Throughout the course of this young season, the Los Angeles Kings have been many things: 1st in the NHL, 1st in the Western Conference, and 1st in the Pacific Division.
At the moment, they are none of those things.
Kings fans, who to their credit have been very patient for a long time (42 years, depending on who you ask) have been less so this season.
After storming out of the gate in 2010, the Kings started to make believers out of their fans who had been perhaps their biggest doubters for so long. The only problem is that fans aren't quite sure what they are supposed to believe.
So that begs the question: Just who are the Kings supposed to be this season?
Are they the new Chicago Blackhawks?
Many pundits have tried to make this claim, that the Kings are an up and coming team with a young and talented core, and that they could make some serious noise in the playoffs, and perhaps go all the way.
As much as I would like to believe it, it just isn't so. There is very little playoff experience on this team and half of those that have it (Williams, Smyth, Handzus, Ponikarovsky, Greene, Scuderi) are past their prime.
The Blackhawks, on the other hand, had Marian Hossa, Brian Campbell, John Madden, Brent Sopel, Andrew Ladd, to name a few. More importantly, the year before they won the cup, they made it to the Western Conference Finals where they were nearly routed by the Detroit Red Wings, the epitome of playoff experience at the time.
That run, though falling short, prepared them for what it would take to go all the way. It gave the young Blackhawks a taste of playoff success, something that much of this Kings team has yet to experience.
All that is not to say that the Kings aren't the new young and exciting team to watch out for in the Western Conference. That much is indeed true.
So what should we expect from the Los Angeles Kings this season?
It's hard to say that the Kings aren't capable of beating any team in the NHL, because they are. But the list of who the Kings could beat in the a playoff series is shorter. The Red Wings, Canucks, and Blackhawks are all built for playoff success. The Sharks have a gorilla on their back and many other Western Conference teams are just as hungry and talented as the Kings are.
Not to say that they couldn't beat any of these teams, but the Kings would not be favored against any of the aforementioned sqauds.
The Kings finished the 2009-2010 season with an impressive 101 points, good enough for only 6th in the conference. The team's success in the regular season last year can be attributed to a few things: solid goaltending from Jonathan Quick, reliable special teams, and a breakout performance from 20 year old Drew Doughty.
This season is not much different:
- Jonathan Quick has been even better than last season, and has easily performed with the top goaltenders in the league thus far.
- The special teams are split; the penalty kill has been stellar, giving up its 1st goal at home just last night. The power play has been abysmal.
- Drew Doughty has not been what we had all hoped, but not unlike the rest of the team, perhaps expectations were set a bit high. He has still been a reliable defender, punishing hip-checker, and nimble puck mover. He just hasn't been putting points on the board with the frequency that everyone had come to expect.
The mindset of the team is much different, however.
Last season, everyone was focused on what the team could do in the regular season, and rightly so, having missed the last 7 post-seasons.
Now, the mindset is more like: How far will the team go in the playoffs? Will Drew Doughty win the Norris? WHEN WILL THE CUP COME TO L.A.?!
Certainly, these questions are accompanied by a level of excitement about the Kings which I am indeed thankful for. But, they also come with a level of eye-rolling.
The Kings are merely starting to become a winning franchise, and in the long term, the sky is the limit.
But the short term expectations should perhaps be eased back, even if just a bit.
This season, it would be fair to expect the Kings to make the playoffs, and to hope for a series victory.
In the meantime, let's all try to focus on enjoying the present for whatever it brings; the Kings are a young and talented team with excellent goaltending, any fan of the team would gladly accept those truths with nothing more only 4 years ago; and being optimistic for whatever may come down the line.
Think about what a Stanley Cup would mean to the city of San Jose - would it be a reason to celebrate or a reason to exhale?
Let's not let the burden of expectations taint anything worth enjoying in the future.