The Los Angeles Kings have struggled through the annual Stanley Cup hangover in the early part of the 2013 season, but hockey fans in Southern California shouldn't panic over the team's chances of making the playoffs and having an opportunity to defend its title.
As of Tuesday, the Kings are one point from the bottom of the Western Conference standings, but on the other hand, they are also just six points behind the Vancouver Canucks, who are in third place.
To be fair to the Kings, eight of their 11 games thus far have been played on the road. When they start playing at home more often, especially in March when 10 of their 17 games are at the Staples Center, the Kings will begin to pick up points more frequently.
The Kings' problems are their inability to score goals consistently, poor defensive play in their own end, the power-play and star goaltender Jonathan Quick under-performing.
Too many of the team's best players are not living up to expectations, and it's hard to win games when this happens.
Quick's slow start is the most surprising part of the team's season thus far, but he is one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL and will certainly bounce-back. Any team with a Vezina Trophy-caliber goalie such as Quick is going to be in the playoff race, but the Kings have to give him more offensive support.
Only three players have scored more than two goals this season for head coach Darryl Sutter, so it's no surprise that the Kings rank 23rd in goals scored. Los Angeles has failed to score three goals, or more, in six of its 11 games.
The Kings power play (ranked 27th) also needs to improve, and even though they won a championship without being effective with the man-advantage, failing to score on the power play will greatly impact this team's chances of successfully defending its title.
Using talented backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier as trade bait to acquire a two-way defenseman that would improve the Kings power play and make them stronger in the defensive zone would be a smart move by general manager Dean Lombardi.
The 24-year-old goalie is a restricted free agent in July and he is the Kings' best asset to dangle in a trade that will improve the team's blue line.
The good news for the Kings is that it's not possible for many of the team's top players to play any worse than they have through the first 11 games. It would be quite surprising if the players, listed above, don't improve soon. Sutter has the scoring depth needed to win games so it's up to the players to be more consistent.
Los Angeles hasn't fallen out of the playoff race with its poor performances through the first quarter of the season, but this team needs to turn it around quickly because the Pacific Division will likely be the toughest to win this season.
All five teams in the division have 10 or more points thus far, and no one has separated from the rest of the pack. The emergence of the Anaheim Ducks as a legitimate contender in the West, after finishing last in the Pacific last season, has also made winning the division a tougher challenge for the Kings.
Los Angeles has played only two divisional games this season, so with 89 percent of their division schedule remaining, the Kings will have plenty of opportunities to make up ground in the Pacific.
The Kings are a veteran team, and much like the Boston Bruins after their poor start to last season as defending Stanley Cup champions, Los Angeles will figure it out and get back into the playoff race.
Monday's impressive 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues was a good example of the strong defensive performances that the Kings are capable of, and we should expect more of these efforts from this team moving forward.
The defending champs will need to make another late-season push to earn a playoff spot, but the experience that the Kings earned from last season's championship run will help them accomplish this goal and get a chance to defend their title.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.
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