The sentiment is heard in arenas across the NHL when the standings and the races for the Stanley Cup Playoffs are brought up:
The Los Angeles Kings are back.
But how? Why?
The Kings are set to return to the playoffs this season, likely as the Pacific Division winner, after missing last season. They're on pace for 111 points, 16 better than they had last season, when they missed the playoffs by one point.
However, the Kings' statistical splits between last season and this season, referred to in the chart below, are close in almost every category.
The outliers in the chart above are where you find the reasons why the Kings are back to being legitimate Stanley Cup contenders when last season they couldn't even be a playoff team.
Hint: They have nothing to do with changes or improvements in their systems play.
The most obvious difference is the Kings seem to love the 3-on-3 overtime, whereas 4-on-4 overtime last season was a drag. They are 6-1 in games decided in overtime; they were 1-7 last season.
They are 2-2 in shootouts this season. They were 2-8 last season.
Think of it this way: If the Kings had evenly split their 18 games that extended beyond regulation last season, that 9-9 record would have given them six more points and would have gotten them to third, or potentially as high as second, in the Pacific.
Instead they went 3-15 in those games and didn't make the playoffs.
This season the Kings are nine points clear of the second place Arizona Coyotes in part because they have gained eight of a possible 11 points in games that have extended beyond regulation.
They have scored six goals on 30 overtime shots this season (20.0 percent); they scored one on 27 shots last season (3.7 percent).
Overtime counts. Shootouts count. They're huge points that the Kings are getting now. They go a long way.
So does goaltending. It's the most important facet to the success of any team.
The Kings have gotten strong goaltending from Jonathan Quick in the past, but the combination in net of Quick and Jhonas Enroth this season has been markedly better than the combination of Quick and Martin Jones last season.
Considering their goals per game, 5-on-5 possession (SAT) and shots-for and shots-against per game listed in the first chart aren't dramatically different from last season to this season, the difference in a few extra saves by Quick and Enroth make a big difference in the Kings' point total.
The Quick-Enroth combination has enabled the Kings to have a .926 save percentage. The Kings had a .916 save percentage with the Quick-Jones combination last season. The Kings are allowing 2.14 goals per game this season, down from 2.40 last season.
To bring it full circle, Quick and Enroth have allowed one goal on 24 shots in overtime this season; Quick and Jones allowed seven goals on 48 shots in overtime last season.
So yes, the Kings are back. All they needed was a few more saves and a couple of extra overtime goals.