NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s game between the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
Even in a shortened 2020-21 NHL season, hot streaks might slip under the radar. So, forgive yourself if you weren’t aware that the Los Angeles Kings bring a five-game winning streak into Wednesday’s game against the Blues.
To Kings coach Todd McLellan, the winning streak makes a difference, but not to the point of arrogance.
“You gain confidence with wins and you lose confidence when you lose games,” McLellan said after the Kings beat the Coyotes on Saturday, via Mayor’s Manor. “Having a bit of swagger, without arrogance, is always a good thing as a hockey club. I don’t think we’re anywhere near arrogance, perhaps we have a little bit of swagger. We believe in each other. Let’s face it, none of these wins were easy, nor will they be going forward and they shouldn’t be, it’s the NHL.”
Even with this five-game winning streak, the Kings’ record is a fairly modest (8-6-3 for 19 points in 17 games). Still, gaining wins provides a boost, and puts Los Angeles within striking distance of catching teams like the Blues (10-7-2, 22 points in 19 GP).
Some of that hot streak boils down to some strong goaltending. While Jonathan Quick‘s season numbers (such as a middling .903 save percentage in 2020-21) look chilly to those of Calvin Petersen (a strong .926), Quick’s been hot lately. The veteran goalie’s won three in a row, pitching two shutouts (including in a 3-0 vs. the Blues), and only allowing two goals during that span.
Quick’s surge rolls into a larger theme. As much as the Kings’ future revolves around fresh, young faces, it’s the familiar, more grizzled players who’ve helped them be a more formidable opponent this season.
Kopitar, other Kings carry hot starts into game vs. Blues
Through 17 games, Anze Kopitar easily leads all Kings scorers with an impressive 21 points.
On one hand, there are some bounces that might stop going Kopitar’s way. While Kopitar’s personal shooting percentage doesn’t present red flags, his on-ice shooting percentage is at a career-high 13.1%. That’s a big jump from last season’s 9.4%, which was close to Kopitar’s career average (9.2).
Even so, there’s a lot to like about Kopitar’s overall play. Underlying metrics such as Evolving Hockey’s Goals Against Replacement indicate that Kopitar’s game has rebounded quite a bit.
So, Kopitar, 33, ranks as a Kings player having a throwback season — whether it will cool off a bit or not — but he isn’t alone.
At 36, Dustin Brown‘s most likely to just annoy opponents, when he used to annoy them and also score on their goalies. Surprisingly, Brown is just a hair off a point-per-game pace (16 in 17 games) so far this season.
No doubt, a lot of that boils down to skating frequently with Kopitar. (Kopitar’s own on-ice shooting percentage luck can probably also be seen in Brown’s shooting percentage, at an unsustainable 28.6%.) But for Kings fans, it has to be refreshing to see glimpses of the glorious era of two Stanley Cups.
Speaking of which, Drew Doughty ranks third among Kings players — and high among NHL defensemen — with 15 points. Being among those top defensive scorers matters to Doughty, too, as he told The Athletic’s Lisa Dillman (sub. required).
“It means a lot. I haven’t been up there in a long, long time,” Doughty said. “A lot of people have counted me out, and I want to get back up there in that conversation. So, to me, it means a lot. But it’s all credit to my teammates and the coaching staff. It’s not just me. I am playing well, but it’s everyone around me.”
No doubt, Doughty tends to use criticisms as bulletin board material. Seeing his points, you might assume that it’s a total rebound.
Things get a little more complicated when you dig into underlying stats, but a more competitive Kings team might help Doughty stay fully engaged. It’s possible that, in believing the rebuilding Kings may be able to hang in there, Doughty might win some of the battles he recently lost more often than some realized.
Hot streak shouldn’t change any plans, but it’s good for fans
Either way, the Kings enter Wednesday’s game against the Blues on a high note, and a hot streak. It would be dangerous to read too much into this. In no way should this convince the Kings to veer from their rebuild.
Yet, for Kings fans likely still grappling with the reality of a rebuild, this surge has to be a nice little nostalgic taste of the past. Maybe Kopitar, Quick, Doughty, Brown and others (hey, Jeff Carter has 11 points!!) could even keep that going a bit longer?