At this time last year (20 games in) the Kings were 8-11-1 and in the midst of a 4 game losing streak. Over the next 20 games, the Kings would squeak out 6 wins, 13 losses (including an 8 game losing streak) and 1 overtime loss. Their season would be over and the #1 draft pick watch began.
This year at the 20 game mark, the Kings are 8-9-3. If you look at the numbers, it's hard to see how far the team has come. But if you are a fan, you realized just how different this years team is than the last few years.
This team plays defense. And it plays it well... mostly. Sure there are lapses sometimes and power play goals given up... but that happens to every team in the league. This team... and every Kings team to come after it will only go as far as our goaltender will take us. Erik Ersberg is a fun stop-gap. But he's not the answer. That answer is in the minors right now, either in Manchester or Ontario. We may not see that future goaltender this season. The Kings are playing competitively enough to challenge for a low level playoff spot. That might keep the Kings from bringing up a young goalie and handing the keys to him. Although the Montreal Canadians did that last season... and it seemed to work out pretty well for them.
20 GAMES IN REVIEW:
Best Player: Dustin Brown
Night in and night out, Brownie Squares is the best player on the ice for the Kings. He has taken the Captainship and run with it, the moves he pulled during the Washington Captials game proved that. He has suffered offensively because Anze Kopitar has struggled, but with Patrick O'Sullivan back on the 1st line, help is on the way.
Best Player Under 19: 18 Year Old Drew Doughty
Best Defenseman: 18 Year Old Drew Doughty
I think we all knew he was going to be good... but no one had any idea he would be this good. He is challenging for Rookie of the Year and each night you can see him learning more about the NHL game. Give credit to Sean O'Donnell... he is much more the teacher than Rob Blake or even Mathieu Schneider would have ever been.
Worst Player: Kyle Calder
This one is a no brainer. Calder has hands of stone and couldn't make any opportunity of Coach Murray's gift of putting him on the first line. Raitis Ivanans didn't once score 26 goals in a season. He's paid to be an enforcer. After 1 full season and 20 games, I'm not sure what Kyle Calder is being paid to do.
Worst Defenseman: Denis Gauthier/Tom Preissing
If you could combine these 2 defensemen into 1, you'd have a decent player. Gauthier plays a good physical game, but doesn't seem to be the brightest bulb in the shed. Preissing has great offensive instincts, he's just soft as a pillow. Don't forget... Jack Johnson will be back soon. One of these guys will go away.
Biggest Surprise: 18 Year Old Drew Doughty
Any one who said they thought he was going to be this good is a liar.
Biggest Disappointment: Jason LaBarbera
I really thought this would be the year for LaBarbera. He tore up the AHL since he was forced to stay down there all season. He lost weight, he seemed focused to start the season. But after watching Erik Ersberg play the last 10 games... you realize that LaBarbera just isn't starting goalie material. I imagine he will be traded (as will Calder and Derek Armstrong) in the coming months. Some team is going to need a back-up goaltender.
The Thing that Makes Me the Happiest:
The complete implosion of the Dallas Stars hockey club.
Here's hoping the Kings rebound tonight against the Edmonton Oilers. I gave up on NHL Center Ice this season, but gained NHL Network. So I get to watch the game tonight. And the Half Season Ticket Holder Buddy and his lady are coming over as well to watch different Canadian announcers talk about and mispronounce the names of the Kings. Oh... and we'll see our old friend Lubo.