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Recent hot play has Kings back in contention

by Dan Rosen
NEW YORK -- Go to any winning coach after a game in this League and you're likely to hear the same thing. Eventually they will point to goaltending and special teams as the two factors that led to the two points. Well, simple math suggests better goaltending plus winning the special-teams battle equals victory -- more often than not.

The Los Angeles Kings have been the perfect case study for that grade-school equation over the last month and a half.

Their goals per game has stayed a solid 2.3 over their last 22 games, but their goaltending was woeful and penalty kill inconsistent over a 12-game stretch from Dec. 29 through Jan. 20, so they went 2-10-0 and fell out of the playoff race.

However, goalies Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier have been spectacular and the Kings' penalty kill nearly perfect over the 10 games since, so they're 8-0-2 and right back in the hunt. Los Angeles is ninth in the Western Conference, just one point behind the Calgary Flames, entering Thursday's game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US).

Quick and Bernier, who will start Thursday's game, have combined to allow 15 goals over the last 10 games while the Kings' PK is 29-for-31. Five of the Kings' eight wins during their torrid stretch have been by one goal, including two in the shootout.

"I think it's a mixture of teamwork in general and attention to detail," Quick told "The PK has been great, I think we're 12-for-12 in the past four games (they are), and we killed off two 5-on-3s, one in Philly and one in Columbus. Bern and I really can't take too much of the credit, either. (The Blue Jackets) had a two-minute power play (Wednesday) and they didn't get a shot on net. We're taking lanes away, blocking shots.

"Overall the team is just playing together and the confidence we have is big as well."

It's not a coincidence that the Kings' hot streak has come at a time when they had to pick it up.

"There has to be more focus," Quick said. "Look at all the teams around us -- they've been playing just as well."

The Kings have points in 10 straight games, one shy of tying a club record, and they still wouldn't be in the playoffs if the season ended today.

"Minnesota is winning. Calgary is winning. The teams around us are winning," Quick said. "Every night we need to be 100-percent focused and we need to bring that detail to our game, that hard-work mentality, in order to stay in this race because teams are winning."

Their focus wasn't necessarily blurry during that 2-10-0 stretch, but there were games where Quick and Bernier couldn't come up with the important saves. It started in Phoenix on Dec. 29 when Quick was pulled after giving up six goals on 18 shots in just 30 minutes. Bernier was pulled after 33 minutes the next night because he allowed six goals on 22 shots against the Flyers.

The Kings couldn't score in a 1-0 loss to San Jose on Jan. 1, but Quick and Bernier combined to give up 13 goals over the next three games. Los Angeles lost them all.

They haven't given up more than three goals in a game since, but in six games from Jan. 10-20 the Kings scored only 10 goals -- and that included five in one game against the Edmonton Oilers. They were 1-5-0, and all of the sudden there were whispers regarding coach Terry Murray's job security.

"I just think everyone is playing better together now," Quick said. "I don't think that (12-game) span is any indication of what kind of team we are. You're going to go through ups and downs. Some people talk about the youth of the team and that could be a factor, but you really just have to go out and play and that's what we've been doing lately."

Quick credits their current club-record 10-game road trip as a factor for the recent success.

"Minnesota is winning. Calgary is winning. The teams around us are winning. Every night we need to be 100-percent focused and we need to bring that detail to our game, that hard-work mentality, in order to stay in this race because teams are winning." -- Jonathan Quick

They won't have a home game until Feb. 24 because the Grammys and the NBA All-Star Game have been occupying Staples Center this month, but that's not necessarily a bad thing considering the Kings have won only three of their last 11 home games after going 13-2-1 in their first 16.

"We thought it was going to be the opposite because we'd been doing really well at home all year until recently," Quick said. "It went the other way on us and it became the same thing every day -- go to the rink, go home, go to Staples. We got out of there, got out of that funk, got some new scenery around us, got together and that all helps."

Not as much as solid goaltending and a winning penalty kill. No matter if you're at home or on the road, that equation for success doesn't change.

Every coach will vouch for that.

"If the team in general is playing with more confidence any individual is going to be playing better and feeling more comfortable about his game," Quick said. "The way the team has been playing it does give me a little bit more confidence and it does make me more comfortable to know that if you let up a goal or two they're going to tie it up and get the game winner."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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