Los Angeles Kings' 5 Biggest Questions in Final Month of 2013-14 Season
The Los Angeles Kings are quickly making up for their horrendous performance leading up to the Olympic break, when they lost nine of 11 games.
They've looked like a different team in the weeks since Sochi, winning seven consecutive games in regulation.
With just 16 games remaining in the 2013-14 season, is there any chance the Kings will pass the Sharks in the Pacific Division? Will the offense continue its upward swing?
These and other questions must be asked as the Kings enter the stretch run.
Stats courtesy of NHL.com.
Will Drew Doughty Contend for the Norris Trophy?
Drew Doughty is having an impressive campaign. He's averaging more than 25 minutes per game, playing in all game situations and has been a key leader for the Kings.
However, because of his stats—he ranks tied for 24th among defensemen in points—he isn't getting the same attention as say, Erik Karlsson or Duncan Keith.
Considering Doughty is playing on a team that sits 25th in goals for and he has a plus-19 rating, he deserves to get the same recognition as his Eastern counterparts.
Not to mention he has been a force defensively. He's rarely caught out of position, he puts himself into shooting lanes (71 blocked shots) and has a major physical impact (154 hits).
And, while the Olympics aren't factored into the Norris Trophy picture, Doughty was the best blueliner in the entire tournament, dominating at both ends of the rink.
How Good Is the Goaltending?
Jonathan Quick had a stretch earlier in the season where he was playing good, but not great. Meanwhile, Martin Jones has stepped up and has been nothing but spectacular in his rookie campaign.
Jonathan Quick: 21-13-2, .917 save percentage, 2.02 goals-against average and four shutouts.
Martin Jones: 10-4-0, .933 save percentage, 1.89 goals-against average and three shutouts.
With that said, Quick is rolling now having allowed six goals in his past six starts and recording a save percentage below .943 in just one of those games.
General manager Dean Lombardi showed how confident he was in Quick when he traded Jonathan Bernier. This season he showed how confident he was rolling with Quick and Jones when he traded Ben Scrivens.
Quick is rounding into MVP form at the perfect time and appears poised to carrying the Kings deep into the playoffs once again. Should he get injured, we will find out very quickly how good Jones can be under immense pressure.
How Will Marian Gaborik Fit In?
Marian Gaborik has been playing on the Kings' top line with Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams and is averaging more than 16:30 per game in ice time. However, he has been held off the scoresheet recording a plus-one rating and seven shots in three games.
The key here is patience.
Given more time to develop chemistry with his linemates, Gaborik should become a lethal offensive weapon. At 32, the Slovakian star still has great offensive vision and the quick release that helped him top the 40-goal mark three times in his career.
During his time in Minnesota and New York, Gaborik played alongside a number of skilled playmakers including Vinny Prospal, Mikko Koivu and the late Pavol Demitra. But, Anze Kopitar may be the most dynamic player he's played with.
These two have the potential to become one of the better duos in the Western Conference. Watch for Kopitar to start setting Gaborik up with some perfectly timed passes, which should lead to a lot of scoring chances.
Will the Offense Catch Fire?
The offense is already beginning to improve.
Since the Olympic break the Kings have averaged 3.28 goals per game. Their average on the season is 2.36 goals per game. The power play is also showing signs of improvement, contributing three goals in the past four games.
The key is setting up players like Jeff Carter and as previously mentioned, Marian Gaborik. The Kings work hard on the forecheck, they can establish and maintain the zone and get pucks to the net with ease. But, creating quality chances has been a problem throughout the year.
Finding open spaces for the team's top snipers and crashing the net has, and will continue to be the way the Kings have success down the stretch and in the postseason.
Where Will the Kings Finish in the West?
The Kings currently sit third in the Pacific Division with 16 games to play in the 2013-14 season.
Remember, under the new playoff format the top team in each division takes on a wild-card team, while the second and third seed in each division play each other. It appears the Kings and Sharks are on a crash course to meet in the playoffs again. And, odds are it will be the Sharks who secure home-ice advantage.
While the Kings are on fire of late, so too are the Sharks having gone 7-2-1 in their past 10 games. The two teams will meet one last time on April 3 in San Jose. L.A. is 3-0-1 against the Sharks this season, with one win coming in overtime.