It’s late January and the Los Angeles Kings are outside the playoffs. But they’re still at 14-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup per vegasinsider.com – ahead of teams such as the Nashville Predators Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets who are ahead of the Kings in the standings.
Should we at all be surprised?
Los Angeles is on pace for 90 points as it enters its #rivalrynight game against Chicago. That likely won’t do it to make the postseason in the Western Conference. They’re three points out of the playoffs Wild Card, behind Calgary, which won again Tuesday night.
But it just doesn’t seem real that the defending champs – who make an art of meh regular seasons and playoff success – are going to miss the NHL’s annual spring fling.
"If it doesn't [anger you] as a player, you shouldn't be playing at this level," Brown said. "But as individuals, as teams, as coaches, you pore over video and stats and this and that. We need to figure it out. Again, it's something we're going to have to figure out very quickly here because of the situation and how many road games we have.
"But ... historically, our team, when our backs are against the wall, we dig down and find a way. It's one of those situations. It's going to be an important 30-or-so games left."
Though Brown used one of the most used desperation clichés in the history of desperation clichés (backs against the wall … ugh) he does have a point. The Kings of Darryl Sutter lore seem to do their best when all hope is lost.
They made the 2012 playoffs as an eighth seed and came back from a 3-0 deficit against San Jose to beat the Sharks in the first round of the 2014 playoffs. Both years ended with Sutter's bizarro smile and a Stanley Cup win.
From the same story:
They finished the 2011-12 season with a 9-2-3 run to squeak in and went on to win their first Cup. Last season they went 15-6-2 after the Sochi Olympics en route to their second Cup.
But could this finally be the year the Kings regular season rope-a-dope doesn’t work? There are arguments that say yes.
The Slava Voynov situation has sapped Los Angeles of its defensive depth, and also given the Kings a distraction. The waiving of Mike Richards again added an annoyance to the year at a critical time. This group has gone to the Conference Final or Stanley Cup Final three straight years. Is it just time for exhaustion to creep in? Los Angeles is just 5-9-6 on the road, in contrast to 23-14-4 away from Staples Center last season. In the playoffs a year ago only one team from the Western Conference made it with a losing road record.
Said Sutter to The Los Angeles Times:
"They have to keep understanding and listening to what I'm telling them about how tough it is," he said. "The train has got to be a work train, not the Stanley Cup train. The Stanley Cup train was last year and some guys just have to get off that train."
But The Times also points out in the story that the Kings’ aren't in an unfamilair position.
In each season from 2005-06 through 2013-14 (excluding the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season) at least one but no more than three teams made the playoffs after being outside a qualifying spot at the All-Star or Olympic break. The Kings did it in 2010-11, making the playoffs after being one point out at the All-Star break. It should be noted that the 2010 and 2014 Olympic breaks were about two weeks later — and nearly two weeks longer — than All-Star breaks during that span.
Also, it’s likely that the Kings squad we’ve seen all year won’t be the same after the March 2 trade deadline. General Manager Dean Lombardi is known for making the right deal to get his team into playoff mode. Whether it was acquiring Jeff Carter in 2012 or making the move for Marian Gaborik in 2014. Both guys helped push the Kings into the postseason and were major factors in their playoff runs.
Is it possible that this year could be different?
Sure. Calgary has yet to fall off. Winnipeg seems stable. Vancouver is also in a playoff spot. All three teams weren’t expected to continue their early-season staying power. And they’ve given us every reason to believe they’re going to stay strong. Yay Canada!
But the Kings are the Kings. They have the formula. That formula has worked. And until it doesn’t, expect them to make the tournament in April … even if they cause a few heart palpitations along the way.
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