You can use several methods to assess progress but there are the old reliable signposts along the long-and-winding NHL path.
There's the first 20 games of a season, the record at Thanksgiving, and on New Year's. This season, there was the mark at the Olympic break, and now at the looming trade deadline.
Wednesday, at noon, is the last opportunity for NHL general managers to close their deals. And so the Kings and Montreal played their final game before the window snaps shut and the Kings beat the Canadiens, 2-1, Monday night at Staples Center on goals by defenseman Jake Muzzin and forward Jeff Carter, who had the game winner, on a power play in the second period.
It was the fifth consecutive victory for the Kings and the fourth consecutive victory coming out of the extended Olympic break. This is their longest winning streak since they had a 6-0 run starting in early December.
The trade deadline can work as a motivational tool but the Kings' recent surge really is more about the way the team approaches the stretch run. They've been able to flip the switch at the right time in the Darryl Sutter Era.
“I look around the room and I have confidence and I know everyone feels the same way that when push comes to shove we're going to be ready,” forward Justin Williams said in a postgame TV interview.
Williams, who has five points in the last four games, expanded upon that theme later in the dressing room.
“We're playing the way I expected us to play coming out of the break,” he said. “We're playing hard, we're not giving up leads. But eventually we have to capitalize in those chances.”
They staggered into the Olympic break, having won once in 10 games, and, at that point, it seemed as though a deal would be necessary. Four victories later, in less than a week, has a way of possibly changing things.
“Tonight was a good step for us,” Muzzin said. “Down the stretch, all points matter because it's going to be a tough push.”
Monday was an efficient effort with some moments of offensive flair.
Anze Kopitar's dazzling backhand pass set up Carter's one-timer from the base of the left circle, making it, 2-1, at 4 minutes 14 seconds of the second period.
For Carter, it was his team-leading 22nd goal of the season. It was also the Kings' first shot of the second period and they wouldn't get their next one until the 11:51 mark.
The Montreal goal was credited to defenseman P.K. Subban (10th of the season), who tied it, 1-1, at 14:45 of the first period.
His shot, however, went off Kings center Jarret Stoll past goalie Jonathan Quick. In fact, the two goals Quick has given up in the last two games have gone off his teammates.
“We're obviously happy with the way we're going here and we need to keep pushing for home ice,” Williams said. “I thought we moved the puck extremely well tonight. I thought our defensemen especially did a great job beating their forecheck.”
The Kings had a terrific chance, well, two of them, to go up 3-1 late in the second period on opportunities by defenseman Drew Doughty and Kopitar, who missed the net.
“It was a good win against a tough team,” Sutter said. “Two real similar teams. It was a well-played game.”