5 Questions Facing the LA Kings in the 2nd Half of the NHL Season
Some of the questions that were asked at the beginning of the year, like "Will Jonathan Quick be healthy?" or "Will the team have a Stanley Cup hangover?" have been answered. Now, at the beginning of the end of the season, a new set of questions arises.
With the Kings sitting six points clear of the drop zone and a ton of divisional opponents upcoming, some really crucial questions are inevitable in the near future.
Do the Kings Move Any Players at the Deadline?
It's hard to break up a winning formula, and right now the Kings have one.
However, with considerable youth and inexperience in several key positions on defense, you have to wonder if the team would be interested in moving on a veteran stay-at-home defenseman.
With injuries playing a key factor in losing veterans Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell, the intense load down the stretch and in the playoffs could be an interesting journey for young players like Jake Muzzin and Keaton Ellerby.
The Kings also have some contracts coming up to players such as Rob Scuderi, Dustin Penner and the infrequently used Brad Richardson and Davis Drewiske. With a wealth of young restricted free agents (Slava Voynov, Alec Martinez, Muzzin, Trevor Lewis, Jordan Nolan, Ellerby) coming up, the Kings might need to move some money out if they plan on keeping all of them.
However, it looks like the Kings will be buyers and not sellers at this time.
Are Greene and Mitchell Going to Return?
It was pretty much already stated that Matt Greene would be out for the season with back surgery, but he's made some great progress and could possibly be in for the start of the playoffs.
Willie Mitchell, on the other hand, has been in a completely baffling situation. Multiple setbacks have prevented the veteran from making any significant progress on a nagging knee injury.
At Mitchell's age, it's best not to rush things. But considering it was an injury suffered in the fall of 2012, one could start wondering if he will get to play in the black and silver again. A recovery and postseason appearance by either Mitchell or Greene would be incredibly helpful to a Kings defense corps that is very young and letting in a few more goals compared to last year.
Is Quick Going to Find His Form?
This is perhaps the biggest question and the most significant one regarding the team's success.
Quick has been a mixed bag this season. On the season, Quick is 10-8-2, with a 2.56 goals-against average and a rather shaky .896 save percentage.
Consistency has been the biggest issue, because in Quick's past five starts, he's had a 27-save shutout performance against Phoenix and a one-goal against, 24-save performance against Calgary, coupled with three games in which his save percentage was below .900 and two in which he allowed four or more goals.
Luckily for the Kings, Jonathan Bernier has been lights-out, posting a 7-2-0 record with a .923 save percentage and a 1.94 goals-against average. Those numbers are good enough for seventh and fourth overall in the league amongst goaltenders.
However, with a 10-year contract and a team that will want good goaltending down the stretch, the question of whether or not the reigning Conn Smythe winner can get back to his best still remains.
Can Jeff Carter Keep Up His Scoring Pace?
Jeff Carter is having a monster season in the goal column this year. His 18 goals are tied for second best in the league, just three behind league leader Steven Stamkos.
Carter, 28, was acquired last year from the Blue Jackets for his goal-scoring prowess. He has absolutely delivered in 2013. If this were an 82-game season Carter would currently be on pace for 50 goals.
He's been a huge cog in the Kings offense, as six of those goals have been game-winners, which is best in the league.
Will he keep up his pace in the second half and continue to fight for the Rocket Richard Trophy? It would be nice to have a Kings player win such a prestigious award, but it would be even nicer for him to keep scoring because he's been so key for the team thus far.
Will They Make the Playoffs?
Even though they are currently six points into a playoff spot with games in hand on a few teams below them, it's not a dumb question.
It is the wild, wild West for a reason, and in this final handful of games, a small slump could kill you. The Kings are sitting in fantastic position, but nothing is safe, and I'm sure they know that.
They have some incredibly difficult games coming up, including two against the red-hot Anaheim Ducks, one against the league-leading Chicago Blackhawks and a difficult Midwest swing coming up at the end of March and beginning of April that will see them play seven of nine on the road.
Also, nine of the remaining games are against divisional opponents, which could be absolutely crucial because those essentially turn into four-point swing games.
They are in now, but absolutely nothing is set in stone.