Can the Kings make another long playoff run?
Some pundits around the league selected the Kings as Stanley Cup finalists, which would be a remarkable feat in an era when repeat champions are non-existent and multiple deep runs in the postseason are extremely rare. The Kings would seem to have the depth, skill and continuity to chase the Chicago Blackhawks as the best team in the Western Conference. It looks like a third straight prolonged run could be in the making for the Kings. They must get balanced scoring. They must get a little lucky in avoiding injuries. They must continue to stick to coach Darryl Sutter’s game plan. They must play their steady style of hockey from start to finish of every game, from now until season’s end. Then, if they do all those things, then they should be at or near the top of the conference when all is said and done.
Who will emerge as this season’s surprise?
The Kings’ lineup seems all but set in stone, which makes the notion of a rising star something of an impossibility. The coaching staff would like to see players raise the level of their play. Young defenseman Slava Voynov certainly did that last season, scoring 25 points (six goals, 19 assists) in 48 games. Is Dwight King next on the list? Or will it be someone from the minor leagues like Tyler Toffoli or Linden Vey or Tanner Pearson? King will get a chance when he lines up on the top line alongside center Anze Kopitar and right wing Justin Williams. Kings coach Darryl Sutter said earlier in the week that King had the best training camp of anyone on the roster. Toffoli, Vey and Pearson were unable to take advantage of the many opportunities Sutter gave them to shine during camp and earned a one-way ticket back to the Manchester (N.H.) Monarchs of the AHL. Time will tell if we see them with the Kings later this season. It’s a good bet one or more will be back. Stay tuned.
Here’s the third installment of Kings questions, with expanded answers …
How will goalie Jonathan Quick cope in a long season?
Quick really can’t play every game. Sutter only wishes Quick could. Quick is fit after undergoing back surgery and starting last season’s lockout-shortened campaign in sluggish fashion, so that’s not a concern. The big question is, how will Quick respond to the grind of a full NHL season plus playing in the Sochi Olympics with Team USA? He figures to be the starter for an American team that could win gold in Russia in February. One NBCSN analyst said Quick would be his pick to start for the Americans, over Buffalo’s Ryan Miller and Detroit’s Jimmy Howard. Quick hates when reporters ask him about the Olympics, so it’s never easy to gauge his feelings for the Games beforehand. Let’s assume he’s the Team USA starter, and let’s assume he’s going to play four out of every five Kings games between now and the Olympics, that’s a lot of hockey. His workload bears monitoring throughout the season, and especially after the Games.
Didn’t catch the context in which this was offered during the Detroit Red Wings-Buffalo Sabres game on NBCSN on Tuesday. Hey, it’s tough to watch three games at once. But there’s what the network’s Keith Jones, a former NHL player, said about Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick: “Jonathan Quick is without question the best goaltender in the game today. He is the best goaltender in hockey, in the world. He is going to start for the U.S. Olympic Hockey team, unless he’s hurt.”
Part two of our series …
Can the Kings avoid another left wing letdown?
The Kings’ lack of production from their left side was a concern for coach Darryl Sutter last season and nothing happened to change his mind during training camp. The Kings flipped newcomer Matt Frattin from the right wing to the left in the hope that something would click with him, center Mike Richards and right wing Jeff Carter. Dustin Brown missed almost all of camp because of a hamstring and will start the season on the third line. The Kings cleared room on the left side by declining to re-sign the unproductive Dusitn Penner, who inked a deal with the Ducks. Dwight King earned a start on the top line with center Anze Kopitar and right wing Justin Williams with an excellent training camp. Sutter said he was pleased by the way King met the challenge. Sutter wasn’t happy by the way others failed in their attempts to impress him and secure a big-time role. No matter what else happens this season, this is a position the Kings need to improve over 2012-13.
Predictions stink. I hate doing them. I’m always wrong. Because if was right, I wouldn’t be doing this job. I would be in Las Vegas, making a living at predicting the future instead of merely guessing at it. But, hey, it’s fun, right? So here are my predicted playoff teams from the Western Conference. I won’t bother with the East because Detroit will kill everyone. Or maybe it’ll be Boston. Whatever. Here’s the West, in no particular order:
This might or might not be on-line already, but I’m posting it here, too, with expanded answers.
Did Dean Lombardi do enough in the offseason?
The Kings’ general manager said over and over again that he wanted to keep the roster as intact as possible, and he certainly did that with a series of deft offseason moves. Forwards Matt Frattin and Daniel Carcillo and goalie Ben Scrivens are the only new faces on the opening-night roster. Forward Dustin Penner, defenseman Rob Scuderi and goalie Jonathan Bernier left the club in the summer. But the general rule is if you’re not improving, then you’re getting worse and it could be argued that’s the case with the Kings. Scuderi’s loss might not be evident on the stat sheet, and it might take a while to notice his absence. But rest assured, at some point, at some critical moment, the Kings will wish they were able to re-sign him and he didn’t bolt for friendly surroundings in Pittsburgh. Losing Penner via free agency was no big deal, but it also remains to be seen if trading Bernier was the right move. Sure, it was good for his career to move to Toronto. But if Quick is hurt or falters, the Kings will hand the backup job to the relatively untested Scrivens.
Left wing Dustin Penner got an earful from Kings fans during last month’s exhibition game between his old team and his new one, the Ducks. Some chanted, “Traitor,” at him whenever he was on the ice and had the puck on his stick. It was kind of silly considering the Kings didn’t want him back because of salary-cap considerations and because his production was so underwhelming. After all, he had only 14 points (two goals, 12 assists) in 33 games. He was often scratched and frequently assigned to the fourth line.