The defending Stanley Cup champion L.A. Kings were, not long ago, on the outside of this year’s playoff picture. Not anymore.
As of Friday, they’re now in the final Wild Card after shutting out the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday. Since early February, they’ve gone on an eight-game winning streak, and have won four of their last five games to get back into a top-eight spot in the West.
They’ve been in dire situations before. The San Jose Sharks can certainly attest.
And yet, when it matters the most, the Kings have suddenly been able to overpower their opposition, like it was as simple as flipping on a light switch.
“I think the games just got more important and I think the guys were getting sick of having to talk about why were doing so bad on the road,” Kings defenseman Drew Doughty told The Province on Thursday. “We decided to turn it around and start winning.”
Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty was leaned on heavily last season, but it’s been taken to a new extreme in 2014-15. He’s gone from averaging 25:42 minutes per game to a league-leading 29:23 minutes this season.
That’s partially been a byproduct of necessity as the Kings have been without Slava Voynov since October, but it nevertheless begs the question if fatigue will eventually set in for Doughty, and potentially at the worst possible time given that the playoffs are just around the corner.
For his part, Doughty would argue that the status quo is fine.
“I’m not doing anything differently, really,” the 25-year-old defenseman told LA Kings Insider. “I’m just going on with my normal routine I’ve been doing for…this is my seventh year. So I haven’t changed too much. I’m just used to playing those minutes. It doesn’t seem like I’m any more tired or any less tired. I’m just used to it now. If I’m playing 28 minutes, I’m kind of like ‘What’s happening here?’ because I’m used to like 30-to-31 minutes. No, I’m not doing anything differently.
“Obviously on off days I’m trying to get a little more rest than usual and if we have optional practice, I take the option just to get some rest. Besides that, I’m just going with my normal routine and trying to just play my best.”
The Kings did acquire blueliner Andrej Sekera from Carolina to bolster the Kings’ defensive depth, but that hasn’t significantly eaten into Doughty’s playing time. Doughty has still logged 28:23 minutes per contest in March. Given that every game is critical for Los Angeles as it fights for a playoff berth, it seems unlikely that his workload will lighten before the end of the regular season.
The Los Angeles Kings have acquired defenseman Andrej Sekera from the Carolina Hurricanes, according to multiple reports. In return, the ‘Canes will receive a first-round draft pick (2015, as long as the Kings make the playoffs) and 19-year-old prospect Roland McKeown.
The deal should come as no surprise. With Slava Voynov suspended indefinitely, the Kings needed a d-man, as evidenced by Drew Doughty averaging 29:28 of ice time this season compared to 25:43 last year.
The Kings’ current eight-game winning streak also means they’re more likely than not to be in the playoffs — something that couldn’t be said at the beginning of the month, when the defending Stanley Cup champs dropped as low as 12th in the Western Conference.
Sekera, a 28-year-old pending unrestricted free agent, has two goals and 17 assists in 57 games this season while logging an average ice time of 22:46.
McKeown, a defenseman, was the 50th overall pick in the 2014 draft. He’s currently playing junior for the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL.
Related: Voynov trial likely to be delayed until March 9