Finishing games was long a major attribute of the Kings, beginning when former coach Terry Murray taught them how to kick the door shut defensively through the first years under Darryl Sutter.
Dustin Brown remembers that string of stubbornness when they led after two periods, almost down to the statistic.
“We were like 100-0-2,” Brown said. “Something ridiculous.”
From the 2009-10 season through 2012-13, the Kings were 102-1-11 when leading after two periods. This season, that third-period stranglehold has returned, but instead of shutting down opponents they tend to step on the gas pedal.
The Kings have outscored teams 40-13 in the third period this season, a differential due in big part to their ability to score as opposed to taking a lead and shutting it down like those Murray and Sutter outfits of the past.
“Now, it’s like [if] we’re behind a goal, we can come back, which I don’t think those teams did as much,” Brown said.
“We’re a really good third-period [team] now, but it’s a lot to do with scoring big goals, whereas I think those [past] teams — if we had a lead going into the third, the game was over. Hopefully we can get to that point as this group develops.”
That offensive ability is a welcome facet to the Kings under first-year coach John Stevens, although Stevens isn’t all that keen on starting the third period with a deficit as they’ve done 12 times in 29 games.
“You want to be able to come from behind if you need to,” Stevens said. “You don’t want to make a habit of it. But the other thing is, you don’t want one event in the early part of a hockey game to dictate the outcome, either. … I think it’s encouraging that this group doesn’t lose their focus, and they’ve got the resiliency to stay with it as long it takes to get the job done. To me, that’s a good quality to have. Guys still think they have a chance.”
Jonathan Quick and Darcy Kuemper provide that chance at the other end. Quick is making a case for his first Vezina Trophy, and Drew Doughty a case for his second Norris Trophy. Anze Kopitar has returned to dominance.
Quick, Doughty and Kopitar all learned the shutdown mentality early in their careers, and that pillar of the team’s philosophy still permeates.
“Ever since I’ve been here, it’s been a staple of the team,” Trevor Lewis said. “New guys come in, and they just kind of build off the leadership in our room.”
Gabriel Vilardi has been cleared to practice with contact, according to general manager Rob Blake. Vilardi, their first-round draft pick, returned to the Kings to get his back re-evaluated and would get cleared to play for his junior team if he progresses. … Andy Andreoff (upper body injury) is “getting close” to returning, Stevens said.
When: 7:30 p.m., Thursday
On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 790