Kings defenseman Alec Martinez talks about their season-opening loss

Kings defenseman Alec Martinez, the hero of the team’s Game 7 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals and their Game 5 win over the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final, knows about pressure situations. He didn’t believe the Kings delivered when needed in their season-opening game Wednesday against the San Jose Sharks. Here’s what he had to say:

“We obviously didn’t have the start we were looking for. We can’t come out like that against a hockey club of San Jose’s caliber, or anyone in the league, quite frankly. We weren’t ready. We just didn’t come out the way we needed to.”

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Kings captain Dustin Brown talks about a lackluster start, middle and finish

Here’s some of what Kings captain Dustin Brown said when asked if the Stanley Cup championship banner ceremony distracted the team during Wednesday’s loss to the San Jose Sharks: “We just didn’t play well. We weren’t very sharp moving the puck, coming out of our zone. It was hard to move it up the ice. We got stuck in our defensive zone. I think we’re just disappointed in the two points we lost.

“That’s what it comes down to, really.”

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Three things about the Kings loss to the Sharks in their season opener

Here are the first few paragraphs from my game story:

“The Kings raised their second championship banner in three seasons to the Staples Center rafters Wednesday night. Team captain Dustin Brown held the Stanley Cup high overhead as a roaring sellout crowd bellowed like it was June 13 all over again.

“Then somebody had to go and spoil a perfectly good party by dropping a puck onto the ice and starting a new season. Then the San Jose Sharks had to go and stick the puck in the back of Jonathan Quick’s net. Again and again and again and again.

“Tommy Wingels scored two goals and the Sharks earned a very small measure of revenge after last season’s playoff ouster at the hands of the Kings, taking a comprehensive 4-0 victory in the regular-season opening game for both teams.”

Here are three impressions about an uneven opening game:

First, the Kings turned in clunkers after each of their championship banner-raising ceremonies. They have been outscored 9-2 in losses to the Sharks on Wednesday and to the Chicago Blackhawks two seasons ago. So, what’s the answer? Not winning a Stanley Cup? Not celebrating it? Maybe the Kings could have the Lakers come in and talk to them about how to handle the distractions of such a ceremony. Then again, there aren’t many (any?) Lakers left who remember what that experience is like.

Second, the Kings have miles to skate before they can even think about recreating their incredible run to the Cup last spring. It was a long, slow process last season and it will be again in 2014-15. Patience is the order of the next few days and weeks, and maybe even months. Fans, players, coaches and reporters must realize it’s a process.

Third, the Sharks are pretty good. They’ve been humiliated by their playoff loss to the Kings last spring and they have plenty to prove this season. Don’t expect them to fold at every opportunity. Their collapse from a 3-0 series lead in the first round last spring was quite a pratfall, one they’ve been reminded of for, oh, probably every day since April.

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Live updates: LA Kings opener

Live updates and commentary from Los Angeles News Group staff, and the teams, at the Los Angeles Kings’ season opener vs. the San Jose Sharks at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. Game time is 7 p.m. (NBCS).

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Kings questions and answers (part 5, expanded version)

Can the Kings maintain their focus during the regular season?

If the Kings have proved nothing else in recent seasons, it’s that the regular season doesn’t mean a whole lot. After all, they finished third in the Pacific Division and sixth in the Western Conference last season and had home-ice advantage in the playoffs only during their victory over the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final. They won three consecutive Game 7s on the road, no small feat. They didn’t seem to mind playing away from home in any circumstance, defying conventional wisdom.

In the end, the Kings won’t be playing for the Presidents Trophy as the team with the best regular-season record. They want to play for the Stanley Cup. The Presidents Trophy takes too much work and is nothing more than a consolation prize teams sell to their season-ticket holders after the club doesn’t win a championship. At least, that’s the Kings’ theory. Team captain Dustin Brown mentioned it recently, and he probably won’t be the last member of the team or the coaching staff to talk about it.

 

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Kings questions and answers (part 4, expanded version)

Will the Kings be healthy enough to lead the playoff race?

Goalie Jonathan Quick and forward Kyle Clifford underwent wrist surgeries and Jarret Stoll had hip surgery during the offseason, signs of the toll a grueling regular season and an extended playoff run can exact on professional athletes. All three are sound and will begin the regular season on schedule. Injuries are always a concern, particularly for a team that relies on its physical play to win games. The Kings appear to have the depth to withstand various routine bumps and bruises in the season.

Luck plays a great role in a team’s success. Good teams avoid injuries, or at the very least they manage to use their depth to patch together a lineup that’s good enough to keep winning. There’s not a big drop-off. Bad teams get injured and there aren’t enough quality players to fill the void. The Kings appear to have plenty of depth, both on their roster in Los Angeles and at their American Hockey League team in Manchester, N.H. Any questions about the organization’s depth should have been answered by the likes of Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli during the playoffs last season.

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Kings questions and answers (part 3, expanded version)

Can veteran winger Marian Gaborik bolster the Kings’ ineffective offense?

The Kings ranked near the bottom of the NHL in scoring last season with only 206 goals, the fewest of the 16 teams that advanced to the playoffs. The Pacific Division champion Ducks scored 266, by way of contrast. Gaborik’s scoring during the postseason was one of the reasons the Kings won the Stanley Cup, however.

Gaborik enabled Kings coach Darryl Sutter to form a strong first line with center Anze Kopitar and winger Dustin Brown. It also allowed Sutter to team Jeff Carter with Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, giving the Kings the sort of scoring punch they lacked. Gaborik and Kopitar seemed like a match made in hockey heaven. They are two skilled European-born and -bred players who see the ice better than most. When they click, it’s like magic on the ice.

The Kings have so much going for them that it’s strange to think they struggle in any one aspect of the game, but their inability to score cost them a better seeded place in the Western Conference standings. They won the Stanley Cup despite having home-ice advantage in only the last of the four playoff rounds. At some point, the stress of travel and the unpredictability of road conditions will prove costly to the Kings. Scoring more goals, moving higher in the standings, could ease their burden in 2014-15.

Gaborik is the man to make that happen.

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Kings questions and answers (part 2, expanded version)

Did the Kings do enough in the offseason to stay on top?

General manager Dean Lombardi showed his faith in his roster by keeping it intact. Lombardi didn’t wish to mess with success. He did not sign any outside free agents, but did retain the services of veteran winger Marian Gaborik. Lombardi rewarded Gaborik, the Kings’ leading goal-scorer in the playoffs with 14, with a new seven-season contract worth more than $34 million. Lombardi also allowed veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell to depart as a free agent. Mitchell signed a new contract with the Florida Panthers in the summer. Lombardi did not make any trades.

Meanwhile, opposing teams in the Western Conference bulked up in the summer.

The Ducks, smarting from a second-round playoff loss to the Kings, added size and grit by trading for center Ryan Kesler and signing defenseman Clayton Stoner. They also took a chance on former 50-goal scorer Dany Heatley, hoping he could jump-start his career in Orange County.

The Chicago Blackhawks signed former New York Rangers veteran Brad Richards for the same reason the Ducks signed Kesler. The Blackhawks, who lost to the Kings in the conference finals, coveted a stronger, more experienced second-line center to compete with their rivals.

The Dallas Stars, eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs by the Ducks, acquired former Ottawa Senators standout Jason Spezza in order to get deeper and more experienced at the center position. Spezza was No. 2 behind Kesler on the Ducks’ offseason wish list.

The St. Louis Blues added Paul Stastny from the Colorado Avalanche, a rising superstar in the NHL who plays, wait for it, center. The Blues were still smarting from their first-round exit at the hands of the Blackhawks last spring when they made the move.

 

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Kings questions and answers (part 1, expanded version)

Can the Kings repeat as Stanley Cup champions?

There are plenty of reasons why no team has repeated as champs since the Detroit Red Wings won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1997 and ’98. If it was easy to win and win and win again then everyone would be doing it, right? Plus, the growth of the NHL to 30 teams and the parity that accompanied expansion diluted the product. There is more parity than ever. Plus, the salary cap limits how much teams can spend. Rich teams can’t simply outspend the poor ones in search of top talent.

So, the Kings have miles to skate before they can even think about the playoffs or winning a second consecutive championship (and a third in four seasons). They must negotiate the often perilous 82-game regular-season schedule before advancing to the postseason. They also must fight the boredom that comes with knowing the really important games won’t be here until April. It’s something all teams in all sports with championship aspirations must endure.

The Kings are no exception. Because they have won Cups while finishing eighth and sixth in the West, they must resist the notion that they can flip a switch and suddenly play their best hockey. They seemed to be able to do it after making adjustments after losing the first three games of their first-round series last spring against the San Jose Sharks, but that’s a bad trap to fall into if you expect to repeat.

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Kings coach Darryl Sutter’s not-so-nutty quote of the day

Here’s Kings coach Darryl Sutter on the anticipation of watching the second Stanley Cup championship banner in three seasons being raised to the Staples Centers rafters before the season-opening game Wednesday against the San Jose Sharks:

“Are we looking forward to it? Are we looking forward to seeing our banner being raised? Absolutely. We were looking forward to last night (the presentation of the Stanley Cup championship rings during a dinner downtown), too. ”

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