We're only two weeks into the new year and the Los Angeles Kings have only played five games, but so far they've managed to go 3-1-1. Their one regulation loss at the hands of a red hot Colorado Avalanche team came while playing their sixth game in nine days, without an extra day of rest between.
Once the calendar turns to December 1st, Kings fans usually start to get nervous. As Sheng Peng noted last year, the winter months are typically unkind to LA. The team's 10-3-1 December record marks only the 11th time in franchise history that they've managed to post a .600 or better record. The team is currently on pace for roughly 15-16 points in the month of January, which would mark only the 7th time they've gone .600 or better. And for what it's worth, they're only four points away from having a .500 January, only the 13th time that would be accomplished.
So what gives? This is truly out of the norm for a highly talented team that normally plays well below average, even in the years they won the Stanley Cup. They must be beating up on their weak division and riding a sky-high PDO, right? Well, sort of yes, sort of no.
Let's start with their division record. The Kings are 8-5-0 versus other teams in their division, while they are 6-2-1 versus teams in the Central Division. LA has suffered regulation losses to the Sharks (twice), Coyotes (twice), and the Canucks (once), but have beaten the Coyotes (once--OT), Sharks (once), Oilers (thrice), Canucks (twice--once OT), and the Flames (once) -- all coming since their second loss to the Coyotes (except their loss to San Jose just before Christmas).
So, yes, they are kind of beating up on their awful division. However, they've been equally successful against everybody else. Can we expect that to continue?
Per war-on-ice, the Kings have a 99.6 PDO at 5v5 (score-adjusted). Recall that an "average" PDO is around 1.000 (or 100, depending on which site/scale you use). Anything higher than that should regress to the mean and anything lower should progress up. So the Kings actually have a "low" PDO, largely due to their shooting. Their score-adjusted 6.2% on-ice shooting percentage is actually third lowest in the league - ahead of only Pittsburgh and Anaheim. On the contrary, their score-adjusted 5v5 team save percentage of 93.4% is actually tied for fifth best in the league with Washington - behind Detroit, Philadelphia, Florida and Pittsburgh.
In all score-adjusted situations, their PDO rises to 100.4, good for 13th in the league. In other words, the Kings are getting a boost from their special teams, which have been strong all season. Their on-ice sv% is good for fourth, behind Florida, Washington and Pittsburgh while their 8.1 sh% jumps all the way up to... 5th lowest in the league, just ahead of noted contenders St. Louis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Anaheim.
So, they're not just riding an overall lucky streak either. It's excellent goaltending, defense and the occasional timely goal -- basically, how they won their first Cup title. Their +8 goal differential at 5v5 is 8th best in the league, and with one and two games in hand on almost everyone ahead of them, more of that is just fine. But something had to even out the poor shooting...
Quick Says No
The primary driving force behind them transcending their traditional winter blues is the guy in net. Since December 1st, Jonathan Quick has registered a .924 sv% in all situations; he's been even better at even-strength, posting a .936 sv%. In 16 December/January appearances, he did not allow a goal at 5v5 seven times. He also has two shutouts in that span, one versus Montreal and one versus Vancouver. The 30-year-old netminder is on pace to match, or at least come very close to, his 2011-12 career-best save percentage. He likely won't match the shutout number as he currently only has three in 35 appearances and he had 10 in 69 games back in 2011-12; he'd have to post a shutout every five games to match that. That's nothing to complain about though.
Quick's overall career sv% is .918, so he is playing a little above his head by those standards. If he regresses, it will be interesting to see how the team reacts. Having already made an early trade for Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn, there doesn't appear to be room for any more adjustments - although Dean Lombardi did not rule that out. The Kings might just stay the course; so far, that course has paid off.