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LA Kings Storming to Power in Western Conference

Adrian Kempe and Drew Doughty fueling best start in LA Kings history

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / NHL.com Staff Writer

LA Kings forward Adrian Kempe  thought about it for second or two and did the time zone math in his head on Wednesday at Staples Center.

"It is morning back in Sweden," Kempe said.

And so, there's a good chance that hockey fans in his native country, as well as friends and family, did not sleep through his first NHL hat trick in the Kings' 5-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens. Kempe added an assist for a four-point performance and his linemate, Michael Cammalleri , also had four points (two goals, two assists) against his former team.

If it were morning in Sweden, it is also a new day dawning for the Kings. 

LA is off to a 5-0-1 start, the best in its history. The Kings are the only NHL team without a loss in regulation, and moved past the idle Vegas Golden Knights to take possession of first place in the Pacific Division and Western Conference.

Just like everyone envisioned, right?

"I don't think there's one person that would have predicted that we've done what we've done," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty  said. "I'm pretty sure I know from hearing other people talk, that every single team counted us out of the playoffs, counted us out of even competing for a playoff spot.

"We knew about that a little bit and wanted to prove everyone wrong. We've got so much work to do and it's so early to talk about that. But I'm not surprised."

Video: MTL@LAK: Kempe buries slap shot for hat trick

His words may have sounded defiant, but the mood in the Kings dressing room has been distinctly lighter than in years past. Doughty is smiling, laughing and having fun again. After the Kings missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, it triggered an organizational change. Rob Blake was named General Manager on April 11, one day after Dean Lombardi and coach Darryl Sutter were fired, and John Stevens was promoted to replace Sutter on April 23.

Doughty said he understands why people may have dismissed the Kings, who won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014.

"A lot of it had to do with why we weren't very good last year. … And we finally made that coaching change. Now everyone … the life in the room is just up there.

"It's so much fun. Coming to the rink every single morning, we're excited to get there.

"Whereas, maybe in the past few years, it was almost like, '…. do I have to go the rink again?' You know what I mean? When you're not having fun playing hockey, you're not going to play well. Especially myself.

"I think that's how most players are. Some guys can be serious but you still need to have fun when you go to practice. You still need to have fun to come in here and win games. It's like anyone, if you don't enjoy your job, you're not going to do a good job."

Still, everyone around the Kings keeps pointing out it is early. The season is weeks old, not months old.

They open a six-game trip on Saturday at the Columbus Blue Jackets, followed by back-to-back games at the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators, a rematch against the Canadiens and games at the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues.

"Now we've got to go prove ourselves as a road team," Doughty said.

They may have to do it without center Jeff Carter , their leading scorer last season, who sustained a lower-body injury in a first-period collision along the boards with Montreal defenseman Jeff Petry on Wednesday and did not return. The Kings said they would know more about the extent of the injury on Thursday and Stevens said there was "concern, obviously," noting Carter did not finish the game.

Video: Condensed Game: Canadiens @ Kings

If Carter is out for an extended period, there will be more pressure on center Anze Kopitar  and forward Dustin Brown , each off to an excellent start this season but held off the scoresheet against Montreal. In six games, Kopitar has eight points (four goals, four assists), and Brown seven (four goals, three assists).

Kempe, the No. 29 pick in the Kings' first-round pick (No. 29) in the 2014 NHL Draft, could be the wild card. The 21-year-old scored three goals in the third period Wednesday; he scored two in 25 games last season.

"Obviously, it's so hard," Kempe said. "The games before, I think I chased a little bit too much and sometimes you work a little bit too hard and you've got to be more patient."

There was Kempe's impressive skill at top speed on his second goal, a breakaway, at 16:42 of the third period. On the third goal, at 18:24, he stayed high and waited for Cammalleri to find him.

"We need him to be one of our top scorers this season," Doughty said.

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