Whether it's fitting or just a coincidence, the second half of the regular season for the Los Angeles Kings kicked off when the calendar turned to 2014. Yet, while the new year tends to bring hope and promise for the coming 12 months, the Kings started 2014 the way they closed out 2013.
Having lost four-straight to end the month of December, the Kings were simply hoping to get back on the winning track. While they did welcome Jonathan Quick back from injury, it seemed that very little could turn the fortunes of the silver-and-black around. In fact, to kick off their second half, the Kings went into St. Louis and suffered their worst loss of the season, falling 5-0 to the Blues. But while they did spend the next few games jumping back and forth from the wins and losses columns, controversy reared its ugly head, starting the Kings off on an unfavorable track.
Having won two-in-a-row, the Kings entered the Motor City on January 18, less than a minute away from picking up their third-straight victory.
In that final minute, the Detroit Red Wings were pressing to tie when the puck shot up and hit the mesh behind the glass only to fall back into play and in the net. When a puck hits the mesh, the play is dead - usually. In this instance, however, unfathomably, the referees decided to let the play keep going, the Wings tied and ultimately in the shootout. After the game, even the Red Wings players admitted that the goal should not have counted. Nevertheless, Los Angeles lost and it paved the way for losses in their next four outings and eight in their last nine. Even their much-anticipated outdoor game at Dodger Stadium proved to be, for lack of a better term, a dud as they lost to their crosstown rivals from Anaheim by a 3-0 score. Amidst all this chaos, one thing was evident: the Olympic break could not arrive fast enough.
Since the new year started, the Kings were shut out four times and limited to a single goal six times. Even if they aren't notorious for lighting the lamp at will, the Los Angeles Kings were underachieving. They did, however, take some solace in their finale before the Olympic break, beating Columbus 2-1 in overtime. It was a good sign but everyone knew there was a lot of work to done. Once the NHL resumed their schedule following Sochi, the silver-and-black decided to up the ante so to speak.
Once the Kings were back, they reeled off seven-straight wins and, after a three-game losing streak, pulled off six-in-a-row, clinching third-place in the Pacific Division while tying a franchise-record with 46 overall wins and their fourth 100-point campaign in club history.
If you were to compare Los Angeles's first half with their second, the latter wouldn't look so impressive. After going 25-12-4 to open the season, the Kings went 21-16-4 in the latter half.
After allowing just 1.98 goals per game in the first half, Los Angeles's average dropped to 2.19 in the second allowing a total of 91 goals against in the new year as opposed to 83 prior.
In the shots department, there has been very little change. In the first half of the season, the Kings averaged 30.8 shots for per contest and 27.5 against. In the second half, those numbers changed to 31.2 per and 26.9 per respectively.
In addition, Los Angeles's lead percentages all dipped a bit.
When scoring first, the Kings opened the season at .760. In the new year, it was .726. After a .375 rating when trailing first, that number decreased to .354. When leading after the first period, the Kings went from .813 to .790 while, when leading after two, their percentage went from 1.000 to .950. None of the aforementioned totals dropped at alarming rates but it is certainly something to take note of entering the playoffs.
Physically, the Kings were nearly as intimidating in the second half as they were in the first, dishing out 1,267 hits after the new year next to their total of 1,342 earlier. Also, in terms of blocked shots, Los Angeles fell just one short of their total in the first half, tallying 463 in the latter half.
Individually, the Kings were led in the second half by Anze Kopitar who led his team with 16 goals, 34 points and a +13 rating. But it wasn't just the Slovenian producing as defenseman Alec Martinez found his scoring touch in the latter half in addition to Trevor Lewis, Dwight King and even Jake Muzzin who spent much of the first half struggling defensively. Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the performance of the newest King, Marian Gaborik. Since coming over from Columbus on March 5, scoring points in 16 of the 19 games he's played since coming over from the Blue Jackets.
After missing much of the season's first half, Jonathan Quick returned to the Los Angeles Kings' goal with a mission - and he seemed to get better with each passing game.
In his 33 games in the latter half, Quick went 17-12-4, posting a 2.14 goals-against average, a .912 save percentage and five shutouts, all en route to setting a franchise-record in wins and claiming the team's first-ever William M. Jennings Trophy for the team with fewest goals against.
The numbers may not scream excellence but the Los Angeles Kings spent the latter part of this season's second half upping their game with all of their players stepping up in one way or another.
Not everything about their latter half was pleasant but the Los Angeles Kings are stronger for it as they now prepare for their 2013 playoff rematch with their heated rivals from San Jose.