|Under the watchful eye of assistant coach Mark Hardy, the Kings penalty kill has stopped 29 consecutive power play chances.
The Kings' early-season weakness has become their late-season strength. It's a trade-off they will gladly take, particularly as they push toward the playoffs. Assistant Coach Mark Hardy Discusses the Penalty Kill
Penalty killing is perhaps the hardest work a hockey team can do, and its most important. Killing a power play takes the wind out of an opponent and, often, puts wind in the sails of the killing team. It's been pretty breezy for the Kings of late.
After an awful early-season run, the Kings enter Wednesday's game at Colorado having killed 29 consecutive penalties, their best run of success this season.
How important is penalty-kill success? Of the teams currently ranked in the top eight in kill percentage, seven are on track for playoff spots.
The Kings, by virtue of their poor start, are only 15th in penalty-kill percentage (82.1), but the unit has been succeeding at a 91.5-percent clip in its last 17 games and a 95-percent clip in its last 11 games, an extraordinary run of success.
""The guys have really worked hard," coach Terry Murray said. ""There’s been great attention to the detail part of the power plays that we’re facing. The penalty killers are playing with desperation, blocking shots. The goaltending has been very good, and a lot of communication.
""There’s been good talk on the ice, and that’s a critical part of killing penalties, that everybody kind of lets each other know where they are and what’s available. We’ll just keep building on it."
Two seasons ago, under former coach Marc Crawford, the Kings' penalty-kill unit hit rock bottom, literally. The Kings killed penalties at a 78-percent clip, the worst rate in the NHL, a big reason why they had the league's second-worst record.
Last season, the arrival of Murray, a former NHL defenseman, brought an emphasis in several defensive areas, including penalty killing.
It also brought the return of assistant coach Mark Hardy, who, in his previous stint as an assistant under Andy Murray, led a penalty-kill unit that finished third in the NHL in 2001-02. That was the last season in which the Kings made the playoffs.
The improvement under Murray and Hardy was immediate. The Kings went from last in the NHL in penalty-kill efficiency to seventh last season, at 82.9 percent.
It seemed natural to assume, then, that the Kings would only improve this season, particularly since their young defense would have another year of experience and would also include summer free-agent signing Rob Scuderi
So what happened at the start of this season? The Kings tanked, big time.
A 2-for-3 effort in the season opener against Phoenix was followed by an 0-for-4 effort against San Jose and a 2-for-4 effort against Minnesota.
Through three games, the Kings were just 4-for-11 on the kill, a startlingly bad start, cushioned only by the fact that the Kings managed to win two of those games.
""We kind of struggled there at the start on the penalty kill, as everyone knows, but we kind of regrouped," Doughty said. ""Harpo [Hardy] did a great job of showing us and made sure we were well-prepared, and we've been really focused on making that better. We look at it in five-game segments, and lately we've been doing a good job."
Continue to Part II.