The lockout was supposed to help the Los Angeles Kings. The extra rest was supposed to reset them mentally and physically. That was the thinking, at least.
Jonathan Quick did use the time to recover from back surgery. But most of the above theory went out the window when the Kings' defense got banged up and Quick struggled to adjust to the new personnel in front of him.
As the season progressed, however, not only did the Kings manage those issues, they added two players on their blue line in Matt Greene and Robyn Regehr and now look more like the defending Stanley Cup champion that no one wants any part of in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It wasn't easy or pretty, but here's how the Kings put themselves in position to become the first repeat champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98.
1. The defense didn’t break -- Take away half of a defense on any team and there is bound to be some slippage. L.A. never got Willie Mitchell back from knee surgery, lost Greene to back surgery after the season opener (he returned Thursday), and saw Alec Martinez go down in February.
After a 3-5-2 start, the Kings started to patch it together with Jake Muzzin, Davis Drewiske and the acquisition of Keaton Ellerby from the Florida Panthers. Muzzin's development played a large part, particularly on offense, where he took pressure off Drew Doughty.
Muzzin was named the NHL's Rookie of the Month for March. He outscored Doughty for most of the season and now forms a third pairing with Greene.
2. The other Jonathan -- All that Jonathan Bernier needed was some substantial time in net to showcase that he can be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL, and he ran with the opportunity when Quick was coming off back surgery.
Bernier went 9-0-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in his first 10 starts after he started 13 times last season. In 13 games this season, he's 9-2-1 with a 1.86 GAA and .922 save percentage.
While he's not going to usurp Quick in net, Bernier helped keep L.A. afloat and convinced everyone of his worth.
3. Coffee is for Carter -- It was a recurring theme last season: The Kings lacked a pure goal-scorer who can deliver a big-time strike on a defensive-minded team that desperately needs it.
Enter Jeff Carter, who used the lockout to add 10 pounds. In his first full season in Los Angeles, he lived up to his 40-goal pedigree and scored 13 goals in a 13-game span. He had goal-scoring streaks of five and four games.
It didn't hurt that Carter played some center, his natural position. He entered Sunday fourth in the NHL with 24 goals, including eight on the power play.
The Kings, ranked 29th in scoring last season at 2.29 goals per game, currently is ninth at 2.77 per game.
4. Doughty turns it on -- How could one of the more talented defenseman in the League start the season without a goal in 28 games and have one goal in his first 37 games? Even Drew Doughty couldn't explain it.
He admitted after his first goal, on March 19, that it weighed on him, and he soon got rolling. He scored April 6 against the Edmonton Oilers, which began a streak of five goals in seven games.
More important, Doughty steadily has improved on the defensive side of the game ever since the middle of last season. He carries a plus-3 rating in 44 games despite having played with three different partners and logging more than 26 minutes of ice time per game. He's also an admittedly more mature player and has taken on more of a leadership role.
5. Home matters – Last season, the Kings destroyed the notion that home-ice matters in the playoffs. Of course it's a fallacy. They would like to start at home, and the numbers support it.
Los Angeles is 17-4-1 at home this season, the best 22-game home record in franchise history. It has outscored opponents 67-39 at Staples Center, as opposed to the 69 goals it has allowed on the road.
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