EL SEGUNDO—On the eve of their Western Conference playoff opener Wednesday in Vancouver, a seven-game series that few believe they can win, the Kings have one key element heading in the right direction.
In their final two regular-season games, the Kings scored six power-play goals in nine opportunities. They had just five in their previous 49 chances, a span of 16 games. That surge allowed them to leap from 25th in the league in power-play efficiency to 17th.
If the Kings are to keep up with the high-scoring Canucks, they’ll need to continue taking advantage of their opportunities, and even that might not be enough.
When the same teams met two years ago in the opening round of the playoffs, the Kings went 10-for-26 with the man-advantage, but still lost in six games.
“Special teams are key,” said defenseman Drew Doughty. “You’re only going to get one or two or three power plays a game with how tight the calls are.”
Doughty said the Kings have found success lately by crisply moving the puck, pounding away at the opponent's net and maintaining possession in the offensive zone. There has also been a distinct change in attitude.
“There was no change in X’s and O’s, it was just some players stepped up,” he said. “They really took it upon themselves to get the power play going, and it was pretty much all one unit that did all the scoring. Now, it’s up the other unit to get going and do the same thing.”
Justin Williams had three power-play goals in the last two games, as well as two of the three the Kings scored against the Canucks this season. Doughty has the other power-play goal against Vancouver this season, and has potted three in the playoffs the last two years.
The first unit should also receive a boost with the return of Jeff Carter, who came to the Kings at the trade deadline in late February and scored two of his six goals with the man advantage. Carter missed the final five regular-season games with a deep bone bruise in his ankle, but returned to practice Monday and said he would be ready to go for Game 1.
Watching the last two games from a distance, Carter was impressed with the puck movement on the power play.
“We weren’t stationary, we were moving around and getting pucks to the net,” he said. “When you do that, it seems to open up other opportunities.”
Most of the recent power-play goals have come off deflections or rebounds. That’s how defenseman Alec Martinez scored his in the first period of a 6-5 shootout loss Thursday against the Sharks.
“You’re playing against the best goalies in the world,” Martinez said. “If they see the puck, they’re most likely going to make the save, so we’ve got to get in front of them. We’ve done a pretty good job of that lately and we’ve just got to keep it going.”
Watching the puck hit the net has also been good for the psyche, Doughty said.
“A lot of it is about confidence,” he said. “With us putting up those numbers in the last couple games on the power play, I think that gives us a little confidence to perform better.”
If the Kings are to win just their second playoff series since 1993, they'll need every edge they can muster.
And even that might not be enough.