Like the Chicago Blackhawks, the Los Angeles Kings have experienced their own struggles with the salary cap. But in a year that seemed to be forgone with the long-term injury to Jonathan Quick, the Kings’ core is still intact and is just as dangerous as that of the Blackhawks.
On October 12 this season, Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick injured his groin in a game versus San Jose and was projected to miss at least three months of the season. This was in the first game of the season, before the Kings, Chicago Blackhawks or anyone else was truly out of the gate.
Kings fans must have felt devastation similar to the quarterback of their football team being deemed out for the season. At that point, backup goaltender Peter Budaj was given the net and the Kings were forced to move on.
Fast forward to February, and the Kings are 28-23-4 with 60 points. They currently hold the last wild card spot in the Western Conference.
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A lot had to go right this year in the absence of Quick, but most of the credit should go to Budaj. On the year, Budaj is 26-16 with a save percentage of .917 and goals-allowed average of 2.11.
The combination of his spectacular play and the Kings defense has kept them in tight games throughout the season. The Kings currently have given up 133 goals total, 22 goals fewer than the league average of 155.
Reports earlier this month came out that Quick had been practicing in full gear. If the Kings could ease him back into playing regularly, he could potentially be 100 percent come playoff time.
Next, let’s discuss some reasons why the Blackhawks need to keep an eye on L.A.
The last two years, the Kings have missed the playoffs (in 2015) and were swept by the the Sharks in the first round (in 2016). It hasn’t been pretty, but like the Blackhawks, the Kings also have played a lot of hockey in the last few years, winning two Stanley Cups (in 2012 and 2014).
But if the Kings have another early playoff exit, it could be coach Darryl Sutter who could be the next head coach to go.
Quick will give this team a huge boost if he comes back healthy. He has been one of the top goalies in the league over the last several years, but the injury to his groin could be a huge concern considering his butterfly style, which requires a lot of lateral sliding.
Two of the Kings[ young players will also be playing for new contracts this spring. Tyler Toffoli is a restricted free agent while Tanner Pearson is unrestricted. Pearson is having a great year with 16 goals and 13 assists, while Toffoli started out slow with just six goals on the year after remarkably scoring 31 last year.
It wasn’t too long ago when the Kings went to three straight Game 7’s in the 2014 playoffs and won them all to earn a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. It’s now 2017 and most of those guys are still on the roster. The Kings understand what it takes to win in the playoffs, even their young players who were there to experience it early in their careers.
Jeff Carter has been the MVP of the team this year, scoring 29 goals with 22 assists. He could easily reach 40 goals on the year at age 32. He has had to carry the team with the recent struggles from captain Anze Kopitar.
Kopitar began the first year of his eight-year, $80 million contract by not living up to it. With just six goals on the year, he has been an absolute bust for them thus far. But the scary part is that there is still plenty of time for him to get hot.
Looking at the roster up and down, this team is still built for the playoffs. They have big forwards that want to get the puck in deep and grind you out. Their defense is physical and they love shooting the puck from the point. Plus they know how to finish. With names like Gaborik, Doughty, Carter and Kopitar, you’ll always have a chance to win.
Trade deadline move
Not a lot of people are talking about the Kings in any trade rumors ,but they could surprise this year at the deadline.
Even if Quick isn’t 100 percent, Budaj has proven he can get the job done. If the Kings land a few more depth veterans, I don’t think the Sharks will have as easy of a time with them this year as they did last year in the Pacific bracket.
A surprising fit for them could be Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. He’s a reliable puck-moving defenseman who can shoot well from the point. If the Blues fall out of contention, acquiring him could make the Kings an even better team defensively.
The Blackhawks know all too well that the Kings are pesky and don’t go away easily. All it takes is for them to get hot at the end of the season and sneak into the playoffs. They are just as good of a road playoff team as the ’Hawks and could possibly end up in the Central Division bracket if they do get the second wild card spot.
I know a lot of us would love to see another playoff series between the Kings and Blackhawks, but if the ‘Hawks want to contend for another Stanley Cup, I’d want to avoid this team at all costs. Like the Blues, this team knows the Blackhawks like the back of their hand.
They’ve beaten the Blackhawks before, which makes them the most dangerous team out of the West. The Blackhawks have had success against the Wild, Blues, Predators, Sharks and Ducks. But going into a series with the Blackhawks knowing you can beat them, as the Kings do, changes everything.