December 14, 2009 by Big Tony
The Los Angeles Kings sit atop the Western Conference 34 games into the season. Plenty of people felt good about the improvement we would see in the Kings this season but did anyone have them playing this well? The team owes a lot of its success to the incredible emergences of Anze Kopitar who has become a star almost over-night, and the stellar goaltending from Jonathan Quick who is certainly living up to his name. Aside from the two aforementioned players the Kings do not look like much on paper because their numbers are par or subpar in many cases. Los Angeles has an ok power play and awful penalty killing which ranks near the bottom of the league. While the Kings score a lot of goals they also give up a ton and as a result a lot of the plus/minus numbers for many of its players are pretty terrible. With that in mind, although Los Angeles seems to do a lot of things wrong on paper there is one thing they do incredible well and that’s win! Despite everything the Kings seem to come out on top when the final horn sounds and simply put that’s all that matters. As a result of their style of play it bodes very well for the Kings come playoff time because style points absolutely do no matter, the idea is to win no matter what happens and in whatever way possible. Timely goal scoring and penalty killing are what make it happen and that is why the Kings—as long as they remain healthy—are going to win at least their first round playoff series and perhaps even further. There is in fact still a long way to go but keep an eye on this team because you’ll be hearing a lot more from them come spring time.
On the other end of the Western Conference playoff tree are the Detroit Red Wings. That’s right people the Detroit Red Wings from Hockeytown USA find themselves in ninth place a point out of a playoff spot after 32 games played. Granted, Johan Franzen has been out since October as he recovers from knee surgery and his scoring would probably be enough to at least have them in a playoff spot today. However, as it stands Franzen has not been playing and the rest of the team has been unable to pick up the slack as much as they need to. Their first issue is once again goaltending for they went through a similar situation last year in the regular season when neither Osgood nor Conklin (and this year Jimmy Howard) could keep the puck out of the net. The difference between this year and last year is that last year Detroit could outscore anyone to make up for the netminding deficiencies. Detroit has the experience and enough talent to go far come playoff time should they qualify, but getting there is going to be the problem. Fact is that Detroit is getting older, they have plenty of young talent to replace the older guys but these young players need time to find their niches and really get used to their roles to mesh as a team. Not only do the Wings have to worry about internal problems but the fact that the rest of the Western Conference simply got better. With stiffer competition and the lack of intimidation factor that used to come with playing against Detroit (even only two short seasons ago) the Red Wings could, and I think will, find themselves out of a playoff spot for the first time in a long time. Now the Western Conference has turned upside down with L.A. on top and Detroit on bottom… get used to it folks because it’s the new NHL reality.