The Kings have had enough of an up-and-down season to give their followers a bout of vertigo. They’ve had a league-best six-game win streak but two slumps that accounted for nine total losses. They have a three-goal comeback victory but three would-be wins squandered in the final minute of regulation. Their one constant has been the power play.
Even as they surrendered five goals through two periods against the Ducks on Monday night, a pair of power-play goals held them in a game in which they were faring poorly at even strength. They rallied to force overtime before losing, 6-5, and now have earned points in 11 of their last 13 games, despite that stretch including a four-game winless stretch and some costly errors.
Their power-play success has been largely unexpected, too, since the Kings finished among the most feeble units in the NHL with the man advantage last season.
Their 17.1 percent conversation rate was the sixth-worst in the league in 2019-20, and that was even after it started to produce more consistently late in the season. In 2021, the Kings are in the top 10 in power-play percentage and rising rapidly. They are in the top five in power-play goals scored, after finishing in a tie for the sixth-least last season.
On the other side of the special teams coin, the Kings have gone from the eighth-worst penalty kill last season to jockeying within or near the top 10 for most of this season.
“We’re making plays. We’re getting good goaltending. Our specialty teams are giving us a boost most nights,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said earlier this season. “Is that surprising? To us no, but maybe to the hockey world a little bit.”
The Kings have scored power-play goals in five consecutive games and have converted a whopping 36.8 percent of their opportunities during that span.
Veterans like winger Dustin Brown, center Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty have been prolific up a man or more. Brown has seven power-play goals, and only Dallas’ Joe Pavelski had more heading into Monday’s games. Brown’s career-best for a full season is 13, back in 2006-07.
Much like Pavelski, Kopitar is capable of playing any role in any area of the ice on the power play. He can play at the top of the umbrella, at either point, in the bumper position, on the wall, or at the net front, and he has done damage all over the offensive zone.
His 18 power-play points this season rank second in the league, and his exploits in the center of the ice have freed Doughty to roam along the wall more for higher-quality shooting opportunities. Doughty, through 24 games, is one shy of his power-play goal total from last season and has already equaled his man-advantage assist mark from all of last year.
Forward Adrian Kempe has carried his talent for zone entries over to this season and also proven dynamic beyond the blue line. With a power-play goal off a one-timer Monday, which was part of his second career hat trick, Kempe has already equaled his power-play point total and exceeded his power-play goal total from last season.
“I’ve been trying to hit the net a lot more than I did last year. I had some good chances last year, but if you don’t hit the net you don’t get that second opportunity,” Kempe said Monday. “This year I’ve also been working on my one-timer a lot.”
Where last season the Kings struggled to find five solid passers who worked well together consistently on the first unit, this season they have not one but two potent units. The two groups give distinct looks to opponents in terms of both entries and formations.
The most productive player who was consistently on the second unit in 2019-20 was defenseman Sean Walker, who produced five power-play points. This season, winger Alex Iafallo already has five, winger Jeff Carter has four, center Gabe Vilardi has three and center Jaret Anderson-Dolan has looked dangerous in limited opportunities as well.
That has been key, especially early in the season when penalties were up league-wide. Not only has a more efficient power play helped the Kings on the scoreboard, but it also prevented a lackluster group from draining momentum and weighing the team down five-on-five as it did at times last season.
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