It took an entire NHL season — 2,460 games to be played — and it took the Anaheim Ducks beating the Washington Capitals in the final game of the 2015-16 NHL regular season for the Los Angeles Kings to get an opponent in the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Kings were in the hunt, even in command at times, for first place in the Pacific Division. However, a collapse in their final game of the season, a game where they led the Winnipeg Jets 3-0 and eventually lost 4-3 in a shootout, spelled demise for the Kings and left the window open for the Ducks. Anaheim pounced on the opportunity and beat the Capitals in the final game of the season, which gave the Ducks a total of 103 points, one point more than the Kings’ 102.
As the Ducks shot into first place in the Pacific Division, the Kings fell into second place and into a matchup with the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs. The next chapter in the California rivalry is set to get underway Thursday night with the first game of the opening round matchup between Los Angeles and San Jose.
As the Kings move into their fourth playoff meeting with the Sharks in the last six years, here are three Kings storylines to watch develop as the round takes shape.
1. A Familiar Face Stands in the Kings’ Way
When the Kings take the ice for their first game of the playoffs, an old friend will stand in the way. More specifically, that familiar face will be standing in the blue paint for the Sharks.
Martin Jones played in 34 games for the Kings over the course of the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons and played a vital role in stepping in, along with Ben Scrivens, when Jonathan Quick went down with an injury during the 2013-14 season. Jones’ play kept the Kings in the playoff hunt in a season they went on to win the Cup.
Set to become a free agent at the end of 2014-15 season, Los Angeles traded Jones, a prospect and a draft pick at that year’s draft to the Boston Bruins in return for Milan Lucic.
Before the dust had settled on the trade with the Kings, the Bruins had shipped Jones back to California, but to Northern California to become the starter for the Sharks. In San Jose, Jones played 65 games this season and went 37-23-4 while posting a 2.27 goals-against average and .918 save percentage over the course of the season.
In games against the Kings this season, Jones has gone 3-1-1 while posting a .912 save percentage and a 2.60 GAA.
However, if Jones stumbles out of the gates or head coach Pete DeBoer doesn’t like how Jones is playing, the Sharks have a more than capable backup in James Reimer. Since the start of 2016, Jones has posted an even-strength save percentage of .931, while Reimer has posted a .928 in the same time.
2. Drew Doughty’s Workload
It is no secret who the workhorse is on the Kings. Drew Doughty is looked to in almost every situation for Los Angeles and comes through for the Kings just about every time his number is called.
Over the course of the 2015-16 season, Doughty eclipsed the 30 minutes played mark 18 times, 31 minutes played 10 times, 32 minutes played four times, 33 minutes played once and broke 35 minutes-played barrier once as well. Only Ryan Suter and Erik Karlsson finished with a higher average time on ice than Doughty’s 28:01 this season. Expect to see much of the same for Doughty once the puck drops on the playoffs.
As a matter of fact, the last three times the Kings have made the playoffs, Doughty’s average time on ice has increased every year. In 2012, Doughty averaged 26:09, in 2013, his average jumped to 27:57 and in 2014, Doughty topped off at 28:45.
In those years, Doughty has had a defender to share the workload. Players like Robyn Regehr, Willie Mitchell and Slava Voynov are gone, Rob Scuderi has gotten older and it is now Doughty’s team to carry the team for about 30 minutes a night.
3. Will the Kings’ Stars Shine?
Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, Milan Lucic, Doughty and Quick are all elite players at their position and the playoffs are where players of their caliber have to write their legacy.
Kopitar led the Kings in scoring for the ninth straight season, Carter set a new career high in assists with 38 and matched his 62-point total from last season, despite playing five fewer games this season. Toffoli led the NHL in plus/minus with a plus-35 and set career highs in goals (31) assists (27) and points (58). Lucic had an 11-point spike from the 44 points he put up in Boston last year. Doughty finished the season with nine power-play goals and Quick finished with the second highest win total in the NHL.
The firepower is obviously there for the Kings. Now it has to translate into the postseason for Los Angeles. However, no longer do the Kings’ stars have the cushion of an 82-game season. A cold streak could cost your team a shot at the Cup, while a hot streak could propel the Kings to a third Stanley Cup in five years.
But it all starts with the big guns up top in order for the Kings to be successful in the first round and anything past that.
They have to perform.