Kings can still have numbers add up right
The math is fairly simple for the Kings coming out of the NHL’s three-week Olympic break.
Beginning with Wednesday’s game in Colorado, they will close the regular season with 23 games in 46 days. Win more than half of them, and they’ll finish with at least 92 points, a total that has guaranteed a playoff berth in four of the last five full seasons.
Anything less and the odds drop dramatically.
“It’s the stretch run. It’s playoff-type hockey now,” forward Justin Williams said after Monday’s 75-minute morning practice. “We’ve dug ourselves a little bit of a hole and, fortunately for us, we’re still in a playoff spot.”
Much of that digging came in the final three weeks before the break, the Kings losing a league-worst nine times in 11 games, their poorest stretch since the 2010-11 season. That has left them with a thin four-point lead over Dallas and Phoenix in the race for the Western Conference’s final playoff berth.
“It’s always a sprint,” center Mike Richards said of the season’s final seven weeks. “That’s when it’s exciting to play hockey.
“We understand the position that we’re in. So we just have to look to win hockey games.”
That is exactly what the Kings have done down the stretch in each of the last three seasons, going 13-7-3, on average, over their final 23 games. And they’ll enter the home stretch this year healthier than they’ve been in weeks. Every King who was in Los Angeles was on the ice Monday.
“All the players were out there,” assistant coach Davis Payne said. “So that’s a good thing.”
Among them were Olympians Anze Kopitar (Slovenia) and Slava Voynov (Russia), who returned from Sochi in time for practice. Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter, who won gold medals with Canada, and Jonathan Quick and Dustin Brown of Team USA were expected to meet the team in Denver.
Kopitar has been on a tear lately, registering six points — including three goals — in his last six NHL games, then adding two goals and an assist in Sochi. But he admitted he wasn’t sure how playing through the Olympic break for the first time in his career will affect him over the season’s final seven weeks.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess we’ll find out.”
Quick, who played five games in 10 days in Russia, could be another player affected by a grueling Olympic schedule, not to mention the 6,000-mile flight home. So with Wednesday’s game in Denver followed by one Thursday in Calgary and a home game Saturday with Carolina, the Kings called for some help, summoning goalie Martin Jones from Manchester of the American Hockey League.
Richards — who, like Quick, played in the Vancouver Games four years ago — took the three weeks off this winter and came away uncertain there’s an advantage.
“You can look at it both ways,” he said. “It’s tough before you’re continuing to play while everyone [else] is working out and resting. But that level of hockey over there is about as high as it’s ever going to get. So I think they’re more prepared to come back to the NHL.”
Payne, who coached the St. Louis Blues before joining the Kings as an assistant last season, was more equivocal.
“It depends,” he said. “It depends on how you prepare through it and it depends on how you come out of it. So you can look at it any number of ways.
“We plan on it being a good thing. We’re in a real fight here. So it’s got to be a good thing.”
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