The Los Angeles Kings have put their early-season struggles far behind them and are now on a roll as the end of the regular season nears.
Strong performances from the likes of Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Slava Voynov and others have the Kings currently sitting fourth overall in the Western Conference.
For a team that has been playing at a fairly high level since mid-February, it’s hard to point to just one player as the main reason for their success. Similar to the Stanley Cup run last year, the Kings are getting contributions from up and down the lineup. However, unlike the playoff run, Jonathan Quick has not been at his best.
With that in mind, many fans will look at Jeff Carter as the Kings’ most valuable player thus far in 2013.
The 6'4", 210-pound forward has been a consistent factor on offense for the Kings and has appeared in all 39 games thus far. He is currently tied for third in the NHL with 23 goals and is first in game-winning goals with seven.
And yet, despite his goal total Carter is lacking in the assist department, having registered just five on the year. His 23 goals and five assists are numbers more reminiscent of the win/loss total of an MLB Cy Young winner than a hockey player’s stat line.
Carter's 28 points don’t rank among the league’s best, but he is third on the Kings, trailing only Kopitar (35 points) and Justin Williams (29 points).
Kopitar has played a crucial role offensively for the Kings this season, just as he has for many years. In fact, Kopitar has led the team in points in each of the past five seasons and, barring injury, should do so again this year.
Kopitar has taken home the Bill Libby Memorial Award (team MVP) in three of the last five years. While Carter won the Mark Bavis Memorial Award last season, as the team’s best newcomer.
As the likely frontrunners for the Bill Libby Award this year, Carter and Kopitar have done much more than just light the lamp. They are among the Kings’ top forwards in ice time, takeaways and have each taken a number of important faceoffs.
Both players boast a good mix of size and skill, which allows them to be effective both with and without the puck. Carter is viewed more as goal scorer with great hands in close, while Kopitar is known for his playmaking abilities.
With that in mind, perhaps what’s most intriguing is the Kings’ record when Carter scores, compared to when he doesn't. The Kings are 16-1-3 in games in which Carter scores at least one goal. In games he’s failed to score, they are a mere 6-12-1.
Also, Carter’s seven game-winning goals are four more than the next-best L.A. player, Jarret Stoll.
So while Kopitar is the Kings’ most talented player, Carter may be their most valuable, at least for now.
With nine games remaining the Kings are unlikely to catch the Anaheim Ducks for the Pacific Division lead and instead will look to secure the fourth seed.
And, regardless of who their most valuable player is now, the Kings will need a dominant performance in goal come playoff time if they hope to defend their title.