For whatever the reason, the NHL features a unique phenomena where the last Stanley Cup Champion often faces a rough start to the new season. Perhaps its a summer spent partying with the cup and not training as hard, perhaps its complacency and a lack of motivation after finally reaching their goal, perhaps its the fact that as Champs other teams now have added motivation playing against them. For whatever the reason though, we have seen these slow starts repeat year in and year out. The media and fans have dubbed the phenomena, The Stanley Cup Hangover, and even in this lockout shortened year, things have been no different for the Los Angeles Kings, who started the season an unimpressive 5-6-2.
However, as sure as the Stanley Cup Hangover exists, there is also the recovery. The Kings return most of their team from the Cup run suffering almost no losses of core players to free agency, and with Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene as their only major injuries this year. The Kings have picked up their recent play with four straight wins, including a dominant performance over division leading Anaheim last night. Now at 9-6-2 the Kings sit in a playoff spot despite having games on hand against many of their Western Conference rivals. The Kings have also played 11 of their first 17 games on the road, and with that rough stretch of schedule out of the way, are now preparing for a run of games which feature plenty of appearances in front of a friendly home crowd at the Staples Centre.
The turnaround has of course begun at the back end. Jonathan Quick took awhile to get comfortable as he recovered from off-season back surgery, but is now nearing the form that made him the team’s MVP and the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in the playoffs last year. Drew Doughty is also coming around, and again proving why he is one of the best defencemen in the NHL. Last night we saw that Doughty controlled the pace of the game, and really put on a great performance in over 23 minutes of ice time. We saw a Norris Trophy caliber performance, shutting down the Ducks top guns in his own end of the rink, and starting the play offensively for Los Angeles. It was difficult not to notice the effect Doughty had on the game. Slava Voynov with a goal and an assist, and Rob Scuderi, +2 in 25 minutes of ice time also had good performances and showed the depth of the LA defence.
Up front the usual suspects are also coming to the forefront. Anze Kopitar picked up three assists to pace the offensive onslaught, and Captain Dustin Brown chipped in with a goal and an assist. Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner provided secondary scoring, as each chipped in with a goal. The Kings are again starting to look like the well-oiled machine that dominated last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, with a great top line, and contributions on the score sheet from the 2nd, 3rd and 4th lines showing off their excellent depth.
With the recent winning streak, the Kings served notice to the conference and the league, that the Cup Hangover is over and they are here to defend their Championship. Other Western Contenders should take notice.
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