History is replete with instances of kingdoms and dynasties being overthrown. Rarer still are those instances when a kingdom is restored after being overthrown like the Stuarts who regained the British throne in the 17th century and the Bourbons who regained the French throne in the 19th century.
Today, in the 21st century the Los Angeles Kings are striving desperately to regain their throne which they abdicated last season with a pathetic whimper when they performed one of the rarest of ignominious feats: failing to reach the playoffs after winning the Stanley Cup—a feat that has now occurred only ten times in NHL history.
The Kings were wracked with internal flaws: the arrest, suspension, and eventual ouster of blue-liner Slava Voynov amidst charges of spousal abuse; the arrest and departure of Jarret Stoll due to drug possession; the grievance and settlement with Michael Richards (who himself faces criminal charges of drug possession); and even more disturbing, the lurking rumors that the Kings were no longer responding to head coach Darryl Sutter were were all pebbles in a pile that portended a possible tipping point for the Kings and Darryl Sutter. It looked even worse when Los Angeles opened up the first week of this season with three straight losses, allowing their opponents to outscore them 12-2.
This writer himself was ready to write the post-mortem for Darryl Sutter as head coach of the L.A. Kings but now the scales of hockey fate seem to be tipping back into Sutter’s favor.
The Kings have rebounded with six consecutive wins and have gone from worst to first in the Pacific Division. They have regained their defensive strength, holding their opponents to six goals in their past six games. They’ve regained their tightness and toughness as well—grinding out tough wins against Minnesota, Colorado, and Edmonton while avenging their Opening Night loss to San Jose by whipping the Sharks 4-1.
Tyler Toffoli has fueled the Kings offense, leading the team in goals scored with two game-winning goals to his credit. Free agent acquisition Milan Lucic, along with Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty, has brought his playmaking talents from Boston to the West Coast while also adding greater muscle to the Kings physical arsenal. Lucic, Kyle Clifford, Jordan Nolan, and especially Andy Andreoff are enforcing the law for the Kings.
The question mark is goaltender Jonathan Quick. In his first three games his GAA was 4.00 but he has now halved it. The bedrock of the Kings dynasty has always been Jonathan Quick and the fulcrum of coach Darryl Sutter’s coaching greatness has been his ability to get great work from his net-minders. Jonathan Quick was forced to work overtime in the nets due to the fact that only a thin blue line stood between him and the opposing shooters. Quick had to face 1896 shots on goal (as opposed to 1183 in 2013/14). His stats suffered accordingly. Right now he has found his groove but it is still early in the season, can he maintain and regain the sterling form he showed before during the Kings two Stanley Cup wins?
Head coach Darryl Sutter himself stands at the metaphorical crossroads. Last season his coaching value stagnated at +80. His Average Season Rating fell from +5.714 to +5.333 (a serious blow in the eyes of my rating system). If, indeed, he did lose his players last season, can he make them believers again? Can he re-establish the equilibrium and trust which is absolutely essential to winning the Stanley Cup? Can Los Angeles go all the way again?
What we’re seeing now is a team that is striving to reclaim its throne; not in leaps and bounds; not in 100 hundred days like Napoleon did in 1815; but with the team working to score one goal, one save, one hit, one penalty kill, one power-play, and win one game at a time. It will be a long wait but sometimes good things come to teams that have the maturity and patience to wait.