If you look at the Los Angeles Kings after 41 games this season and put them next to the Kings after 41 games last season, it would look the same in the points department. This season, like last season, has the Kings at 47 points. However, their 20-14-7 record this season is a little less than their 23-17-1 record at this point last season. Overall, though, especially when you look at the last few weeks, it could be said that the Kings have a good first-half of 2011-12 with everything considered.
They started the season in Europe, had a bit of a hangover, if you will, their goaltender celebrated a team-record three consecutive shutouts, they couldn’t find the back of the net and they replaced coaches. Overall, not a terrible way to spend the first 41 games of the season, right? It’s no question that the Kings have fallen on hard times early on but they get through the regular season’s first half better than they entered the season, in my mind.
Los Angeles didn’t exactly kick of 2011-12 in ceremonious fashion. Although they won their season-opener against the New York Rangers, they had just come off re-signing disgruntled defenseman Drew Doughty who had spent an entire summer holding out for a ridiculous amount of money. However, despite struggling mightily early on, Doughty found his way as of late and finds himself in a much better situation now that Darryl Sutter has taken over behind the bench. In fact, other players like captain Dustin Brown have seemed to have improve their game once Sutter took over.
The biggest bright spot for the Kings in the first-half of the season has been the play of their biggest off-season acquisition, Mike Richards. Despite missing eight games due to injury, Richards leads his new club in goals with 13. Having scored his first as a King in their first game this season, it was obvious that Richards got right to work, which can even be said for the fact that he scored twice in as many games since returning from injury just a couple of weeks ago.
Los Angeles’ other off-season acquisition, Simon Gagne, had a blazing start scoring 17 points in his first 17 games. Unfortunately, he failed to register a single point in his next 17 being sidelined with a concussion. Gagne has yet to return to the ice for any practices so the Kings are hopeful that Gagne will recover soon and return to the lineup in due time.
The biggest concern surrounding the Kings thus far has to be what they look like in the goals department. Through 41 games last season, the Kings boasted an average of 3.02 goals-per-game, which put them in the Top 10 overall in that category. This season is a different story as Los Angeles has a lowly average of 2.07 goals-per-game through 41 contests, which has them in last place in said category.
But with every negative, comes a positive and in their case, the Kings, as futile as their offense has been, has benefitted from an improved defense. Last season, the Kings averaged 2.59 goals-against-per-game at the season’s halfway point. This season, through the first 41 games, Los Angeles boasts an average of 2.15.
You can look at everything up until December 19 and think that the Kings have their work cut out for them. Although it’s true that the playoffs are not an entitlement, it is fair to say that the Kings have turned a corner, even though they still struggle to put the puck in the net. Yet, they continue to be competitive not only in their division but in their conference.
New head coach Darryl Sutter has already laid his mark on this team as he has yet to suffer a regulation loss. There’s still a lot of time to improve and although it won’t be perfect, look for the Los Angeles Kings to start the second half as strong as they finished the first. They’re capable of that and both you and I, as well as every player and coach on the team, are very well-aware of that.
Photo: Courtesy of Bret Hartman/AP Photo