CALGARY, Canada -- Remember the good old days in which the Kings' potential playoff opponent kept changing on a game-by-game basis, keeping fans and players guessing up until the last minute?
Two years ago, the Kings didn’t even have a playoff spot nailed down until the second-to-last game of the season. The rest, of course, is history.
This time is wildly different. The adjustments to the NHL postseason format, among other factors, has taken away that big element of the unknown. Unless the situation changes drastically, the Kings appear destined to face their neighbor to the north, the San Jose Sharks. If the season ended today, they would play the Sharks in a playoff rematch from last year.
Kings captain Dustin Brown was asked whether there was an increased focus on the Sharks. There are 16 games remaining in the regular season for the Kings.
“You don’t start thinking about it right now,” Brown said on Sunday when the Kings were in Edmonton. “Lots of things can change. You’re just focusing on the day to day right now. Every year, as it winds down, you start looking at matchups.
“The way the system works now you have a better idea of who you are playing. The last two [teams] in – if you’re in the middle of the pack, you know who you are playing … unless something drastic changes. It’s more like those wild cards can flip flop left and right at the very end."
The Kings, and Brown, have enjoyed playing a more diverse schedule this season, getting to play the three New York-area teams, for example, home and away.
But Brown isn’t quite so sure about the new playoff format.
“I still like the old playoff, one vs. eight,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes. The way it’s set up now you could have two of the best teams … you have San Jose and us. Hypothetically it could be St. Louis and Chicago in the first round. That’s a tough first round.”
Said Kings Coach Darryl Sutter: “That’s the way it works. Somebody is going home early.”
The Kings have won eight straight games and are within one of tying a franchise record. They beat Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary on their swing through Canada after the trade deadline.
“To be honest, I don’t even know how many we’ve won,” Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell said after the win at Edmonton. “That’s probably, as you guys know, because of Darryl. He never lets us breathe for a second. His focus has been on game day and that’s it.”
The Kings have been getting offensive contributions from fresh sources. Forward Trevor Lewis had two goals all season before the trip to Canada and scored in back-to-back games at Edmonton and Calgary. Defenseman Alec Martinez has a five-game point streak going, including goals against the Jets and the Oilers.
“I think for a successful team you need depth,” said Kings center Anze Kopitar. “Our last couple of games they’ve definitely provided us with that. We’re going to need that going forward.
“He [Martinez] has been playing really well for us and now he’s playing with a lot of confidence. That’s a big factor for him. Again, he feels comfortable making plays. He can skate with anybody. Even if he does make a slight mistake, he feels, or we feel, he’s going to come back and make the play again."