December 7, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Elliott: An old veteran and a lot of new faces have the Kings on quite a roll

The Kings are so hot that they’ve won six straight games, which matches the longest winning streak in the NHL this season, and they’ve earned points in seven straight games (6-0-1).

They’re so hot that they’ve outscored their opponents 22-7 in those victories and haven’t trailed in any of those games. Goaltenders Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen have each started three games during the streak, with two-time Stanley Cup champion Quick earning two shutouts and heir apparent Petersen improving his goals-against average to 2.28 and his save percentage to a dazzling .931.

They’re so hot that Dustin Brown, who’s enjoying a hard-earned revival at age 36, got credited for a goal while he wasn’t playing. Brown, who played his 1,200th NHL game earlier in the week, benefited Thursday when a review showed that the rebound of a shot he took against St. Louis on Wednesday went into the net off a Blues defender and wasn’t deflected by teammate Alex Iafallo. With that goal — his eighth in his last nine games — Brown became the top goal scorer in the West division with 11 through Wednesday’s action and was tied for fifth in the league.

“I think everyone is probably surprised outside of the room. I think we have a good team in there,” Brown said during a video interview earlier this week. “I think we’re kind of building on some of the momentum we had last year, and the confidence.

“To be honest with you, we have some young players coming in and kind of learning on the fly and doing a pretty good job of it. So you have a pretty good veteran core group and some other spots are starting to get filled in by some younger players, which is a good thing for us.”

After limping along on past glory for too long after their 2014 Cup championship and missing the playoffs the past two seasons and four of the past six, the reconfigured Kings are on a decidedly upward trajectory. Their winning streak, which they’ll put on the line Friday at Minnesota, has affirmed they’re heading in the right direction, but it hasn’t made them complacent. That’s a healthy way for them to approach this unpredictable 56-game schedule.

“I think it’s more so guys are playing how we expected them to play and doing their jobs. And I think that’s been our main thing,” Petersen said after he stopped 35 shots at St. Louis on Wednesday. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves and taking it game by game. And I think it’s paying off for us.”

Kings goalie Cal Petersen blocks a shot during a game against the San Jose Sharks at Staples Center on Feb. 9.

(Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)

The Kings’ pain isn’t over yet. The compacted schedule likely will test the kids’ consistency and endurance, and the back end of the defense corps could use an upgrade. Olli Maatta was a capable replacement for injured Mikey Anderson on Wednesday but Maatta is too slow to regularly play heavy minutes, and rugged Kurtis MacDermid is best used sparingly.

But the ugliest part of the team’s rebuilding process is over, and at 9-6-3 for 21 points they rank among the top four teams in the West. So far they’ve made a persuasive case that they have the goaltending, defense, special teams play and balance to grab one of four playoff berths in the realigned West division.

“We’re in the thick of things now and that’s where the fun begins, really,” center Anze Kopitar said. “You want to play meaningful games going into March, going into April, and in this case that’s where we want to be. And we want to keep improving on our game and we want to keep climbing.”

From the outside the most unexpected contributions have been the 11 goals and 17 points from Brown, whose scoring declined over the years as his intensely physical game wore him down. But Kopitar, Brown’s longtime center, said he knew Brown had more to contribute beyond strong leadership.

Kings forward Dustin Brown controls the puck against the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 24.

Kings forward Dustin Brown controls the puck against the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 24.

(Joe Puetz / Associated Press)

“Brownie’s the type of player that’s always hanging around the net, so for the lack of better words he’s about an inch or two away from scoring every night. It’s just sometimes the puck hits you or the puck bounces the other way on you,” Kopitar said. “It doesn’t surprise me at all. He’s been a hard-working guy for all these years. We’ve all seen it firsthand. To me, he’s just getting rewarded right now.”

Brown said he lost a few pounds during training camp, which was the Kings’ first time on the ice since the NHL paused play last March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He says he feels good at a lighter weight but also is putting his experience to good use in reading the game.

“You look at some older players that play in the league for a while, they might slow down a little bit but thinking the game is a huge part at this level and you learn, you just get better if you’re paying attention,” he said. “I think I think the game a lot better than I did when I started. I think each year I’ve tried to get better. I think that’s the key, just trying to get better every year regardless of age. Age is just a number and it will catch up, but if you put the work in you can continue to excel. There’s a lot of room for me to still improve, I think.”

There’s room for the Kings to improve too. Coach Todd McLellan said they had been slow with the puck on Wednesday and not as sharp as in their 3-0 win on Monday, and he noted some lapses in their structures. But those were the kind of points coaches make when they want to refine a team, not rebuild it. They believe they’re past that stage now.

“When we started, we didn’t start just to be OK,” McLellan said. “We want to get better every night, and if we can do that, who knows what can happen?”

For the first time in a long time where the Kings are concerned, it’s pleasant to think about the answer to that question.