Finally, Kings get the chance to play a game that counts
While most NHL teams got their season underway earlier this week, the Kings were afforded a couple of extra days before their opener.
That meant two more days to address areas of concern, and two more days of skating and drills. Drew Doughty let it be known how he felt about the latter.
“Training camp’s the worst part of hockey,” Doughty said. “I’m glad it’s over.”
Yes, the Kings are ready for a game. They will be among the last teams in the league to open the season, Friday against the San Jose Sharks at Staples Center. The only other teams to start later are the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lighting and the Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils for a game in Sweden on Saturday.
Waiting for the Kings is a hated rival that lost its opener Wednesday even though it outshot the Ducks 33-15.
“They’re going to be even more fired up because of that,” Doughty said. “They’re pretty big rivals and they have been for a long time, so it’s going to be a hard-fought game. There’s no doubt about it. They’re going to bring their best stuff, so we need to bring our best stuff, if we want to have any chance.”
That 5-2 loss was a buzzkill to the Sharks debut of defenseman Erik Karlsson. The two-time Norris Trophy winner went to San Jose in a Sept.13 trade that elevated the Sharks to contender status in some eyes and further stacked the Pacific Division.
Friday’s game will feature three of the last four Norris winners in Doughty, Karlsson and Brent Burns. Karlsson is known for jumping into the play as a roving defender, but he offered up reminders of his all-around game Wednesday, such as when he took the puck from the Ducks at mid-ice to trigger a rush the other way.
Nate Thompson played with Karlsson last season for the Ottawa Senators and said that part of Karlsson’s game isn’t always talked about.
“There’s a reason why he’s up for the Norris almost every year,” Thompson said. “I think everyone always looks at his offensive aspect, but I think you look at the way he skates, his positioning. Even if he’s the first one up the ice in the rush, he’s usually first one up the ice on the backcheck. He can skate like the wind, and he’s definitely underrated defensively.”
Kings coach John Stevens is wary of playing a team that has already gotten a game under its belt but he didn’t mind the extra preparation. He dedicated much of practice Thursday to the power play, which lost Dustin Brown to injury.
They need a front-of-the-net replacement for Brown and it appears to be Adrian Kempe. He was on the first unit with Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Anze Kopitar and Ilya Kovalchuk.
“We like the fact that he’s a strong guy, he’s got good speed and quickness, he’s really strong on his skates, and he’s got good size that forces the goalie to look over him a little bit,” Stevens said of Kempe.
The Kings are waiting to unveil Kovalchuk on the left side of that power play. Stevens, who took note of the quick change of possessions in the season-opening games he has seen, said Kovalchuk looks ready for today’s NHL after a five-year gap spent playing in Russia.
“I think this training camp’s been important for him,” Stevens said. “I know it’s probably been tough coming back over [after] being away a long period of time. He worked extremely hard in the summer. He worked extremely hard every day.
“He’s got an extensive routine here and he has no problem keeping up. I think he’s looked the best in practice this week, when the pace and the tempo has really gone up.”
The Kings announced a partnership to help build the Reseda Ice Rink to serve the west San Fernando Valley region. The facility with one ice rink and one roller rink could open this time next year, Los Angeles City Councilman Bob Blumenfield said.
FRIDAY VS. SAN JOSE
When: 7:30 p.m.
On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: iHeartRadio (LA Kings Audio Network).
Update: San Jose goalie Martin Jones is 9-3-2 with a 2.06 goals-against average against the Kings. Joe Thornton is three goals short of becoming the 11th player in NHL history with 400 goals and 1,000 assists. San Jose has won six of the last seven regular-season games at Staples Center.
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