After Saturday’s tough 4-3 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets, the Los Angeles Kings waited on pins and needles for the outcome of the Anaheim Ducks’ season finale against the Washington Capitals. A regulation or overtime loss to the Capitals would give Los Angeles its first division title since the 1990-91 season. along with a first-round matchup against the Nashville Predators. A win of any kind would clinch the division for Anaheim.
As we all know, the latter happened. The Ducks took down Washington 2-0, snatching the division crown from the Kings’ grasp and sending them into a series against divisional foe San Jose. It’s familiar territory, as this will be the fourth time they have squared off during the playoffs in the last six seasons.
To be sure, being aced out for the division by their hated rivals stings. But cheer up, Kings fans: this has been a season for the books.
The Kings Are in the Midst of their Prime
When Kings general manager Dean Lombardi moved his chips to the middle of the table by trading for Milan Lucic this past offseason, it was an all-in play to capitalize on a wide-open championship window. Despite the previous season’s disappointing finish, the team still had a franchise center (Anze Kopitar), franchise defenseman (Drew Doughty), franchise goaltender (Jonathan Quick) and enough complimentary pieces, depth and defense to compete for another Stanley Cup.
These same key pieces — along with the magic displayed by “Mr. Game 7”, of course — led the Kings to championships in 2012 and 2014. However, with Dustin Brown just a shadow of what he once was, a big piece of the puzzle seemed to be missing.
Los Angeles needed someone with Lucic’s toughness, physicality and top-line scoring prowess to replace Brown’s former production, and as a net result of the trade, they got it. How did Lucic fare?
Lucic Enjoyed a Bounce-Back Season
Following a disappointing 2014-15 campaign where he managed 18 goals and 26 assists in 81 games, Milan Lucic returned to form this year. Despite adjusting to a new team and playing within a more conservative offensive system, Lucic registered 20 goals and 34 assists, the fourth-highest points total of his nine-year NHL career.
By the numbers, his totals were virtually identical to what Brown used to put up regularly. Coupled with excellent seasons by Anze Kopitar (73 points), Jeff Carter (61), Tyler Toffoli (57), Drew Doughty (51), Jake Muzzin (40), Jonathan Quick (40-23-2, 2.21/.918) and others, the Kings enjoyed a record-setting regular season.
A Number of Team Records Were Set or Threatened
Despite the final outcome, L.A.’s regular season was strong. The Kings set or flirted with various franchise records this year, including the following:
Total Wins: The franchise record for wins is 46, accomplished four previous times in their history. Los Angeles finished with 48 wins.
Total Points: In 1974-75, Los Angeles tallied 105 points before ignominiously losing in the first round of the playoffs. During 1990-91, the Kings won their only division title, earning 102 total points The Kings finished this regular season with 102 points, tying that team for the second-highest points total in franchise history.
Points Percentage: At .622, Los Angeles secured the third-highest percentage of points possible in its history.
Division Titles: As just mentioned, the Kings had won just one previous division title in their history. A second was just a whisker away.
December Record: With a 10-3-1 record, the Kings enjoyed their best-ever December.
Record Lead in the Division: As the calendar turned to 2016, L.A. had its biggest division lead — 12 points — ever. Ouch.
This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive compilation, so you may cite others that didn’t make the list. But you get the point: in many ways, the Kings had a tremendous regular season.
However, the regular season gets tossed out the window once the playoffs start, and on Thursday they do for the Kings. The 46-30-6 (98 points) San Jose Sharks, will arrive at the Staples Center struggling with the same end-of-the-season inconsistency that cost Los Angeles the division. The good news for L.A. is that under Darryl Sutter, the regular season hasn’t mattered much, as the team was an eighth seed in 2012 and a sixth seed in 2014. Comparatively speaking, their second-place division finish (under the new format, of course) puts them in good shape as the playoffs begin.
— LA Kings (@LAKings) April 12, 2016
Or so we Kings fans tell ourselves. It remains to be seen if they can catch fire like 2012 or grind their way to the title as in 2014. If they can do either, this indeed will be a season for the books.
Walter McLaughlin is a Los Angeles Kings correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He is an avid sports fan, having followed the Kings since living in L.A. in the mid-1970’s, as well as suffering through Seattle sports teams’ general futility. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and has worked in community banking for over 25 years, specializing in SBA loans. He is married and has two daughters.