Season Preview: Los Angeles
By Dennis Bernstein, TheFourthPeriod.com
To the victors go the spoils. The Los Angeles Kings ended 45 years of futility by winning their first Stanley Cup last June in record-breaking fashion. The championship roster is intact (a rarity in the salary cap era) and with a short sprint to the playoffs, the possibility of a first overall seed in the West is at hand.
A primary reason for the Kings triumph was their strength down the middle. Every team struggled to match up with a team that goes Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll in the pivot. The wingers are playoff battle tested, led by Dustin Brown and Justin Williams, and Jeff Carter's continuing partnership with Richards gives LA the sniper they've never developed in the Dean Lombardi regime.
Drew Doughty shrugged off the criticism of a mediocre regular season to deliver
a dynamic playoff performance. He led all defensemen in post-season plus/minus
(+11) and reminded all why he was a second-overall selection and a likely future
Norris Trophy winner. The veteran trio of Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi and Matt
Greene supported the growth of Alec Martinez and rookie Slava Voynov to form as
deep a blueline corps as there is in the NHL.
The fate of the season rests literally rests on the strong back of Jonathan
Quick. The Conn Smythe winner and Vezina finalist must return in full health
from off-season surgery in order for LA to make a legitimate defense of their
crown. Jonathan Bernier will be playing his last season in Southern California
given the long-term extension and will be called about to capably play 12 to 15
games, if he's not traded sooner.
It will come down to the Three H's for the Kings: Health, Hangover and Havoc.
They're still dangerous, but will they still be hungry? It will be interesting
to see how head coach Darryl Sutter handles a championship team, not an
underperforming one. Kopitar's knee injury gets things off on the wrong leg and
now there are reports that Mitchell's knee isn't 100 per cent, as well. If
Quick's back isn't an issue, LA has the depth and experience to repeat, but
given the fact it hasn't occurred in 15 years, it's the hardest task in sports.
They'll be no room for a seven-game winless streak and with their parent company
AEG now up for sale, will ownership have the same commitment to winning a
3 Players to Watch
If he's not 100 per cent healthy, you can kiss a repeat goodbye. He's vital
to the success to the team and is the one irreplaceable King.
Some were shocked when the Kings quickly locked up the big winger given his
disappointing regular season, but Lombardi has asked to see a repeat
performance of his playoff run by giving him a one-year deal. He found a
home when Sutter placed him with Carter and Richards and his Game 5 OT
marker vaulted the Kings into the Finals. If he can replicate his
post-season, he stands to earn a long-term deal.
Carter had the last laugh, scoring three game winning goals in the
championship run including a Game 2 winner in New Jersey. He's playing with
Mike Richards, has a ring and lives at the beach, so does that make him too
comfortable or give him security to return to the form of the high scoring
power forward of a few years ago. Lombardi won the gamble when he made the
deal to bring him in from Columbus, but there are still 10 years left on his