach Darryl Sutter could be on the hot seat. Fast forward nearly two weeks and the Kings are looking like the team many considered a Cup contender before the season began.

Since dropping their third straight game to start the year — a 3-0 loss at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks — the Kings have rattled off five straight victories and they’ve won in every way imaginable. They scraped out a 2-1 overtime victory over the Minnesota Wild, beat down the San Jose Sharks 4-1 and shutout the Carolina Hurricanes. They’ve had close calls, big saves and timely scoring. Now, all of a sudden, the Kings are atop the Pacific Division after eight games.

There’s still a lot of hockey to be played, but Los Angeles is looking every bit the powerhouse they were expected to be. And after their Stanley Cup hangover that saw them miss the post-season in 2014-15, it’s hard to imagine this Kings team isn’t bound for big things this season.

Through eight games, only three teams have been as suffocating defensively as the Kings, who have allowed a mere 47 shot attempts against per game. And even though the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils have allowed fewer shot attempts against early this season, no club other than the St. Louis Blues has been able to be as strong at both ends of the ice. At 5-on-5 this season, the Kings (56.7) rank second only to the Blues (58.1) in shot attempts for percentage.

That level of puck possession has been the hallmark of the Kings over the past five seasons and has been the exact style of play which Los Angeles has ridden to two Stanley Cups in the past four seasons. Since 2010-11, the Kings has posted a league-best 54.8 shot attempts for percentage. Pieces have come in and out of the roster, but the system has remained the same and Sutter’s Los Angeles teams have worked it to perfection.

Once the group finally began to gel this year, too, things have really looked up for the Kings. Since struggling to find the back of the net early in the year, Los Angeles has managed 14 goals in its past five victories while allowing just five against. They’ve quickly reversed what was once an abysmal minus-11 goal differential to come within a goal of even. And if it weren’t for the white hot Montreal Canadiens and high-flying Washington Capitals, it’d be hard to argue there’s a team in the league hotter right now than the Kings.

One big reason for the turnaround has been that production is finally coming from the Kings’ top scorers. Three games into the year, Anze Kopitar, Tanner Pearson and Milan Lucic were nowhere to be found.

Lucic, the big off-season acquisition, appeared to be having trouble finding his fit in Hollywood. Not the case anymore, as he’s rattled off one goal and five points in his last five outings. Kopitar started the win-streak with an overtime-winner against Minnesota and has found the back of the net three times since the early-season struggle. Pearson has chipped in a goal and two points. And if things couldn’t be going better, second-line center Jeff Carter is leading the team with three goals and seven points, while youngster Tyler Toffoli is looking like he could be a 30-goal threat this season.

Even goaltender Jonathan Quick’s play has been promising. After struggling in each of the past two regular seasons, Quick has a 5-on-5 save percentage of .934. That’s much closer to his stellar 2011-12 campaign than his mediocre numbers in 2013-14 and 2014-15. One big factor in Quick’s play is that the Kings have been limiting big scoring chances against. Los Angeles has allowed only 61 prime scoring opportunities, which is the ninth-fewest in the NHL, according to War-On-Ice.

Best of all, the Kings are currently operating with a PDO — combined 5-on-5 shooting and save percentages — of 97.9. Over the course of the past five seasons in Sutter’s system, Los Angeles’ PDO has been 99.8. That’s to say the Kings haven’t yet played their best hockey, yet they’re rattled off five straight victories.

There’s no post-season guarantee for the Kings and Los Angeles went on win streaks of six- and eight-games and still missed the playoffs in 2014-15. But for a team that struggled out of the gate, things are already heading in the right direction for Sutter and his Kings.

(All advanced statistics via War-On-Ice)

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The Kings haven’t had to change to turn around early struggles