Kings Room: Kempe Hits 40 & the Real Challenge Begins
Even after his breakout 35-goal campaign last season, I don’t think many expected 40-plus goals from him this season.
The Los Angeles Kings closed out the regular season with a solid 5-3 win over their crosstown rivals, the Anaheim Ducks.
With that win, the Kings also secured third place in the Pacific Division and set up a first round rematch with the Edmonton Oilers.
The star of Thursday's game is undoubtably Adrian Kempe, who extended his point streak against the Ducks to eight games with a hat trick. The three goals also saw Kempe break the 40 goal mark for the first time in his career.
Even after his breakout 35-goal campaign last season, I don't think many expected 40-plus goals from him this season.
"I mean, I probably didn't think about it before the season," said Kempe on breaking 40-goals. "But obviously, throughout the year, I just tried to stay with my game. Try not to focus to much about where I'm at in terms of goals and stuff like that. And I play with some really good players who were looking for me all night. So, I'm just very happy I'm out there with those guys. My line mates have helped me all year to score, to get there."
A few weeks ago Todd McLellan highlighted Kempe giving himself permission to shot more instead of passing as a big growth in his game.
"A couple years ago I feel like I had a lot of good looks, I was just a pass first kind guy," said Kempe on that mentality switch. "I figured out that if I try to put the puck on net a little bit more it will go in. It was just kind of a switch that went off in my head coming into last year. It was the biggest step I took in terms of volume shooting and stuff like that. Just try and keep that going this year."
A playoff spot's been secured for a few weeks now for the Kings. But it's now here. It's time for the team to turn their attention to round one. The regular season might be over, but another season is starting up soon.
"Yeah, I mean this is the most fun part of the year," said Kempe on looking towards the playoffs. "Especially going back to last year, it was the first playoff for a lot of guys and for myself too (it's) been a while. This is what you play for and I think everybody's excited in here. I'm not sure who we're playing yet, I think Edmonton. from what happened last year, we want to come back and beat them. So, I think we're all pretty excited."
Getting Mikey Anderson back for the playoffs is massive for the Kings. He's their number one shutdown defensemen and is a physical presence this team lacks when he's out.
Importantly for him, he was able to get to games in before game 83.
"Yeah, it's super important," Anderson said on getting two games in before the playoffs start. "Obviously, you don't want to be jumping in game one off just skating on your own or just a couple practices. So, it's nice to get some game action, get back up with game speed reps. And just playing with the group to try and make sure everything's feeling good as a unit. And now we take off and go from here."
We learned last season that Anderson is a player who elevates their game in the postseason. He took his game to another level against Edmonton in the postseason and it's safe to assume he'll do it again.
But, the difficult part about that more intense playoff style hockey is that you can't replicate it. It just comes naturally at that time of the year.
"You try and bring it every night," said Anderson on the intensity of playoff hockey. "But, obviously, once you get out there for game one it's going to ramp up, both teams are going to feel it. I think it's a little bit of a feeling out (process) maybe right away, but everyone's going to try and push, have some energy right at the start. No matter what happens I feel like it's going to be a fast start and kind of feel like it's game one of the regular season when you come in from the summer and everything happens pretty fast."
The second line of Trevor Moore-Phil Danault-Viktor Arvidsson hasn't had the same success it did last season. A lot of that comes down to injury, but their long stretch of struggling to produce, particularly Danault and Moore had become a concern.
But over the last two games, they've come back into form and looked sharp as ever.
"Yeah, I thought we were reading off each other well," said Moore of his line. "Just good support all night. I thought we were good on the forecheck for sure."
It was a strong game from the line and for Moore himself. Who grabbed his first goal in eight games and secured points in back-to-back games. It's been a tough year for Moore with injuries, but if he can get back to his best, that's huge for the Kings.
"Yeah, it's nice," said Moore of getting back in the goal column. "You know, nice to get a goal, but I honestly just want to feel good about my game going into the playoffs. Playoff's are a new season and we've got to be ready for it."
The Kings have now made the playoffs in two straight seasons with a real chance to contend this season. And the fan support is clearly there, with Kings fans seemingly outnumbering Ducks fans again in Anaheim.
"I think it’s huge for Southern California and I think that you saw that rivalry out there," said Moore on the atmosphere in the building. "I grew up watching the rivalry, it’s good for hockey in California, people like it. It’s great, I think that California has grown a lot and it’s going to continue to grow."