DENVER — The Kings welcomed back their final four Olympians — Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter from the gold medal-winning Canadian team and Jonathan Quick and Dustin Brown from the U.S. — in snowy Denver, where they practiced Tuesday at a university rink ahead of the game Wednesday with the Colorado Avalanche.
Slava Voynov of Russia and Anze Kopitar of Slovenia, who also played in Sochi, rejoined the team Monday in Los Angeles. But it may take a few days before any of the six will be able to put their Olympic experiences behind them.
"For me personally, and most importantly for the team, we did really well and we opened up some eyes," said Kopitar, who had two goals and an assist in Sochi, helping Slovenia to the quarterfinals. "It was a lot of fun."
Kopitar said his first Olympics was especially satisfying since his country outperformed expectations — and not just in hockey. With eight medals, including two golds from alpine skier Tina Maze, Slovenia won more medals in Russia than it all previous Winter Games combined.
Kopitar said his first shift against Brown and the U.S. was also memorable, but for different reasons.
"It was a little bit weird," he said. "But as soon as you step on the ice it doesn't really matter who you're playing against. You just want to do the best you can."
Different kind of ice time
For many of the Kings' non-Olympians, the only ice they encountered during the first 12 days of their three-week winter break was in their drinks. One group of players spent part of their vacation in Hawaii, for example, while defenseman Alec Martinez went first to Mexico, then to his house in Dallas.
"I played golf, recharged," Martinez said. "Mentally it's good to get away from the game sometimes. It's just good to get away from the rink. It's good to kind of take a step back."
Which isn't to say the players did nothing for two weeks. Before the start of the break, strength and conditioning coach Ryan van Asten gave each man a conditioning program to follow. So when the team reconvened for practice last week, everyone was ready to go.
"It's a lot better to stay in shape than try to get back in shape," Martinez said.
Lost in translation
Voynov caused a stir in Sochi when he was quoted as saying Quick purposely knocked the net off its moorings, costing Russia what would have been a go-ahead goal in a game the U.S. won in a penalty shootout.
"I play with him," Voynov reportedly said. "I know that's his style."
Voynov insisted Tuesday he said no such thing and blamed the mixup on poor translation from Russian to English.
Quick seemed eager to accept that explanation.
"That's media spinning words," he told Jon Rosen, a writer for LA Kings Insider.
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Etc.: The Kings haven't lost in three weeks — which isn't saying much since they've played just once since Feb. 3, beating Columbus in overtime. But before that, they endured a season-worst skid that saw them lose nine of 10 games. The Olympic break gave the team time to regroup and get healthy for a 23-game sprint to the finish in which the Kings will try to protect a four-point lead over Phoenix and Dallas for the final Western Conference playoff berth. Colorado also stumbled into the break, losing two of its final three. But the Avalanche has the NHL's most productive rookie in 18-year-old center Nathan MacKinnon, who leads first-year players with 22 goals and 22 assists.
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