It feels dirty to say that we are nearing the halfway point of the 2013 NHL season already. However, yes, that's the truth. The Los Angeles Kings are nearing game 24, which is the official halfway point for this 48-game season.
There have been plenty of talking points, surprise performers, slumps, injuries, and great plays this season already throughout the league. It's really a shame that it's only going to last for 24 more games.
The Kings, the defending champions, came into the year with more pressure and anticipation on them than any other season in history. As the defending Stanley Cup champions, won in historically dominant fashion, everyone was expecting more of the same.
What we got to start the year was the much talked about, and often-predicted "Stanley Cup Hangover."
The team started the year 3-5-2 in its first 10 games and resembled the mid-season Kings of 2011-12. The team was unable to score, had trouble on the powerplay, and looked in a funk. Again though, just like in late 2011-12, LA was buoyed by the play of young talent like Slava Voynov, Jake Muzzin, and the sniper Jeff Carter.
Soon enough the team turned it around, crawled out of the basement, and has now put up a 10-3-0 record since that slow start.
The play of the youth and Jeff Carter, once the only thing keeping LA afloat, was fortified by the late appearances of the stars of the cast.
Anze Kopitar had seven points over his first 10 games with four goals and three assists. He's been on a tear and is scoring at over a point per game pace now with 15 points in his last 13 games.
Justin Williams has nine points in his last eight games, Dustin Penner has points in five straight, Mike Richards has 11 points in 11 games and Drew Doughty has turned a league worst minus-10 rating into a minus-2. The team as a whole is putting together offensive numbers that will make people forget about the 2011-12 offense, and the start to the 2013 season.
They have crawled into the top-10 in the league in goals-per-game, the 5-on-5 scoring is fourth in the league, and the power play is floating around mid-table. Not to be forgotten, the penalty kill is also mid-table, and the goals against per game is at eleventh overall.
The young players who were playing so well early on have continued to grow and emerge. Slava Voynov is riding high and impressing many people around the league as he has 17 points in 24 games, which is leading the team's defensemen and is currently in the top-10 in points amongst all NHL defensemen.
Jacob Muzzin, a young emerging star has 10 points in 22 games and is third amongst rookie defensemen in scoring. His plus-11 rating is the also tops in the league amongst rookies.
Jeff Carter is in a race for the Rocket Richard trophy with 17 goals, and in terms of goaltending, the team is starting to find some consistency with Jonathan Quick and also getting solid starts form backup Jonathan Bernier.
There are a lot of things that could explain the slow start. Certainly the Stanley Cup hangover is a bit of a real thing, seeing as it has reared its head on a few of the past champions.
The lockout probably had a lot of players wavering on their training, traveling to Europe to play, and playing in leagues that aren't exactly NHL caliber. Coming into this season not sharp was almost expected. Key injuries to leaders Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell also spelled trouble for the team, as the depth was tested early on.
While the performances early on were absolutely awful, and many fans were moaning, groaning and already counting the team out, the biggest take away is the bounce-back. As always with the King's, their bounce-back ability is not to be doubted.
With their backs against the wall in a sprint season, LA turned around a bad start and made it into a very solid first half. If the current results hold in game 24 (up 2-0 on Calgary in the first) the Kings will finish the first half with the 8th most points in the league, and a fourth place spot in the Western Conference.
You'd obviously want to see a better start for the squad, but you cannot argue with the result so far, nor can you argue with the coaching of Darryl Sutter, which continues to be a huge factor in the attitude of the team.
Everything is on track for the Kings to make some noise in the second half of the year and the postseason.
Overall first-half grade: B+
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