NHL 2010-11: Will Anze Kopitar and LA Kings Walk to Pacific Division Title?

Randy HoltContributor INovember 9, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 04:  Anze Kopitar #11 of the Los Angeles Kings reacts after taking a hit against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Staples Center on November 4, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

It's still early, as evident by Dallas' spot in the top eight in the West, but the Kings look ready to make the leap from talented team to title contender in 2010-2011.  Though they stand as the No. 2 seed through just 13 games, their roster and the shortcomings of the other teams in their division look to have them set to take their division for the first time since the '90-'91 season.

For the Kings, it starts at the back end.  Jonathan Quick has been unbelievable in net for LA, winning eight of his first nine starts, while posting a fantastic .942 save percentage.  His backup has been no slouch either.  Jonathan Bernier has been about as good as you can hope a backup tender to be, with a 2.26 goals against average.

It helps when you have one of the best young defensemen in the league playing in front of you, in Drew Doughty.  Doughty has missed some time, playing in just seven games, but will still be a force back there when he gets healthy.  The Kings have another up-and-comer on the blue line, in Jack Johnson, who has nine points on the season, followed by several solid role players, including Rob Scuderi.

The Kings have spent a lot of time developing their forward lines, and have added a solid mix of veterans as well.  Captain Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar represent the core of Los Angeles and have performed well early, combining for 20 points in the early going.  Wayne Simmonds is another youngster with star potential, after posting 40 points in 2009-2010, just his second season.

Justin Williams has been the most impressive of the vets early on.  After scoring just 29 points for the Kings in 2009-10, Williams is off to a hot start, with 14, including six goals.  Ryan Smyth, nearing his 1,000th career game, has also been adding points to the stat sheet, with nine and putting up a very good plus-8.  Michael Handzus brings the brawn to the forward lines, centering the checking line between Simmonds and Alexei Ponikarovsky.

As far as the Kings stacking up against teams in their own division, the outlook is positive for this young squad.  Dallas and Anaheim are virtually ignored as feasible threats, with San Jose and Phoenix hanging around in early season slumps.

The Sharks still pose the biggest threat to LA.  They have some of the best forwards in the business, and a better-than-average D.  However, their goaltending might be their undoing, with a pair of new netminders.  Antero Niitymaki has been solid early, but how long can he really keep that going?  Former Blackhawk Antti Niemi has been a major disappointment in the first month, losing four of his first five starts.

Last year's Cinderella story, the Phoenix Coyotes, don't appear to be much of a threat early, with some of last year's magic seemingly fading.  They have possibly the best goaltending in the division, in Ilya Bryzgalov, but have struggled with injury early.  When healthy, they are one of the fastest teams in the league and a threat to any team they face.

The early season woes within their own division gives the Kings a chance to jump out to a quick lead.  This is a team built for the future and it was only a matter of time before it all came together like it appears to have this season.  If their hot start is any indication, this is a team that is going to rival the league's best, even if and when San Jose and Phoenix wake up from their October slumber.