The Kings won’t win the Western Conference or the Pacific Division. The best they can do is finish fourth in the conference and second in the division. But with only three regular-season games remaining before they begin their Stanley Cup championship defense, it would be difficult to find a team playing better then the Kings are at the moment.
It certain seems as if Kings coach Darryl Sutter has settled on Jonathan Quick as his No. 1 goaltender now that the regular season is down to only three games and the Stanley Cup playoffs are right around the corner. Sutter had this to say about Quick, who made 24 saves in the Kings’ 4-3 overtime win over the Dallas Stars on Sunday night: “I think he’s been really good for us lately and I think it’s kind of on record of him saying that it’s about winning games and us saying it’s about giving us a chance to win.”
Here’s what Kings coach Darryl Sutter had to say about the rough play after the whistles during much of a 2-1 victory Thursday over the Columbus Blue Jackets, a game in which they gave as good as they got: “We played desperate against a desperate hockey club. There was lots going on out there. Typical Columbus and L.A. game, right? Heavy lifting.”
Sutter also said: “I think there was lots (of physical play) after whistles tonight. Both teams have guys that get involved and want to play a physical game that’s right on the edge.”
The Columbus Blue Jackets weren’t happy to see their five-game winning streak end with a 2-1 loss to the Kings on Thursday night at Staples Center. The Kings weren’t thrilled with the end of the game, when the Blue Jackets’ Brandon Dubinsky took what they believed to be a few liberties with defenseman Drew Doughty after the final buzzer. TV replays indicated Doughty initiated the confrontation with a punch as Dubinsky had his back turned. Dubinsky then threw a series of punches at Doughty, drawing a match penalty.
“Just a cheap shot, and that’s his personality” Kings enforcer Kyle Clifford said of Dubinsky’s actions. “We’ve got guys out there and he goes after Doughty, who’s not our toughest player, not the smartest thing. But we got the win.”
Voting is underway for the Kings’ 2012-13 season awards. Just got my ballot and am starting to give it some thought. My initial reaction on the awards:
MVP (Bill LIbby Memorial Award): I’m leaning toward forward Jeff Carter with a team-leading 24 goals in 43 games.
Best Newcomer (Mark Bavis Memorial Award): I’m thinking about rookie defenseman Jake Muzzin with seven goals and nine assists and a plus/minus rating of plus-14.
Outstanding Defenseman: Leaning toward Slava Voynov, who’s having a breakthrough season with five goals and 19 assists.
Best Defensive Player: Toss-up between forward Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, who have been terrific two-way players this season.
These are the awards voted on by reporters. The players vote on the Most Inspirational (Ace Bailey Memorial Award) and Unsung Hero.
The Kings proved home-ice advantage didn’t matter in the 2012 playoffs, going from the No. 8 seed to the Stanley Cup. They didn’t have home-ice advantage in any of the four playoff rounds and still rolled through the postseason. It was a remarkable feat, one that never happened before last spring. They were the first No. 8 team to win the Cup.
However, the Kings’ shootout loss Tuesday to the Sharks in San Jose should be a reminder why it’s important to lock up fourth place and home-ice advantage in the first round. It’s especially so if they play the Sharks in the opening round. The Sharks’ victory over the Kings gave them a league-leading 15-1-5 mark at HP Pavilion. San Jose is a lackluster 8-12-2 away from home, only the 21st-best mark going into Wednesday’s action around the NHL. The Kings are 16-4-1 at home (third in the league) and 8-10-4 (16th) on the road.
So, doing the math, home-ice advantage still appears to matter. It’s why the Kings shouldn’t consider any of their final five regular-season games, including Thursday against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Staples Center, was anything but vital contests. They should approach each of their final five games as must-win, with the goal of grabbing home-ice advantage for what looms as a first-round grudge match with the Sharks.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter had this to say when asked if Dustin Penner’s return from injured reserve Tuesday against the Dallas Stars was helping to aid the play of linemates Jeff Carter and Mike Richards: “We’re trying to keep those top two lines (Carter-Richards-Penner and Dustin Brown-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams) consistent and that means Dustin, Mike and Jeff have to complement each other. I don’t think it’s so much getting them going. Carter is fighting for the Rocket Richard (trophy), so I don’t think it’s about getting him going. I think Mike is a guy that plays better down the stretch. We’ve seen that, and that’s what he’s known for. So, it’s more Dustin that has to get going.”
No question, the Kings have their share of fans behind the Orange Curtain. Always have and probably always will despite the presence of the Ducks and their loyal fans. You can count Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau as a fan, too. Boudreau said he watches the Kings on TV every chance he gets and was only too happy to talk about them even with a game later in the evening against the Dallas Stars on tap. Here’s some of what he said Friday about the Kings a little more than 48 hours before the teams meet Sunday in Anaheim:
Anyone who was surprised the Blues lost their cool at the end of the Kings’ 4-2 victory Thursday night in St. Louis simply hasn’t been paying attention. Justin Williams scored a game-clinching empty-net goal and then got smoked by the Blues’ David Backes in a play that led to a mild scrum. Backes was penalized for roughing.
Jordan Nolan of the Kings was fined $1,436.94 for cross-checking Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks during Saturday afternoon’s game at Staples Center, the NHL’s department of player safety announced Sunday. Nolan was not penalized on the play, which happened along the boards at 5:58 of the second period of the Kings’ 1-0 loss to the Canucks. Kyle Clifford was given a roughing penalty one second later, however. Nolan was considered a first-time offender. The fine is the maximum allowed under the league’s collective bargaining agreement with its players.