5 Biggest Reasons Los Angeles Kings Should Be Confident About 2013 Playoffs
This time, it's as the defending champion.
One of the big factors in the Kings' 2012 run was the confidence they played with. There was no doubting their game, their team or themselves.
As the season winds down, they definitely have a lot of things that they should be confident about moving forward and there are a lot of similarities to last year's team. Whether the result is the same or not has yet to be decided, but there are definitely some reasons they should feel good heading into the playoffs.
It's another season where the Kings have been a brick wall at the back end. For the fourth straight campaign, they have found themselves in or around the top 10 in defensive categories like goals against, shots against and penalty killing.
It is a bit cliché to always be hearing "defense wins championships," but when you look at the list of champions and remember the Kings from last year, it's a reality.
The team has played solid defense with the absences of veteran leaders Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene as well. Greene has played in two contests since returning from injury. As he gets more games under his belt and new addition Robyn Regehr gets comfortable, this back line may be even better than its 2012 counterpart.
The Kings have been lights out at home this season.
With only four regulation losses on home ice this season, it doesn't just put them among the top of the Western Conference. It puts them towards the top of the league. Only San Jose (one), Ottawa (three) and Chicago (three) have fewer home regulation losses this season.
If the Kings can nab home-ice advantage it would be phenomenal considering how they take care of business in their own arena.
Also, although it might not be a huge factor, after last year's good showing by Kings fans, they are slowly becoming a legitimate sixth man and making Staples Center one of the league's hardest buildings to play in.
Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty Are Starting to Heat Up
Kopitar, like many others on the team, was sluggish to start off the year. However, after a torrid late February and early March, Kopitar has essentially busted the slump.
The young center has eight points in his last 10 games and has been playing some phenomenal two-way hockey. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Kopitar, though, is his recent dominance in the faceoff circle.
Kopitar hasn't always been great on the draw. Back in 2010-11, he was under 50 percent, which is low for a team's top center. However, over the past two seasons, Kopitar has turned a corner and is winning almost 55 percent of his draws and taking the majority of the team's faceoffs.
He's also better than 50 percent on short-handed draws, which will be essential in the big moments of key playoff games.
Doughty, who up until about two weeks ago had just a solitary goal on the season, has regained his confidence. He has seven points in his last nine games, including five goals.
His improved presence on the power play and at even strength will be a welcome sight for the Kings faithful, who haven't seen him this hot all season.
In the 2012 postseason, the Kings got significant production from their third and fourth lines. This year, it's been a bit of a struggle for them.
However, they have some players who have been on pace for fantastic years.
Trevor Lewis, who had two key goals in the deciding game of the Stanley Cup Final, would currently be on pace for a career best in all categories. The same can be said for Kyle Clifford, who has been a handful on the fourth line for many teams, and blue-line newcomer Jake Muzzin.
Muzzin, who didn't play a single game of the 2011-12 regular season, has had a tremendous 2013 and is third in defensive scoring amongst rookies. Also, sophomore defenseman Slava Voynov should be more comfortable this time around, as he looked a bit like a deer in headlights during the 2012 postseason.
Don't forget veteran center Jarret Stoll, who, in this shortened season, is already just four points shy of his entire 2011-12 total.
They've Been There Before
Getting to the dance was half the battle this season. The Kings can now go into the 2013 playoffs with a bit of swagger and confidence, knowing they've done this before.
Belief. Swagger. Confidence.
It all matters. This Kings team is essentially the same as the 2012 cup roster, and now it has big-time experience to go with it.
Teams are not going to be taking the Kings lightly, of course. There is going to be a thought planted in every player's mind that this is the group that wrecked the top seeds of 2012 and put together one of the most dominant runs in recent history. Don't think for a second that the opposing teams won't remember that.
On the flip side, the Kings will feel that repeating as champs is a distinct possibility.