I wasn't a huge hockey fan when the Kings were actually making the postseason, nor did I get to witness the Gretzky saga. But I have been around long enough to hear about the potential and talent the Kings had, just to witness the team dwell in the basement of the West.
Now I'm not saying the recent Kings teams should have been Cup contenders, but for a few years now, the hockey world has been waiting for the Kings to breakout—and to quote those NHL commercials , it looks like "this is the year."
Last year, I thought the Kings would be in the playoffs. I didn't have huge expectations, but early on, the tandem of LaBarbera and Ersberg was looking like the real deal, and the Kings had a 10-9-3 record at the end of November. [Nifty site to see records on past dates]. Not stellar, but they were looking pretty good, hovering around the 10 spot in the Western Conference.
After that, the inevitable drop came. LaBarbera (whose form really declined) was shipped off to the Canucks and the hopes of a playoff berth were slipping away. But with the eyes on prospect Jonathan Bernier, it was another Jonathan that stepped into the spotlight— rookie goaltender Jonathan Quick.
Quick became the new starting goaltender and posted a respectable .914 save percentage and a 21-18-2 record. It was looking like with a few tweaks, this team could be dangerous.
After trading Kyle Quincey, Tom Preissing, and a fifth round pick for Ryan Smyth, signing free agent Rob Scuderi from the Penguins, and having a healthy Jack Johnson, and the Kings are looking good—really good. Not only now, but for the future, as they selected Brayden Schenn from the Brandon Wheat Kings in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
There were question marks surrounding Quick. Could he avoid the sophomore slump?
Well, Quick answered his critics and has established himself as an elite goalie in the league. His numbers aren't astonishing , but he has played a huge role in helping the Kings to where they are now—first in the Western Conference.
Now, teams do have games in hand on them, but the Kings have been rolling. And when they get Simmonds and Smyth back from injury, there is no reason they can't keep playing this well. Only time will tell if they can hold off the stacked San Jose Sharks for the top spot in the Pacific.
Anze Kopitar has cooled down since he was the league leader in points early in the season, and it's looking like he is missing the injured Ryan Smyth.
Smyth's impact on the team was questionable when he was acquired, but his attitude and all the little things he does—such as drive to the net and play a tough all around game‚—make him a great asset on this team. It is not surprising to see Anze struggle without his veteran right winger.
No matter where the Kings finish, all they need to do is make the postseason. Look at the Penguins, two years ago, they were a very good team who couldn't get by the Senators the year after a tough Cup final loss to the Detroit Red Wings. The year after that, Crosby's got some bling.
I usually laugh off postseason experience arguments, but I think for a very young, very promising team, a long postseason run would be nice, but not needed.
This team will be around for awhile.