It wasn’t even (American) Thanksgiving and we were crowning the Kings as early favorites in the West and legitimate Cup contenders. My, how things can change in a matter of two months. The view of this team has taken a 180-degree turn as they are currently tied for 12th place in the conference with Columbus.
The next 34 days could tell the tale of the 2010/11 Kings, who came into the year with so much promise after returning to the postseason last spring. Between now and Feb. 23, Terry Murray’s gang will play 14 games (11 of which are away from home). For a talented team trying to relocate its identity, they must get into playoff mode immediately.
Here’s a look at the aforementioned stretch for the next month-plus:
This key stretch is bookended by games against division foes that they are battling with in the playoff hunt; sandwiched in-between is basically a tour of North America. The Kings have been awful on the road this year (9-12-0) and will obviously need to turn around those fortunes. One thing going for them is that they have had success on long road-trips out east in the last couple years.
It’s been a frustrating last few weeks for this club. They started off December going 9-2-1, and life was pretty good in L.A. But they’ve handed that all back with a nightmarish 2-9-0 stretch, including a disappointing eight-game home-stand that they couldn’t take advantage of.
Why has it been so frustrating? This team is (very) good, one that many pegged before the season as a sleeper to win the Stanley Cup. They have everything you would want as a contender – skill and size up front, a versatile blueline and two solid goaltenders.
However, when they have scored four goals, they’ve given up six. When they’ve held teams to two goals, they’ve countered with just one. It’s been that kind of stretch for the Kings that has them staring at a lottery draft pick if they don’t turn things around soon.
The tension is rising in sunny SoCal as impatience is growing within the fan base. I don’t believe Murray’s job is in jeopardy at this point, but it could be if they are still residing in 12th place in the West following their 10-game road-trip. Some are expecting a trade to go down, but GM Dean Lombardi isn’t the type to pull the trigger on a blockbuster deal or overreact to a rough three-week funk.
In this next month or so, I really feel like the veterans need to lead the way. Ryan Smyth has been inconsistent, but can still score some key goals. I think they’d also like to see more production from 33-year-old Michal Handzus. Even Captain Dustin Brown has been caught in a rut. If a few veterans can step up, maybe the youngsters can follow suit.
The odds certainly aren’t in Los Angeles’ favor when it comes to making that push for a playoff berth. Though they are just five points out of eighth place, history tells us that not many teams are able to pull off a late-season run to get into the postseason. It could be particularly tough in a deep Western Conference.
Adversity doesn’t build character – it reveals it. How will this young, talented team respond? We all know what they are capable of; they just have to look in the mirror and get back to what they were doing back in October and early November to overcome this adversity.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.