It's hard to believe that just a few days ago the Los Angeles Kings were trailing the San Jose Sharks 3-0 in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now they're the hottest team in the NHL, having reeled off six straight wins.
Jonathan Quick has been a big reason why people are comparing this team to the group that won the Stanley Cup in 2012. But the addition of scorer Marian Gaborik gives the Kings a new dimension that makes them especially dangerous.
Everything the Kings do is predicated on how they defend. When they do those things well, it allows Quick to be who he is. They've been outshot in the past few games, but Quick knows what his defensemen and centermen are going to do. The Sharks filled the net when the Kings weren't sure how they were going to defend different types of attacks. Right now, there is no hesitation in terms of how they defend. With that, Quick knows he can commit to playing his style of game, which is unique.
No one else in the world has the combination that Quick has, in terms of his skill and abilities. Look at some of the saves he made in Game 2 against the Anaheim Ducks. One was a carom off the glass that gave Devante Smith-Pelly a great opportunity. Quick just played it by feel, because it happened so quickly. Instead of going back to his post and resetting and then pushing out, he just pushed out within the flow. The timing of his instincts were fantastic before he went down in a two-pad stack. That's something that you don't see.
Quick has been making the stops and Gaborik has been scoring the goals.
With finance, they always talk about buying low and selling high. I don't know if Kings general manager Dean Lombardi is going to sell high, but he's getting a high rate of return and compound interest on Gaborik after acquiring him from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the NHL Trade Deadline.
A lot of people don't give Gaborik credit for coming into the League and playing under Jacques Lemaire. It's one thing to say he's an offensive player and a goal-scorer, but give him credit for understanding the game and being able to score within a defensive structure. That's how he learned to score goals when he started in the NHL with the Minnesota Wild. He was arguably most lethal as a player when he was in Minnesota playing under Lemaire, who is the best defensive coach of our generation.
He hasn't just been a perimeter scorer in these playoffs. On the goal he scored in Game 2 against Anaheim, his attack line started wide, but he began creeping and cutting more toward the middle of the ice before roofing a shot to the short side. He could have pulled up and waited for help or taken the wide-angled shot, but he's attacking the net a lot more and going to the middle of the ice more.
When you're healthy and hungry and motivated and gifted, great things can happen. I have to give Lombardi and coach Darryl Sutter credit: They did their homework on Gaborik.
This year's L.A. Kings have been amazing and in some ways are a clone of the Cup-winning team from 2012. But without Gaborik they're not where they are right now. They're just not.
I've spoken with a number of players on the Kings. They're all saying that they "have that feeling again." It's a feeling in the locker room and on the bench and in practice and on the plane. It's a special feeling and it's tangible. There's a certain belief that comes with it, a knowledge that if you do the things the way you need to, you'll be in a great position to have success -- especially when you already have a Cup win under the belt.
I also want to add something about the Ducks. It's not like they've been killed in the two games in this series. They've dictated a lot in each game and are generating great scoring chances. They need to continue to do a lot of the same things and maybe get more traffic in front of Quick. There's no way coach Bruce Boudreau can be upset with his team given how they're playing. And if they win one at Staples Center, who knows?
The Kings have looked great, but the playoffs have taught us time and time again how much things can change from game to game.
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