With seven wins in their last eight games, the Los Angeles Kings continue their climb up the Western Conference standings. But even with their strong play, there are still questions and storylines developing in L.A.
Some players are thriving at both ends of the rink, while others are having trouble playing up to the standard they set for themselves in previous years. Goaltending certainly isn't an issue, but which goaltender will lead the way going forward?
The Kings are a talented, disciplined team that should have a great shot at hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2014. And, it certainly wouldn't hurt to have home ice for a couple of rounds in the playoffs.
With that in mind, here are some L.A. storylines that won't go away as the 2013-14 season continues.
The Kings face a problem any hockey team would be thrilled to encounter. They have three goaltenders who have, or currently are, playing at an elite level.
There's Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick—who remains sidelined with a groin injury. Ben Scrivens—who was dominant immediately after Quick went down. And Martin Jones, a 23-year-old rookie who made his NHL debut stopping all nine attempts in a shootout win vs. the Anaheim Ducks, before winning each of his next five games.
It seems like there is the potential for what many like to call a "goaltending controversy." But this is unique in that L.A. has one experienced, Stanley Cup-winning goalie and two inexperienced netminders who have yet to play in the playoffs.
So, when Quick is healthy, he will no doubt return to the role of starter. However, the question is: Will he be as consistently brilliant in goal as Scrivens and Jones have been in his absence?
It's a question that will linger even if he puts together a string of good performances. All it will take is one bad game—or even an average game—and fans will be left wondering when Darryl Sutter will turn to one of his backups.
Born out of injuries to a number of regulars up front is the story of the youth movement in L.A.
Tyler Toffoli, Linden Vey and Tanner Pearson have all played a significant chunk of games this season with varying degrees of success.
Tanner Pearson notched one goal in six games and was recently sent back down to the AHL's Manchester Monarchs. Linden Vey has appeared in 14 games and has yet to score but does have five assists.
Tyler Toffoli has been very impressive in 21 appearances. The 21-year-old ranks seventh on the Kings with 15 points (eight goals, seven assists), despite playing 14 fewer games than most players. He's playing so well it's hard to imagine L.A. without him in the lineup.
If he continues to contribute offensively and limit his mistakes in the defensive zone, he will earn more ice time and could play a prominent role down the stretch and in the postseason.
As for Pearson and Vey, their appearances will likely be based on the health of other forwards. That said, if some third or fourth line players start to struggle, why not call Pearson back up and give Vey some more playing time?
For the Kings to make a long playoff run, Dustin Brown will need to turn it up offensively.
His slow start to the 2013-14 campaign was attributed to a nagging hamstring injury he suffered in training camp. He's returned to playing the role of a pesky power forward, but he continues to struggle to score.
Brown has just seven goals and 13 points in 35 games this season. That puts him on pace for just 27 points, which would be his lowest total in a season in which he's played at least 40 games.
No one can question Dustin Brown's leadership or the physical impact he has each night. But, for a player set to enter the first year of an eight-year, $47 million contract, Brown needs to put his name on the scoresheet on a consistent basis.
The Kings have had fairly consistent line combinations in the past. But this season they've been changed so often by choice and because of injuries it's become a key storyline.
When the season started, it was Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams on the top line. The second line featured newcomer Matt Frattin playing alongside Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.
In recent games, the top line has consisted of Kopitar at center, Carter on the right side and Dwight King on the left. The second line has included Brown and Williams on the wings with Jarret Stoll at center. Meanwhile, Mike Richards has centered a successful third line with youngsters Tyler Toffoli and Kyle Clifford.
These changes bring up a couple of questions. Will Brown and Williams return to the top line soon? How long will Richards and Carter—who've played together since their Flyers days—be apart? Not to mention the fourth line, which seems to change each game.
Remember, while the Kings keep winning, they aren't scoring a lot of goals. When they play a team like the Blackhawks, the Kings are going to have to score three or four times to have a chance to win. Don't be surprised if Darryl Sutter continues to change things up in search of just a little more offense.
The Kings first and only division title came in 1990-91 when Wayne Gretzky was leading the team.
The "Triple Crown Line" made numerous trips to the playoffs but could never secure a title in the competitive Norris and Smythe Divisions. And, neither could the current team even though they won the Stanley Cup in 2011-12 and returned to the conference final last season.
Realignment doesn't make this task any easier. The Pacific Division—with its three teams from California and the newly added Vancouver Canucks—is clearly the best in the NHL.
Yes, the Kings have had success in the postseason. But now they must focus on making their Cup chase a little easier by earning home ice advantage. Of their seven playoff series the past two years, they've only had home ice in one of them.
Will their strong team defense and spectacular goaltending hold up throughout the second half of the season? If it does they should finish on top of the Pacific for the first time.