Despite how they finished, the Los Angeles Kings earned 18 points in December - equaling their total for November. During the first 10 games of December, the Kings went 9-1-0 before, including a six-game winning streak to start the month, losing four-straight to end 2013. But there is still plenty of optimism (and rightfully so) surrounding the silver-and-black in spite of the recent slump.
After backstopping Los Angeles to a 3-2 win over St. Louis back on December 2, Ben Scrivens was given a much-deserved night off the following night when the Kings traveled to Anaheim to take on the Ducks. It was there that Martin Jones made his NHL debut between the pipes, but optimism wasn't exactly running high just hours earlier.
While fans weren't doubting the skills of Jones, to see a rookie netminder get his first taste of NHL action against a team as high-flying (no pun intended) as the Ducks were seemed to be an unfair initiation. But Jones not only played great, he shut the Anaheim attack down in a marathon shootout, opening the door for not only for his team's win but a streak that saw the Vancouver native reel off a record-tying eight-straight wins to start a career. But goaltending wasn't the only area that led to Los Angeles's success this past month.
The Kings certainly received a lot of support up front. Tyler Toffoli was off to a fast start to his career playing in his first full month. His four goals and two assists were impressive although he did slow down towards the end.
Justin Williams (2G, 3A), Anze Kopitar (4G, 2A) and Jarret Stoll (3G, 4A) did their parts in helping the Kings some games this past month but so did Drew Doughty who scored once and added eight assists. Mike Richards may not have scored in December but his six helpers certainly had the Kings in the right direction. But in terms of offensive contributions, it was the suddenly-formidable duo of Jeff Carter and Dwight King who led the way. While Carter did lead the way with seven goals and six assists, Dwight King, who was coming off a forgettable shortened season, registered four goals and six assists this past month, setting career-highs in both categories already.
In terms of special teams, the silver-and-black would be the first ones to admit that December wasn't much to brag about. On the power play, the Kings were 4-for-35 with the man advantage while going 9-for-52 on the penalty-kill. The latter numbers are certainly better than the former but overall, improvements in the special teams department certainly wouldn't hurt the Kings entering 2014.
But the driving force to Los Angeles's success in December comes back to who was between the pipes. Unfortunately for Ben Scrivens, his December wasn't as great as his November was. In spite of his 1-3-0 record in the month, however, No. 54 did continue to put up respectable numbers. While he allowed three goals in three of his four starts, his save totals were 25, 37, 28 and 29 - all figures of tireless showings. In December, Scrivens posted a 2.75 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage. Decent numbers, yes, but they paled in comparison to Los Angeles's other netminder.
Despite losing his last two decisions, Martin Jones's 8-2-0 mark this past month certainly has hockey experts taking notice. In December, the rookie goaltender recorded three shutouts including a streak of 176:16 without allowing a goal. Suffice to say that thanks to Jones's performances over the past four weeks, fans in Los Angeles are insisting that Jonathan Quick take his time in returning to the lineup.
Overall, a very impressive month for the Los Angeles Kings. While it may be difficult to look past the four-straight losses to end the month, not to mention a lack of discipline and offense during said slide, what was discovered about the 2012 Stanley Cup champions certainly cannot be denied.
In November, we saw a team that could flourish without the number-one netminder. While that continued for much of December, the willingness of every player in a Kings uniform to contribute and spread the wealth if you will has certainly emphasized how great of a team the Los Angeles Kings really are. While the likes of Carter, Kopitar and Doughty are reliable for putting points on the board, by no means no the Kings rely on these three to win games. The offense can spread it around, every defenseman can make timely blocks or dish out devastating hits to keep momentum on their side. Then, the goaltending does their part which leaves Kings fans not sitting on their hands eagerly awaiting the return of the aforementioned Jonathan Quick.
It may not have ended under ideal circumstances but the Los Angeles Kings had a great December following a just-as-great November. If they can duplicate similar success in January, it will be a testament to just how complete this Kings squad really is.
And just for the record, there is no doubt that the silver-and-black can do just that to open the new year.