by PuckStopsHere on 12/16/09 at 01:15 PM ET
I don’t think anyone would have predicted that the Los Angeles Kings would be first in the West Conference in mid-December, but they are. The Kings have a 22-14 record (with three overtime loss points) to give them 47 points. Skeptics are quick to note that Los Angeles leads the NHL in games played and some western teams (San Jose and Chicago) have better winning percentages in fewer games played. Whether or not you think Los Angeles can maintain top spot in the West, it is clear that they are a much better team than predicted.
They have a good young core of players that is emerging to stardom together. At forward, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Alexander Frolov and Jarret Stoll have significant talent and are leading the team offensively. Ryan Smyth was a significant contributor as well, before he fell to injury (he may be back soon). Justin Williams and Wayne Simmonds have also been significant contributors. This is a deep group of offensive players and many have the potential that they will likely keep improving.
On defence, the story is Drew Doughty. The second year man has been the NHL’s most improved player this season. He has become one of the best defencemen in hockey. Jack Johnson, Sean O’Donnell and Rob Scuderi are providing depth along with waiver claimant Randy Jones (who has 12 points in his 18 games as a King).
The Kings potential weakness looked like it may be goaltending this season. Last year, their goaltending was unsettled. Jonathan Quick emerged at their starter, but he lacked an NHL track record. Quick has been given the starting job this year. He has started all but three games. Quick has 20 wins (which ties him for the league lead with Martin Brodeur), but he does not have great underlying numbers. He has a .904 saves percentage and a 2.60 GAA. This is a huge improvement from backup Eric Ersberg’s .837 saves percentage and 4.10 GAA, but they are not good numbers.
For the most part, the Kings are winning despite their goaltending. Their core has become good enough that they haven’t needed a goalie to steal games for them. A significant reason for that is Drew Doughty’s emergence. He has significantly improved the Kings team defence. The Kings have the fourth best shots against in the league with 27.4 per game.
As they stand right now, Los Angeles is a good team. As long as their core continues to play well, they will have a good record. They are unlikely to become a top level team as long as they do not have top goaltending. I doubt they will stay at the top of the West Conference all season, but they should be a playoff team. They need better goaltending to take the next step forward.
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