On the strength of their Vezina-contending goaltender and an improving offense, the Los Angeles Kings hope to make some noise this spring.
How exactly does one explain the 2011-12 Kings?
They were involved in one of the two Flyers blockbuster trades last summer when they sent a package of players to Philadelphia for Mike Richards. Conventional thinking was that Richards, who was the Flyers' captain, would bring his usual 25-30 goals and 65-75 points to a team that was already loaded with talent.
Conservative expectations were that, with Richards added to the fold, the Kings would push the Sharks for the Pacific Division title and certainly be a top team in the Western Conference.
Fast forward to Game 82. One player involved in the Richards trade has 28 goals this season -- it just happens to be Wayne Simmonds. Richards heads into the season's final game with 17 markers and 43 points in an injury-shortened 73 games.
Richards wasn't alone in the struggling department for the Kings earlier this year. At the All-Star Break, only three Kings had scored more than nine goals and Los Angeles was dead last in the NHL in scoring. Indeed, the only reason they were in the playoff conversation was Jonathan Quick.
A trade deadline move to put Richards back together with the other exiled Flyers forward from last summer, Jeff Carter, has paid off and the Kings have been one of the hottest teams in the Western Conference. They've been so good that they enter the final game of their year ranked 29th in the NHL in scoring, now boasting a 2.30 goals per game average as a team.
But now Carter has a foot issue. The Kings are 3-2-2 in their last seven, and are limping into a finale that will determine if they're a division winner on Sunday or packing bags for St. Louis or Vancouver.
The one constant all season for the Kings has been Quick, who should take the Vezina hardware home this year. Even with the offense being average at best, the Kings have been as good as any on the back end and their 2.06 team goals-against average is second in the league.
Try to mitigate a .929 save percentage and 1.93 goals-against average with a 35-21-12 record. It's impossible. Quick's numbers are too good for that many losses, but that's the nature of the beast in L.A. this year.
And it will remain the million-dollar question as the playoffs begin.
Whether the Kings are the three, seven or eight seed in the west will only determine their opponent. The bigger question for Los Angeles starting April 11 is if they can score enough goals each night to move past the first round. Photo credit: Getty Images