Los Angeles Hockey: Jack Johnson

Kings pick Tanner Pearson in first round

June, 22, 2012
The Columbus Blue Jackets decided to hold on to their draft pick earned from the Kings in their trade for Jack Johnson earlier this year, leaving the Stanley Cup champions to pick last in the first round of the NHL draft on Friday night in Pittsburgh.

With the No. 30 pick, the Kings selected Tanner Pearson, a forward who scored 37 goals in 60 games for Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League last season.

Kings captain Dustin Brown welcomed the newest King via Twitter, saying "Congrats to @LAKings draft pick Tanner Pearson. Enjoy it tonight, work starts tomorrow."

Here is the part of the news release the team put out on Pearson:

LOS ANGELES – The 2012 Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings selected forward Tanner Pearson in the first round (30th overall) in day one of the 2012 NHL Draft, held at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

Pearson, who will turn 20 on Aug. 10, has played the last two seasons with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League. In 60 games in 2011-12 he recorded 91 points (37-54=91), 37 penalty minutes and a plus-21 rating. He led Barrie in goals, assists and points, while tying for the team lead in plus-minus. His 91 points was third overall in the OHL, while his 54 assists ranked fifth.

The 6-0, 198-pound native of Kitchener, Ontario had 42 points (15-27=42) and 35 penalty minutes for Barrie in 2010-11. His 42 points ranked sixth on the club.

Internationally, Pearson represented Team Canada at the 2012 World Junior Championships, where he recorded six points (1-5=6) in six games, helping Canada capture the bronze medal. He became the first junior player since Danny Syvret in 2005 to play for Team Canada after being passed over in the NHL Draft.

The Kings are scheduled to make up to six more selections at day two of the draft (rounds two through seven).

Lombardi takes elevator to the top

June, 15, 2012
Dean LombardiBruce Bennett/Getty ImagesDean Lombardi is humble when it comes to the Kings' accomplishments, but he had a major hand in helping them get there.

LOS ANGELES -- What must have seemed like the longest elevator ride of his life finally came to a halt shortly before 8 p.m. Monday night.

The Los Angeles Kings had just clinched their first Stanley Cup title in franchise history, and general manager Dean Lombardi, in his sixth season at the helm, was rushing from the press box inside Staples Center to the arena floor, hoping to reach the ice in time for the Cup presentation by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

"Hold on, Bettman. I've got to see this," Lombardi hollered at the elevator door, which was nearly pressed against his face.

A few seconds later, Lombardi and a handful of executives were speed-walking down the hallway and disappearing around a corner.

The 45-year wait was over.

The scene was in stark contrast to my first experience behind L.A.'s curtains, 4½ years ago.

It was just after Christmas 2007, when I was asked by a senior editor at another publication in town to cover practice the following morning. Eager to move up the chain after 14 years of mostly writing about high school sports, I enthusiastically accepted the assignment, even though I kept it to myself that I hadn’t been following the team in my spare time.

My first order of business was uncovering what the Kings had done lately. Much to my surprise, they had lost eight straight games, which remains their longest losing streak since dropping their final 11 in 2004.

Walking into the locker room the next day, it was as quiet as a college library during finals week.

Michael Cammalleri, nursing sore ribs at the time, didn't even bother to look up when asked about the progress of his injury.

Rob Blake, rumored to be heading to a playoff-bound team looking to shore up its defensive corps, said he would gladly waive his no-trade clause if approached.

Patrick O'Sullivan looked like the most sullen guy in L.A.

That was Season 2 of Lombardi's rebuilding plan, and he said everything was proceeding as planned.

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Kings: 10 most defining moments of 2011-12 season

June, 12, 2012
Los Angeles KingsJeff Gross/Getty ImagesThe Stanley Cup was the ultimate prize, but there were many defining moments in the Kings' season.

With the Stanley Cup securely in the hands of the Los Angeles Kings, now’s a good time to look back at the defining moments of last season, an eight-month journey that figures to be remembered for decades to come. In chronological order:

1. Home opener -- After starting the regular season with two games in Europe and two more on the East Coast, the Kings finally had a chance to play in front of their home crowd. Featuring a lineup that many believed could contend for a Pacific Division title, L.A. played just as well as advertised, cruising to a 5-0 victory against the St. Louis Blues. Kings left wing Simon Gagne, one of five players who joined L.A. in the offseason, had two goals and an assist in the victory.

2. Quick’s shutout streak -- The home opener against the Blues marked the beginning of a franchise-record three consecutive shutouts by Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. After the St. Louis game, he followed up by blanking the Phoenix Coyotes (2-0) and Dallas Stars (1-0). In one of the more questionable moves of coach Terry Murray’s tenure, he decided to rest Quick for a game following the Dallas win and that seemed to take him out of his groove. He went winless in six of his next seven starts, giving up 21 goals in that span.

3. Murray fired/Sutter hired -- The above-mentioned skid was the first indication the Kings were more than capable of underachieving. After another four-game losing spell in early December, general manager Dean Lombardi made the difficult decision to fire Murray, a man who implemented his defense-first identity but was unable to get the players to feel accountable for their poor play. Lombardi placed a call to Darryl Sutter at his barn in Alberta and asked if he was interested in the reclamation project. The rest, as they say, is history.

4. King/Nolan recall -- Sutter didn’t press all the right buttons immediately. In fact, the Kings weren’t able to win more than two straight games his first two months behind the bench. In an effort to bring more youth and size to the wings, the Kings brought up rookies Dwight King and Jordan Nolan from their AHL team in Manchester in early February, and they fit into the lineup like a new pair of boxing gloves. In their second game with the Kings, they each scored in a 4-2 victory against the Stars. King moved from the second to the third line late in the opening-round series against the Vancouver Canucks and went on to contribute five goals and three assists in the final 13 playoff games.

5. Carter trade -- After winning just three of the first 11 games in February, eliminating their wiggle room inside the top eight in the Western Conference, management went for broke Feb. 23 and traded defenseman Jack Johnson to the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets for high-scoring right wing Jeff Carter. The move rounded out the top six forwards for the Kings and didn’t force them to subtract from their back end, as rookie Slava Voynov was ready to assume a full-time role in the NHL. Carter started slow with L.A. but caught fire in the second half of their playoff run, scoring seven goals in the final 10 games.

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Voynov's patience pays off big for Kings

June, 1, 2012
Slava VoynovNoah Graham/NHLI/Getty ImagesEarlier this season, Slava Voynov said he almost gave up his dream of becoming a regular in the NHL.

NEWARK, N.J. -- Three weeks before the trade that sent shock waves through the NHL and turned this season around for the Los Angeles Kings, there was the conversation.

Kings general manager Dean Lombardi sat down with rookie defenseman Slava Voynov in early February and broke the news that he was sending him back to the minor leagues.

The Kings were stacked with defensemen, and Voynov was better off playing full-time for the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, rather than watching games from the locker room as a healthy scratch.

It was heartbreaking news for Voynov, who had already spent three full seasons with the Monarchs and was the final cut coming out of training camp last fall. He came up for five games in October while Drew Doughty nursed a shoulder injury, then was sent down again. He was brought back in November when Alec Martinez was injured and thought he would stick around for good, but then came the devastating news from Lombardi.

Voynov, 22, said he thought about giving up on his dreams of playing full-time in the NHL and returning to his native Russia, where he could become just as rich and famous playing in the Kontinental Hockey League.

But with the demotion came assurance from Lombardi that Voynov, an early second-round pick of the Kings in 2008, would soon be back.

“When I got sent down, I thought about the KHL because, you know, I’m mad and sad,” Voynov said Friday afternoon on the eve of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals. “My friends told me not to think about it, just wait and trust yourself and Lombardi.”

Voynov followed their advice and returned to Manchester, where he continued to play like a man among boys.

Meanwhile, the Kings went 2-5-2 without Voynov in the lineup, and changes needed to be made if they had any hope of qualifying for the postseason for a third consecutive year.

Lombardi, knowing he had an NHL-ready defenseman in Manchester, pulled the trigger on the league’s biggest trade-deadline move, sending defenseman Jack Johnson to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for high-scoring winger Jeff Carter.

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Kings: Top two lines fueling playoff run

May, 26, 2012
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – The emergence of the top two lines for the Los Angeles Kings has been a perfect storm, set in motion by a key arrival, a return to greatness and a subtle adjustment by the team captain.

Dead last in the NHL in scoring through the first three-quarters of the regular season, the offense seemed to come alive the day Jeff Carter stepped on to the ice in late February, two days after he was acquired by the Kings in a bold trade-deadline move.

The Kings went from averaging 2.22 goals through the first 61 games to 2.76 over the last 21, enough to nudge L.A. into the postseason as the eighth-seeded team in the Western Conference.

That little tailwind turned into a modest hurricane in the playoffs, as Dustin Penner began playing left wing the way the Kings envisioned, and Dustin Brown grew more comfortable on the left side after spending most of his career on the right.

Now the Kings have spun their way into the Stanley Cup finals for just the second time in the franchise’s 45-year history. They’ll open the best-of-seven series Wednesday night against the New Jersey Devils in Newark, N.J.

“Everything kind of fell together,” Carter said after practice Saturday. “The scoring slump that you [reporters] talked about all the time kind of disappeared.”

So far in the playoffs, the Devils haven’t seen anything like the top-six forwards they’ll encounter from L.A.

In the first three rounds of the playoffs, 18 games in all, the top two lines that went against New Jersey combined for 12 even-strength goals and 16 assists.

In 14 games this postseason, Carter, Penner, Brown, Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams and Mike Richards have accounted for 18 even-strength goals and 33 assists.

“Every night it’s a different guy that seems to be stepping up,” Carter said. “When you’re this deep into the playoffs, that’s what you need.”

Fellow teammates say it’s no coincidence that the arrival of Carter in a shuffle that sent defenseman Jack Johnson to the last place Columbus Blue Jackets coincided with L.A.’s turnaround.

“He’s not just a player, he’s good in the room,” Williams said. “He just seems to complement our team.”

In the Western Conference finals against the Phoenix Coyotes, Carter displayed his tendency to score goals in bunches with a hat trick in Game 2. In the Game 5 victory that clinched the series and sent the Kings to the Stanley Cup finals, Carter had the primary assist on Penner’s overtime winner.

“Certainly, we’ve raised our level and so has [Carter],” Williams said.

Nobody has raised their level of play in the postseason quite like Penner.

After scoring 17 points in 65 regular-season games, the four-time 20-goal scorer has 10 points in the playoffs, including the series-clinching overtime winner in Game 5 of the conference finals.

“It’s a fresh start for everybody,” Williams said of the playoffs. “[Penner] needed that and he certainly understood we’re counting on him, and he has done an awesome job for us.”

Penner was the last piece of the puzzle among the top six forwards. He didn’t become a regular member of the group until late in Game 5 of the opening-round series against the Vancouver Canucks. Penner came off the third line, trading places with rookie Dwight King, who seemed to have trouble keeping up with the speed of Carter and Richards.

Penner has scored eight of his 10 playoff points since the switch and King has produced all five of his goals.

“For whatever reason, me moving up, Kinger moving down and then Carts coming in, every line locked in, the whole team locked in,” Penner said. “When you’re playing as well as we are, I think the parts become interchangeable in a sense.”

Brown would probably agree. Because of long-term injuries to left wings Simon Gagne and Scott Parse, as well as the ineffectiveness for long stretches by Penner, Brown was asked to move over to left wing, a change he had made for brief stretches over the last two seasons. Being a right-handed shot, the change can be about as awkward as a left-hander playing third base.

But the team captain has flourished while playing alongside Kopitar and Williams. It started with a hat trick in Carter’s first game with the Kings and he built on that momentum right into the playoffs. Brown has seven goals and nine assists in the postseason, with five points coming shorthanded, all while maintaining his well-known physical style of play.

Williams, Kopitar and Richards have also fed the offensive machine, giving the Kings six forwards with at least nine points in the postseason.

“That’s what good teams do, that’s what championship teams do,” Williams said of the scoring balance. “We need to keep doing it.”

Trade deadline moves key to Kings' success

May, 14, 2012

Frank Orris/Icon SMI
Jeff Carter, right, has had a good impact on his friend and roommate Mike Richards.

As the Los Angeles Kings venture even deeper into the NHL playoffs, winning another road game Sunday night to improve to 9-1 in the postseason, the front-office decisions from late February continue look like the tipping point in their success.

Kings general manager Dean Lombardi, under pressure as a result of the subpar performance from the team he built, made what was described at the time as a career Hail Mary. He cut ties with a young, puck-moving defenseman, Jack Johnson, and traded him to the Columbus Blue Jackets for high-scoring winger Jeff Carter.

While Carter hasn’t exactly played to expectations, scoring six goals in 16 regular-season games (two of which were empty-netters) and just one in the playoffs, he has impacted the second line in other ways. Most notably, his good friend and roommate, Mike Richards, pulled out of a late-season tailspin with 10 games remaining and has emerged as a difference-maker in the postseason.

And then there was the less obvious change that came with the Carter trade. Johnson’s departure opened a full-time spot on the blue line for rookie Slava Voynov, and his sound defensive decisions and offensive acumen have been the perfect addition to an already solid defensive corps. Voynov made two crisp outlet passes in Game 1 against the Phoenix Coyotes, leading to tiebreaking goals in the 4-2 victory.

Voynov’s value to the team can pretty much be summed up in the plus-minus category. Johnson was a minus-12 in 61 games with the Kings this season, Voynov was a plus-12 in 54 regular-season games. He sits at plus-3 in the postseason.

And then there was the move everyone outside of Lombardi’s office was discussing as the trade deadline approached, but was never made. The Kings were fielding calls from organizations interested in Dustin Brown, the gritty right wing with just enough scoring touch to make him a front-line player. At a reasonable cost of $3.5 million a year through the 2013-14 season, he was also considered a good fit on most payrolls.

Lombardi didn’t pull the trigger and Brown repaid him in kind, beginning a scoring spree with 20 games left in the regular season that carried into the playoffs. He scored his seventh goal of the postseason in the Game 1 victory Sunday in Phoenix, which held up as his third game winner of the playoffs.

Brown has emerged as a front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy, which is awarded to the most valuable player in the playoffs. Between his goal scoring, leadership and jaw-rattling hits during the postseason, Brown has put the Kings on his broad shoulders and carried them into the Western Conference finals for just the second time in franchise history.

And there’s the psychological factor that came with the trade-deadline moves (and non-moves). The front office showed the players it meant business, leaving them no reason not to exhibit a 100 percent effort. After the Carter deal went down, the Kings went 13-5-3 down the stretch, assuring themselves a spot in these playoffs.

The career Hail Mary by Lombardi is now in the hands of the players, and it appears there's little to prevent them from taking it all the way.

Kings: Third-round playoff primer

May, 8, 2012


Opponent: Phoenix Coyotes

Regular-season records: Kings, 40-27-15, 95 points (8th in the Western Conference); Coyotes, 42-27-13, 97 points (3rd in the Western Conference)

Playoff schedule: TBA

Previous meetings this season:

Oct. 20 at Jobing.com Arena -- Kings 2, Coyotes 0

Playing in front of an announced crowd of 7,128, about 10,000 fewer than showed up for the Coyotes' series-clinching win Monday night in Phoenix, Jonathan Quick stopped 28 shots for the second of a franchise-record three consecutive shutouts. The win also represented the 100th of his career. Dustin Brown gave the Kings a 1-0 lead with a second-period power-play goal, and Kyle Clifford made it 2-0 later in the period off a centering pass from Kevin Westgarth. Kings defenseman Drew Doughty did not play for the second straight game after injuring his shoulder against the Flyers.

Oct. 29 at Jobing.com Arena -- Coyotes 3, Kings 2 (OT)

Doughty returned from a five-game absence because of the shoulder injury but wasn’t a factor as Daymond Langkow scored with 44 seconds left in overtime after his shot deflected off the stick of now-departed Kings defenseman Jack Johnson. The Kings began overtime with 1:46 remaining on a power play but couldn’t capitalize. Mike Richards had provided the Kings a 1-0 lead early in the second period, and Anze Kopitar tied the score at 2-2 with 6:30 left in regulation, ending a nine-game goal-less streak against the Coyotes, his longest against any team in the NHL.

Dec. 26 at Staples Center -- Kings, 4, Coyotes 3

By the time these teams met again, the Kings had a new coach behind the bench in Darryl Sutter. This game was memorable for a few reasons. The Kings scored more than two goals for the first time in 15 games, Simon Gagne suffered a season-ending concussion and Rob Scuderi scored his only goal of the season four minutes into the game to give the Kings a 1-0 lead. Willie Mitchell and Brad Richardson also scored rare goals for the Kings before Brown notched his ninth of the season, which turned out to be the game winner. Phoenix defenseman Raffi Torres, currently serving a 25-game suspension for an illegal hit in the first round of the playoffs, scored two goals for the Coyotes.

Jan. 5 at Staples Center -- Kings 1, Coyotes 0 (OT)

Quick had another Vezina Trophy-caliber performance, outdueling Phoenix goalie Mike Smith for his sixth shutout of the season. Doughty scored a controversial goal in overtime after banking a shot off the skate of Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson as Johnson stood in the crease. Phoenix coach Dave Tippett and team captain Shane Doan complained vigorously to reporters after the game, saying Johnson had interfered with Smith on Doughty's goal.

Feb. 16 at Staples Center -- Coyotes 1, Kings 0

Tempers flared early as Brown laid out Phoenix defenseman Rostislav Klesla four-and-a-half minutes into the game, leading to a fight with Doan a few minutes later. Klesla ended up missing three weeks with an upper-body injury. Richards later fought Martin Hanzal, and Colin Fraser completed the fight-filled first period by scrapping with Torres. Radim Vrbata ended up scoring the game’s only goal with four minutes left in the second period. Vrbata had five goals against the Kings this season, the most against any team.

Feb. 21 at Jobing.com Arena -- Coyotes 5, Kings 4 (SO)

In perhaps the lowest stretch of the season for the Kings, they let a two-goal second-period lead slip away and lost for the third straight game. After getting shut out in the previous two losses, the Kings figured they were back on track after scoring three unanswered goals in the opening period. Even when the Coyotes cut the deficit to one, the Kings answered with a goal by Justin Williams with just over eight minutes left in the second period. But the Coyotes got one back on a goal by Doan, and Vrbata tied the score with two-and-a-half minutes left in regulation on his team's third power-play goal of the game, giving Phoenix a chance to win in the shootout.

Playoff fact: The Kings and Coyotes, formerly the Winnipeg Jets, have never met in the postseason.

Kings: How they got from there to here

May, 2, 2012
Dustin PennerRich Lam/Getty ImagesDustin Penner's resurgence has been one of many reasons the Kings find themselves where they are.

EL SEGUNDO -- Forget trying to put a finger on what turned this season around. You won't have enough hands.

One of the favorites to finish high in the Western Conference standings coming into the season, with a roster full of skill, youth and experience, the Los Angeles Kings were underachievers almost from the start.

Well, except for goalie Jonathan Quick.

They fired coach Terry Murray in mid-December, during a stretch in which they didn’t score more than two goals in any of 14 straight games, and brought in a more leathery figure in Darryl Sutter.

He got the Kings to stand up straight all right, but still couldn’t coax the players to put the puck in the net. Over the next two months, the offense continued to languish at the bottom of the league in scoring, averaging little more than two goals a game.

Just as the trade deadline came and went in late February, the Kings suddenly turned a corner, finishing 13-5-3 and averaging just over three goals a game to sneak into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed. Not what many envisioned coming into the season, but part of the postseason, nonetheless.

They hit the reset button and came out motivated, healthy and ready for the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks, won the first two games in Vancouver and upset the President Trophy winners in five games.

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Kings: Willie Mitchell has one goal in mind

April, 25, 2012

Harry How/Getty Images
EL SEGUNDO -- Proving it’s never too late to become an elite two-way NHL defenseman, Willie Mitchell scored more points this past regular season than during any of his previous 11 years in the league.

He also established career highs for power-play points, game winners and shots on goal, helping the Kings qualify for the playoffs for a third consecutive season.

Which accomplishment will stand out the most 10 years from now?

“To be honest with you, I’m not going to remember anything about the regular season when I’m done playing hockey,” he said.

Mitchell, who turned 35 on Monday, doesn’t expect his memory to fade once he’s finished with his career. He just knows how his mind works.

Mitchell plays professional hockey for the opportunity to compete in the postseason, a destination that becomes more appreciated the older he gets. As the Kings prepare to take on the St. Louis Blues in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, it’s no surprise Mitchell is playing some of the best hockey of his career, just not the best hockey.

Not yet, anyway.

Mitchell scored the first power-play goal of his career in Game 1 of the opening-round series against the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks, helping the Kings to a 4-2 victory and a series lead they never relinquished.

He then helped finish off the Canucks by blocking a career-high eight shots in Game 5, leading the Kings to their first playoff series win in 11 years.

Those are the moments he’ll cherish when his career is over.

“Maybe, as you get older, [the playoffs] just become so much more important to you, especially if you haven’t won [a Stanley Cup],” he said after practice Tuesday. “I haven’t won, and you look at it and feel like your window’s closing a little bit.”

That why 2003 remains so crystal clear.

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Kings: Hoping to stay hot vs. Predators

March, 17, 2012
Kings (34-25-12, 80 points) vs. Nashville Predators (41-21-8, 90 points) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.

Five storylines to track:

1. 71 down, 11 to go – The more the stakes rise, the better the Kings seem to be playing lately. They’ve won three straight games and seven of 10 since acquiring Jeff Carter from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for defenseman Jack Johnson. Better yet, they’ve scored 33 goals in those 10 games, much better than two-goal average they owned the first 61 games of the season. One game back of the final playoff spot heading into today, they can't afford to take a night off.

2. Streaking KingDustin Brown assisted on an empty-net goal by Mike Richards in the closing seconds of a 4-2 victory Friday night in Anaheim, setting a career high with at least a point in 10 consecutive games. The longest point streaks in the NHL this season are 12 by Eric Staal of Carolina and John Tavares of the Islanders. In case you’re wondering, the franchise record for the Kings is 25, shared by Wayne Gretzky (1990-91 season) and Bernie Nicholls(1984-85). Nicholls currently serves as an assistant coach with the Kings.

3. Young and hungry – Kings rookie forwards Dwight King and Jordan Nolan continue to contribute in ways that should keep them on the roster through the rest of the regular season. King had a team-high eight shots on goal against the Ducks, helping the Kings to a 43-20 advantage, and continues to fit in nicely on the second line with Carter and Richards. Nolan has settled into a fourth-line role with Colin Fraser and Kyle Clifford. He provided the screen that led to the first goal against Anaheim, a slap shot from the point by Alec Martinez.

4. Blue-line bonanza – Known for their mobile defensemen, the Kings received more than their share of contributions from the blue-line crew Friday night. Matt Greene matched his career-high with two assists, Drew Doughty also had two helpers and Martinez scored a goal, giving a defensemen a hand in every goal against the Ducks. Secondary scoring could be key against the Predators, who have the 10th-best defense in the league.

5. Power vs. power – The Predators continue to own the most efficient power-play unit in the league. They’ve scored on 21.4 percent of their man-advantage situations, including three power-play goals in the last three games. The Kings will match with the fourth-best penalty kill unit, which had its streak of 33 consecutive kills ended Friday night against Anaheim.

Kings/Ducks: Plenty at stake in this Freeway Faceoff

March, 16, 2012

Kings (33-25 -12, 78 points) vs. Ducks (30-30-11, 71 points) at Honda Center, 7 p.m.

Five storylines to track:

1. New identity – After a strong push that began in early January and carried into March, it looks like the Ducks have finally run out time to climb back from their dismal start. It's not mathematically official, but all signs indicate they've taken on the role of spoiler. Anaheim fans would like nothing more than to see their team put a dent in the Kings’ playoff hopes, and you can bet they'll loudly support such an endeavor. Just two days ago, the Kings had the same number of points as eighth-place San Jose. As they sat idle, other contenders added to their total, dropping the Kings three points back of the final playoff spot with 12 games to play.

2. Howdy Doughty – Following his worst four-game stretch of the season, and quite possibly his career, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty played his best game Tuesday night in a 5-2 victory against the Red Wings, getting a goal, an assist and finishing with a season-high plus-3 rating. He was a combined minus-6 in the previous four games. Of all the teams in the league, Doughty owns the best plus-minus rating against the Ducks (plus-10), yet they’re also the only Western Conference team he has not scored against during his four-year career.

3. Mr. Big Shot – Kings center Jeff Carter has been good as advertised since coming over from the Blue Jackets last month in exchange for defenseman Jack Johnson. After failing to register a point in his first three games with the Kings, he has five goals and two assists in the last six. Carter’s presence has been especially noticeable on the power play, where the Kings have scored on six of 20 man-advantage situations for a lofty 30 percent success rate. Carter has two of those power-play goals. He also started his recent hot streak against the Ducks, scoring two goals in a 4-2 victory on March 3.

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Kings: Time to establish an identity vs. Red Wings

March, 13, 2012
Kings (32-25 -12, 76 points) vs. Detroit Red Wings (44-22-3, 91 points) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.

Five storylines to track:

1. Mystery men – Sitting courtside at the Clippers game Monday night was Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, two of the best players on the Kings. As they were shown on the multiple big screens that hover over the floor, there was, well, really no response. Almost as if they were unrecognizable. That would’ve never happened in Philadelphia, where both played for six seasons before they were traded to the Kings in the last nine months. One thing’s for certain, the Kings have supplanted the Clippers as the most unrecognizable pro sports team in L.A. Only a deep playoff run could possibly reverse that. At this point, the bigger challenge is just making the postseason for a third straight year.

2. Playoff picture – At least the Kings can cross the Ducks off the list of competition for one of the final Western Conference playoffs bids. Anaheim lost its third straight game Monday night in Colorado, leaving the team nine points back of the eighth-place Avs. Unless the Stars and Blackhawks accidentally pull their emergency chutes down the stretch, they can probably coast to the finish line, leaving five teams drag racing for the final two playoff berths. As it stands now, the Coyotes, Avs, Sharks, Flames and Kings are bunched within three points and have anywhere from 11 to 14 games remaining. To say this is a must-win is almost laughable. At this point forward, every game will fall into that category.

3. Defensive wizards – While the defensive pair of Rob Scuderi and Drew Doughty can’t seem to finish a shift without the puck hitting their net, rookie Slava Voynov and his veteran partner, Willie Mitchell, continue to pick up the slack. Voynov has made the trade for Carter last month look better and better each game, more than competently replacing Jack Johnson. In the eight games since the trade, Voynov has contributed a goal and three assists, all while building up a plus-6 rating. Mitchell’s numbers have been even better since he swapped partners, owning a goal and four assists with a plus-9 rating. He was a plus-2 in the previous 55 games, mostly playing alongside Johnson.

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Kings: Jack Johnson makes former team pay

March, 8, 2012
Drew DoughtyJamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty ImagesDrew Doughty takes a shot that's off the mark during Thursday's game at Columbus.
Columbus Blue Jackets 3, Kings 1

Eight keys to the game:

THE FACTS: Traded from the Los Angeles Kings to the Columbus Blue Jackets two weeks earlier, Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson scored what turned out to be the winning goal Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena in Columbus, Ohio, lifting the league’s worst team to its fourth consecutive victory.

THE STAT: The Kings can’t seem to win the games they're supposed to win. They had an opportunity to move back into the top eight in the Western Conference standings with a victory, but instead fell to 9-9-3 against the other bottom eight teams.

TURNING POINT: With the score tied 1-1 in the final minute of the first period, Johnson jumped into the play, located a loose puck in the high slot and shot it past Kings backup goalie Jonathan Bernier with 8.5 seconds remaining. It was Johnson’s second goal in two games and marked the first time in his career he has hit double digits in goals.

HOT: Kings right wing Dustin Brown made a beautiful pass to Anze Kopitar for a short-handed goal that tied the score 1-1 with 7:38 remaining in the opening period. Brown has points in six consecutive games, his longest points streak since he scored in seven straight in December 2010. The Kings have also killed 23 straight penalties.

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Kings: Loss would be unfashionable to Blue Jackets

March, 8, 2012
Kings (31-23-12, 74 points) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (21-38-7, 49 points) at Nationwide Arena, 4 p.m. PT

Five storylines to track:

1. Spoilers – The Blue Jackets are suddenly playing well and making life difficult on their Western Conference co-inhabitants, at least the ones who still feel like they have a shot at making the postseason. Columbus has scored a combined 10 goals in three straight wins, a sure sign the Kings can’t afford to take the Blue Jackets lightly. They made that mistake Jan. 7 at Staples Center and lost, 1-0, a game that will forever be remembered for Dustin Penner's upper-pancake injury.

2. Bottoms up – The Kings are no longer the lowest-scoring team in the league. Hip Hip Hooray. They tore off that three-month-old label by scoring 13 goals in the last three games, leaving Minnesota dead-last in that category. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to nominate the Kings as the hottest offense in the league. The turning point seemed to arrive Feb. 23, when they acquired Jeff Carter from the Blue Jackets in exchange for defenseman Jack Johnson. Carter has two goals in six games since coming to L.A.. Not game-changing material, but his presence seems to be opening up opportunities for his teammates, and they’ve delivered.

3. Opposite sides – Johnson is already making his presence felt in the Buckeye State. He has a goal and two assists in the last two games, both victories against the Coyotes. He’s a plus-4 in those games after starting minus-4 in his first two appearances with Columbus. His plus-minus rating was a big negative during his stay in L.A. It will be interesting to see how he interacts with his former teammates in his first appearance against the Kings. Both, undoubtedly, know each other very well.

4. Bernier in net? – If the timing of who skates off the ice first during practice is any indication, it appears back-up goalie Jonathan Bernier will get the nod against Columbus. Bernier hasn’t received a lot of work lately, but has been sharp when called upon. He hasn’t allowed more than two goals in his last seven starts and is showing the hockey world why he was a first-round draft pick in 2006. This is the same goalie who was on fire at the end of last season too.

5. Goalie plan – Columbus back-up goalie Curtis Sanford was in goal for all three previous games against the Kings this season, but it appears Steve Mason will be between the pipes against the Kings. Mason should be a welcome sight for L.A., as he lost four of his last five starts against the Kings with a 4.96 goals-against average in that span.

Kings/Ducks: Stakes even higher this time around

March, 3, 2012
Kings (29-23-12, 70 points) vs. Ducks (28-27-10, 66 points) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.

Five storylines to track:

1. Must-win game – Neither team can afford to lose this one, not with eighth-place Dallas trying to separate itself from the pack by earning 11 points in the last six games. The Kings have had more down time than usual since winning in Minnesota, 4-0, on Tuesday, and enter this game three points back of the Stars. The Ducks scored in the final minute Friday night to defeat visiting Calgary, 3-2, and stay within seven points of Dallas. The Ducks also passed Minnesota in the standings with the win, leaving one less team between them and eighth place.

2. Shooting their foot – Two of L.A.’s four shootout victories this season have come against the Ducks. Of course, that was before Anaheim started its 2012 tear. Shootouts have played a key role for the Kings the last two seasons. They went 10-2 in shootouts last season, including a perfect 10-0 for No. 1 goalie Jonathan Quick. If they go 7-5 in shootouts last season, they don't make the playoffs. This season, well, they’re 4-7, including a 4-6 mark by Quick. The way these teams know each other like the curve in their sticks, don't be surprised if this game ventures past regulation too.

3. Super Slava – Kings rookie defenseman Slava Voynov continues to make the Jack Johnson-for-Jeff Carter trade look better and better for L.A. He’s plus-3 with an assist since getting the call last week to fill Johnson’s spot on the blue line. His plus-7 in 36 games overall is best among Kings' defensemen. Not bad for someone who just turned 22 six weeks ago. He’s already shown a knack for scoring against the Ducks too, getting two of his four goals this season against Anaheim.

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