From a seemingly endless journey through the Southeast, to Canada to games at home, the message from the
They were angered and embarrassed by what happened last season — missing the playoffs — and vowed there would not be a repeat of a lost year.
They've followed their words. Through 49 games, they are nine points ahead of last season's pace and already matched their road win total (15) from 2014-15.
The directed-anger approach has been working, the Kings holding a seven-point lead in the
But what comes next in the stretch run for the Kings?
As it turns out, plenty.
"Being able to put teams away," Kings Assistant General Manager Rob Blake said. "Establish the lead and continue to put teams away. Don't let them hang around."
The Kings are 18-4 when leading after two periods. In their final game before the break, they were ahead, 3-2, after two periods with Colorado and lost, 4-3. They lost two leads in that game, including a two-goal, first-period lead.
Another glaring example of struggles to put teams away came against Ottawa on Jan. 16, when the Kings squandered a two-goal lead and lost, 5-3.
"We've let a couple of games slip in the third," Kings defenseman
General Manager Dean Lombardi pulled off one of the better deals of his tenure, especially in terms of acquisition cost, when he acquired center Vinny Lecavalier and defenseman
Lombardi is always looking and will continue to do so — especially in terms of the bottom end of the defense — as the Feb. 29 trade deadline approaches. However, he is limited in his options because the Kings are tight on cap space.
For now, Kings Coach
Blake said the stretch run will serve as a time to "find the proper combinations for lines up front," adding: "When Cliffy [
Clifford was sent to the Kings'
The Kings started the season without left wing
Clifford's return will add to that element.
Another injury forced Sutter to make adjustments and it immediately paid dividends. Center
"We put Kopi [Anze Kopitar] with Looch [
"We're not splitting those guys up," Sutter said.
That line has helped the Kings' climb the
"Two weeks ago, we were 20th [in goals scored], which is not quite good enough. Now we're up to 14th," he said. "Everyone thinks that's a dumb statement, that 3-2 stuff, but it is dead on. If you score three goals a game, that's 246; it is almost impossible in today's game."
Even in their championship seasons, the Kings didn't have a big lead in the division ... or a lead, for that matter. In fact, they didn't clinch a playoff spot until the final few days of the 2011-12 season, on the way to their first
"If you look around the room and right down the line … this has gotta be one of the best team's we've ever had on paper, without a doubt," he said. "With all our top guys getting older and more experienced, we're better that way too."
This was not meant as a slight to the past teams, ones featuring stay-at-home veterans such as defensemen Willie Mitchell and
"Those guys were important obviously," Doughty said. "I don't mean to say that we're much better than our Stanley Cup teams. What I'm saying is we should be and don't think we've reached our potential yet."