5 Keys for Los Angeles Kings to Finish Strong in 2013-14 NHL Regular Season
The Los Angeles Kings clinched a playoff spot and are locked in as the third seed in the Pacific Division. The only question is, who will they face in the first round?
Although their next two games against Calgary and Edmonton won't influence their playoff position, the Kings must stay motivated. A final showdown with the Anaheim Ducks on April 12 could determine whether the Kings play the Ducks or San Jose Sharks in the playoffs.
With that said, here's a look at the five keys to the Kings finishing strong this season.
Get Mike Richards Going
When will Mike Richards get out of his funk?
The 29-year-old center is enduring one of the worst stretches of his professional career and has been stuck on the fourth line for weeks.
He hasn't recorded a point in six games and has just two goals and no assists in his past 15 contests. And, overall, this has been statistically the worst campaign since his rookie year.
The Kings have thrived in the past couple years when Richards and Jeff Carter team up on the second line. Not only can the pair provide secondary scoring, it backchecks and defends effectively every shift.
L.A. will need Richards to play at a higher level in the postseason if it hopes to make another deep run.
For a while during their recent win streak, the Kings established some consistency on offense, averaging more than three goals per game. They've since lost three of four, scoring just four goals in those losses.
Taking advantage of their power-play opportunities could make a huge difference. L.A. ranks 23rd in the NHL with a power-play percentage of 15.6, but if that number was closer to 20 percent this season, the Kings could have been fighting for the division title right now.
With the addition of Marian Gaborik, L.A. has gained a lethal weapon on the man advantage. It also takes some pressure off Dustin Brown and Mike Richards.
A single power-play goal in addition to strong play at even strength should be enough to get past the bottom-dwelling Flames and Oilers. It could also be crucial against the Ducks in a game that's sure to have a playoff-type atmosphere.
Slava Voynov Stepping Up
On April 5 against the Vancouver Canucks, Slava Voynov did something he hasn't done since November. He scored a goal. The 24-year-old defenseman has just four on the season. In 18 playoff games last year he racked up six goals.
Voynov is a highly skilled, dynamic blueliner who doesn't necessarily get the recognition he would on other teams because he plays behind Drew Doughty.
Voynov has honed his defensive skills and has shown he can play well over 20 minutes per game; now he must step up offensively.
The Oilers and Flames both have holes on defense, which Voynov could expose on the rush or by pinching in down low.
The Kings will face some of the NHL's most exciting forwards in the coming week, including Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Mike Cammalleri.
On that note, they must continue to do what they've done throughout the season: win the puck possession battle and play aggressive, shutdown defense in their own end.
In particular the third line—centered by Jarret Stoll—must continue to work to win the small battles in all three zones. The blueliners must keep the opposition's stars to the outside and put themselves in the shooting lanes to block shots.
If the Kings can hold their opponents to 25 shots, Jonathan Quick and Martin Jones should handle the rest.
Matt Greene plays every shift like it's his last, regardless of whether it's a preseason game or the Stanley Cup Final. This is the mentality the rest of the team must have as it finishes the regular season.
The Kings have been a streaky team this year and it's important they head into the playoffs on a high note, even if their final games won't change their position in the standings.
This means keeping the regular lineup intact and maintaining the usual playing time for these players. This includes Jonathan Quick, who should start in two of the three games.
While the Kings have many players who have won a Stanley Cup, they are still a very young team. Getting into a playoff mindset now should help when the real thing starts next week.
Stats courtesy of NHL.com.