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SEASON PREVIEWS
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January 8, 2013 | 6:01pm ET
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.

Forwards

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.

Defense

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.

Goalies

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.

Projected Outcome

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 championship?

3 Players to Watch
Jonathan Quick
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.
Dustin Penner
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.
Jeff Carter
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 deal.

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