The Los Angeles Kings have not gotten off to a great start this season. At times, they've looked nothing like the team that made back-to-back trips to the Western Conference Final. What makes things more troublesome is the strong performances early on from other teams in the Pacific Division.
Fortunately, the season is just a month old.
Overall, their record is 9-5 and 3-2 versus divisional opponents, with just one of those three wins coming in regulation. That includes splitting their first two games with the Phoenix Coyotes.
For a team that was considered a favorite to win its first division crown since 1990-91, L.A. simply hasn't been consistent.
The Kings' average goals for (ranked 18th) and against (ranked 11th) are an identical 2.57 per game.
It took longer than 10 games into the season before any of the Kings' top three centers found the back of the net. Now, Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll each have two goals.
Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov also got off to slow starts. Not good for two defensemen who are expected to represent their countries in Sochi. Doughty has played better of late, with four points in his last five games.
Jonathan Quick has been average, with an 8-4-0 record, 2.56 goals-against average and .903 save percentage. If Quick can get back to dominating like he did in the playoffs, it could make a huge difference for the Kings as the season goes on.
The teams that could prevent them from winning a division title remain the same. The San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Vancouver Canucks have all shown that they're still among the top teams in the Western Conference.
10-1-2, 22 points, 1st in Pacific Division
The top team in the Western Conference has scored early and often this season. The Sharks currently lead the NHL with an average of 3.85 goals per game. Meanwhile, their goals-against average of 1.77 per game is tied for second-best in the league.
Their only regulation loss of the season was a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Boston Bruins. More importantly, they lost 4-3 in overtime to the Kings on Wednesday.
It was a closely contested game, with limited scoring chances for each team. L.A. edged out San Jose in shots 23-20. Kings center Anze Kopitar spoke with NHL.com correspondent Curtis Zupke about the game's intensity:
Probably the closest you can get to playoff hockey this time of the year. I thought it was a lot of intensity, a lot of hitting. As usual when we play these guys, whoever wins the special teams usually comes out on top. We did that tonight and got the two points.
If L.A. can begin to string together wins like the Sharks have early on, their remaining four games against the Sharks could have a huge effect on the division standings.
The Kings are now 11-0-1 at home versus the Sharks in their past 12 games. However, they host the Sharks just once more this season and will be on the road for the other three games.
10-3-1, 21 points, 2nd in Pacific Division
As always, the Ducks are led by Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, who each have 13 points in 14 games. The Ducks have also benefited from impressive netminding courtesy of Jonas Hiller and Frederik Andersen.
The Ducks' hot start has them second in the Western Conference.
However, their only game against a top-five team in the West was against the Avalanche, and they lost 6-1. We will have a better idea of where the Ducks stand in the Pacific once they've faced teams such as the Kings, Sharks and Canucks.
Until then, we're left with question marks. Was the Ducks' division title in 2012-13 due largely to a similar hot start in a shortened season or can they maintain their solid play over an 82-game stretch?
The Kings' first of five meetings with the Ducks is on December 3 in Anaheim.
9-5-1, 19 points, 3rd in Pacific Division
The least threatening of these three teams is the Canucks. While still a contender, they aren't the dominant team that came up just short of a Stanley Cup in 2011.
With that said, the top line featuring twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin alongside Ryan Kesler has been rolling of late. The Sedins have already combined for 33 points on the season.
In goal, Roberto Luongo has been good but not great, posting a 2.46 GAA, .909 save percentage and one shutout.
The Canucks should easily qualify for the postseason, but to win the division, they would need better goaltending from Loungo and more production from their second and third lines.
The Kings will play host to the Canucks on November 9.
Stats courtesy of NHL.com.
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