On one level, the Kings' playoff run mirrored their performance in the regular season, filled with hot runs and times where they were stone cold.
There was a period in November when they played without their starting goaltender and seemingly couldn't lose. There was a time in January when they got him back and seemingly couldn't win.
They signaled to the hockey world after the Olympics they were ready to be a factor in the playoffs. On a second level, it was completely different. They were the NHL's top defensive team but among the 16 teams that qualified for the playoffs, they were the lowest-scoring. In the postseason, they turned into an offensive force.
Welcome to the upside-down world of the 2014 Kings.
The Kings' home opener landed on Oct. 7 — coincidentally against the New York Rangers, who were making their first appearance at Staples Center in a couple of years. No Eastern Conference teams crossed over to play in the West during the lockout-shortened previous season.
Who knew at that juncture that the Kings' first home opponent of the new season would also be the last team to appear there as well?
The first meeting didn't go particularly well either. The Rangers had a new coach, Alain Vigneault, who was a familiar sight in Los Angeles because of his longtime association with the Vancouver Canucks, and Kings goalie Jonathan Quick gave up an own goal in what finished as a disappointing 3-1 loss. The Kings, who were notoriously poor on the road during the lockout-shortened season, won four of the first six away from Staples and also showed signs of becoming a better team in the shootout, winning four times in the first month, the primary reason they were off to a respectable 9-5 start.
November started ominously for the Kings, with a 4-3 defeat at the hands of the Nashville Predators, the seventh in a stretch of what was effectively their longest homestand of the year — eight out of nine games at the Staples Center. The Kings won the last two — against the Buffalo Sabres and the Vancouver Canucks — and then headed out on the road to play the Sabres in Buffalo on Nov. 12, a night in which Quick strained his groin on an innocent-looking play with 1:20 remaining in overtime. As the Kings left for New York, and a date with all three teams from the metropolitan New York area, Quick headed home to Los Angeles for further evaluation. Quick had been their anchor ever since he won the job full-time in the 2008-09 season and for years, Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi had kept Jonathan Bernier around as an insurance policy. But Bernier was now in Toronto and so the job of replacing Quick fell to Ben Scrivens, who won his first start — 3-2 over the New York Islanders — and then recorded back-to-back shutouts in his next two outings, 2-0 over the New Jersey Devils (in the teams' first meeting since the 2012 Stanley Cup Final) and 1-0 against the Rangers in the newly renovated Madison Square Garden.
The Kings also won that game without Jeff Carter, who had been played on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, which meant they had a trio of youngsters — Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson and Linden Vey up from Manchester, N.H., who were getting a taste of life at the NHL level and providing the Kings with a youthful buzz. The win over the Rangers ended the first quarter of the Kings' season in respectable fashion — with a 14-6-1 record, Anze Kopitar leading the team in scoring with 19 points, Mike Richards next at 17.
And even though he'd only made eight appearances, Scrivens was tops in NHL shutouts. Scrivens had earned the nickname the Professor from his teammates who, along with Coach Darryl Sutter, were still getting to know him. Sutter acknowledged the team also planned to get rookie goalie Martin Jones into some games.
He spoke of a situation when he coached in Calgary and when franchise goalie Miikka Kiprusoff was injured and the backup was pressed into action.
"The goalie's got to win games. … The No. 1 goalie went out before, the top goalie in the league and another goalie played 10 games and nobody talked about him," Sutter said. "It was Jamie McLennan. We made the playoffs because of what Jamie McLennan did during that stretch. Maybe that's what this guy has got to do."
The Kings came home from that strong Eastern swing and earned points in their next five games (2-0-3) before the last-place Calgary Flames came in and ended a 7-0-4 run, with a 2-1 victory at Staples on the final day of the month.
Jones spent the first month of his NHL career patiently watching from the bench, but when Sutter finally gave him his chance to start, he made one of the most spectacular debuts in NHL goaltending history. The Kings put him in for a game against the Ducks at Honda Center, and it went to overtime, then a shootout and then the shootout seemed to go on forever, Dwight King finally winning it for the Kings.
And Jones stopped all nine shootout attempts that he faced, with a coolness that belied his inexperience. The month belonged to Mr. Jones. The NHL named him the co-rookie of the month and overall, he went 8-0-0 with a 0.98 goals-against average and a .966 save percentage, which made him the first NHL goalie in history to allow less than a goal a game in the first eight games of his career.
Until just before Christmas, the Kings didn't miss a beat, even without their No.1 goaltender, rattling off a six-game win streak and a 9-1 mark in 10 games, the only blemish on the record a 3-1 loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks on Dec. 15 at Chicago, the end of a much-anticipated trip which started in Canada, where so many of the Kings' players — such as Drew Doughty and Carter — came from. The Kings topped out at an impressive 25-8-4 on Dec. 21 and so a 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars two days later was easily dismissed as just a pre-Christmas blip on the radar. But there would be trouble ahead.