5 Bold Predictions for Los Angeles Kings in 2nd Half of 2013-14 Season
The Los Angeles Kings have gone 26-13-5 to earn 57 points through 44 games this season. A strong showing, but it's only good for fifth overall in the Western Conference.
The Kings have a lot of work to do to secure home-ice advantage in the postseason. The Anaheim Ducks are 12 points ahead of them and sit atop both the Pacific Division and Western Conference.
Who will step up for L.A.? Is the power play a lost cause?
Here are five bold predictions for the Kings in the second half of the 2013-14 campaign.
Stats courtesy of NHL.com.
5. The Power Play Will Improve
The Kings' power play is a huge disappointment. Operating at 15 percent, it ranks 24th in the NHL.
It was at its worst when Jeff Carter was injured. With one of the league's top snipers back in the lineup, it should continue to improve, but to what extent?
The unit will need more than Carter's quick release to work its way into the top 15. Dustin Brown had eight power-play goals in 48 games last season, but has just one in 44 games this season.
In general, L.A. must do a better job of generating quality scoring chances. That means Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov need to get more pucks through traffic. The forwards—such as Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Justin Williams—need to make better decisions with the puck down low.
With a combination of skill and grit, it's only a matter of time before the Kings' power play improves. After all, it was the 10th-best group in the NHL last season.
4. Anze Kopitar Will Hit the 30-Goal Mark
Anze Kopitar has always been the type of player who looks to pass first. The most goals he's scored in a season is 34, back in 2009-10.
This season, he's notched 13 goals in 44 games, meaning he's on pace for 24 in 82 games. Scoring at least 17 goals in his final 38 games is hardly out of the question.
Kopitar has the strength and skill to take the puck hard to the net, but it's something he doesn't do often enough. By utilizing his size and putting the puck on net more often—he's scored on 12 percent of his shots—Kopitar should reach the 30-goal mark for the third time in his career.
3. Tyler Toffoli Will Work His Way into the Calder Conversation
Tyler Toffoli was called up from the Manchester Monarchs because of injuries up front for L.A. He immediately made an impact.
Toffoli racked up eight points in his first seven games and has 17 points in 30 games this season. Although he's currently riding an eight-game pointless streak, he's still 12th in scoring among rookies. He's also played fewer games than each of the 11 players ahead of him.
Therefore, if Toffoli can break out of his slump and average around 0.70 points per game the rest of the way, he should easily work his way into the conversation for rookie of the year.
To do that, he will need to earn more power-play time and cash in on the chances Mike Richards and others give him.
2. Ben Scrivens Will Start More Often
Yes, Martin Jones—a rookie with no previous NHL experience—took over the Kings' net in recent weeks. Yes, Jonathan Quick is healthy and looking to return to form leading up to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
But don't count out Ben Scrivens down the stretch.
Scrivens has no trouble dealing with controversy or pressure, having spent a couple of seasons in the hockey-crazed city of Toronto.
The 27-year-old has been solid this season in his limited opportunities and ranks in the top four in the league in save percentage (.931), goals-against average (1.97) and shutouts (3).
If Quick struggles or the Kings go on another losing streak, Scrivens will step in and pick up where he left off.
1. The Kings Will Win the Pacific Division
It's a long shot, but with more than 30 games to go, it could happen.
The Kings are just three points back of the San Jose Sharks. The real challenge will be catching the Anaheim Ducks, who they trail by 12 points.
The good news is the Kings still have four games remaining against the Ducks, three of which are in L.A. They won their first showdown with the Ducks 3-2 in a shootout, thanks to Martin Jones stopping all nine shooters he faced.
Barring an Anaheim collapse, the Kings likely need to win three of those four games in regulation to have a chance at passing their California rivals.
Excellent goaltending and a strong forecheck will be the keys to winning those games, the most intriguing of which will be played at Dodger Stadium on January 25.