Sure, the rumored Max Pacioretty trade did not materialize. No, the Los Angeles Kings were not able to secure the services of Evander Kane. Yes, the Kings have the third-oldest team in the NHL (28.3 years). Indeed, they have a net new bench boss and general manager combination. Given this confluence of factors, one would forecast the team to conjure up an equally stagnant second half of the season as they experienced in the first.
Not so fast. The Kings are currently brimming with confidence and are a team that should be feared from here on out.
Kings’ Recent Success
Since trading for Dion Phaneuf, LA has won a respectable five out of eight games. During that time frame, Phaneuf has been stellar, notching three goals and two assists, while eating up a much-needed 19 minutes per game. The team’s other newly acquired players, Tobias Rieder and Nate Thompson, have also found a nice groove playing on the team’s third line alongside youngster, Adrian Kempe. All three were in action for the team’s most substantial feat of the season against the top dog in their division.
On Tuesday night, LA completed the daunting task of sweeping a back-to-back with their new-found rivals to the northeast, the Vegas Golden Knights. In game one, the two teams squared off in the at Staples Center and things certainly did not look promising for the boys in silver & black. Eric Haula and Reilly Smith tallied their 23rd and 21st goals of the season respectively to put the Knights up by a pair early in the third period. Had it not been for the play of Jonathan Quick, things could’ve been a lot worse. The 32-year-old netminder turned back 37 of 39 shots fired his way. Several such saves were of the spectacular variety.
To say that Quick’s heroics galvanized his team would be an understatement. Jeff Carter managed to cut the lead in half midway through the third period on a fortuitous bounce off Cody Eakin’s noggin. The goal was the long-awaited first of the season for the Kings star, who had been sidelined for 55 games with a cut tendon.
The final two minutes of the game were sheer bliss from a viewer’s perspective. Both sides equally flirted with igniting the red light until Kings captain, Anze Kopitar, buried a one-timer with 11 seconds left to vault his team into an extra period:
Dustin Brown was simply not content with said single point and took matters into his own hands by ending the game on the power play at the 3:14 mark of overtime to complete the comeback. The 3:2 victory was likely the Kings’ biggest win of the season…until Tuesday.
New Kid on the Block: Jack Campbell
A new narrative was developed during the second half of the home and home series. His name is Jack Campbell. The 26-year-old has had the dubious distinction of being waived, re-signed, called up and sent down on several occasions by the Kings during his brief tenure with the organization. Given Jonathan Quick’s exploits the night before, a much-needed rest was required.
Campbell stepped up to the plate for his team and hit a grand slam in a 4:1 thrashing of the Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena. Campbell stood on his head stopping 40 of 41 pucks to earn his first career NHL victory. When asked by asked LA Kings Insider if the game was just like any other, Campbell replied:
I mean, for me it was a little bit more than just another game. Of course I want to prove to everybody, but most importantly my teammates, that they can count on me. So it was kind of weird because this was probably the biggest game I’ve played in and I felt the most comfortable just because of the surroundings and the locker room. Quickie was there to give me some tips on what their tendencies were and the boys played great in front of me, so it was awesome.
The Kings’ social media team surely enjoyed poking fun at the expansion team following their victory:
? Viva Loss Vegas, Viva Loss Vegas ? pic.twitter.com/kmAcCKxTT2
— LA Kings (@LAKings) February 28, 2018
Keeping Kings Things Going
Not only are the Kings on cloud nine after their recent performances, but beginning Thursday the team has the luxury of a five-game homestand against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Capitals, St. Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucks. A healthy dose of home cooking and sleeping in the comforts of their own beds should ostensibly render favorable results.
As it stands, the Kings have leapfrogged the Anaheim Ducks and now hold down the third position in the Pacific Division standings—a mere two points back of the San Jose Sharks. Although the likes of the Golden Knights, Winnipeg Jets, and Nashville Predators have all been hand-picked as the Western Conference favorites to play in the Stanley Cup Final, the Kings are gaining momentum at the right time and have the horses that are all familiar with this type of race.
Be afraid, NHL.