Five burning questions going into Saturday’s season opener …
1. Did the lockout cure their Stanley Cup hangover?
No team has repeated as champions since the Detroit Red Wings won back-to-back titles in 1997 and ’98. Only the Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins, in 2008 and ’09, have returned to the final round since the last lockout wiped out the 2004-05 season. So, the Kings are bucking recent league history as they try for a repeat championship. The four-month long lockout might have taken some of the edge off the traditional hangover championship teams suffer to start their title defenses, though.
2. Are they healthy enough to defend their title?
Goalie Jonathan Quick had back surgery during the offseason after earning MVP honors during the playoffs. He said during training camp he was sound and certainly didn’t show any lingering troubles from the procedure. Center Anze Kopitar won’t play in the season opener today because of a sprained knee suffered while playing during the lockout in Sweden, forcing some shuffling of the lines. Veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell won’t play today after undergoing knee surgery in December.
3. Are they more than Kings for a day?
Everyone remembers their downtown victory parade after they won the Stanley Cup, but does anyone remember their early-season struggles? Or the firing of Terry Murray and the hiring of Darryl Sutter at midseason? Or their late-season scramble just to qualify as the eighth and final playoff team in the Western Conference standings? It wasn’t all confetti and champagne last season, and it’s going to take a good deal of heavy lifting for the Kings to duplicate their championship feat this season.
4. Can they find more offensive firepower?
Last season, only the punchless Minnesota Wild scored fewer goals (177) than the Kings (194), a remarkable statistic in light of their Stanley Cup win. The Kings clicked on 17 percent of their power-play chances, a credible figure. But they need more even-strength goals to take the pressure off their special teams this season. It’s hard to say how the games will go during the lockout-shortened 48-game season, but the Kings can’t expect to win if they can’t score effectively while skating at even strength.
5. Will youth be served?
No question, the Kings have a nice mix of cagey veterans, skillful forwards and hard-hitting defenseman. They also have a group of youngsters that includes forwards Dwight King and Jordan Nolan and defensemen Alec Martinez and Slava Voynov. It stands to reason everyone will be counted on to aid the cause since injuries and lackluster play are bound to happen during a sprint of a season. The Kings, and every other team in the NHL, will benefit from strength in numbers this season.