The unofficial spin generated by the Kings was that missing the playoffs last season might be a blessing in disguise for a team that was battered and exhausted after three playoff runs that resulted in two Stanley Cup championships and, in between, a trip to the West finals.
If there's a blessing to be had, it was still well disguised after the Kings' season-opening 5-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday before an unhappy crowd at Staples Center.
Players were supposed to be rested and refreshed after a season that ended in early April instead of late June, purposeful about this season after not getting a chance to defend their title.
None of that was evident against the Sharks, themselves playoff spectators last spring and now playing for a new coach, Peter DeBoer. "It was a brutal start by us," Kings defenseman Matt Greene said. "We have to be a lot better in all aspects of the game. Just a game where you just want to learn from, obviously, but just get it out of the way early, hopefully move on and be productive from here on out. And refocus on Friday, because we've got to start winning some games."
Yes, there's urgency already. "It's huge," Greene said of losing to the division-rival Sharks. "We're going to be battling with this team for the playoffs and we just spotted them two points. I don't think they had to work too hard for that one, so it's frustrating. It's frustrating even if it is the first game of the year."
The top line of Anze Kopitar centering for Marian Gaborik and Milan Lucic was a combined for minus-6 defensively, generated four shots on goal and had little chemistry, though that might improve over time.
"Flat," Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said of the trio's performance.
Was he surprised? "Yeah," he said, the one word carrying the full weight of his disapproval.
The Kings acquired the burly Lucic because they thought he fit into the bruising style that was the foundation of their success, but the NHL is turning toward speed over physicality — think the Chicago Blackhawks, Tampa Bay Lightning and the Ducks — and Lucic doesn't fit there.
But they weren't alone in deserving blame. Defenseman Jake Muzzin, who's being counted on to assume a pivotal role following the retirement of Robyn Regehr and the return to Russia of Slava Voynov, was minus-2. Plus/minus doesn't always accurately measure performance. In the cases of the Kopitar line and Muzzin, it was kind.
The impact of this defeat might extend beyond the loss of two points. Forward Dustin Brown is likely to hear from the NHL after his high hit on San Jose's Logan Couture in the first period, and Lucic was suspended pending review by the league after getting a match penalty for running Couture late in the game in front of the Sharks' bench.
Equally alarming, the Kings couldn't handle the Sharks' speed and aggressive presence around the net and the Kings' defense did nothing to move anyone out from in front of goaltender Jonathan Quick. It wasn't the way to display hunger or a renewed commitment to winning hockey, by any definition.
"We know them pretty well, so it didn't come as a surprise to us," defenseman Christian Ehrhoff said of San Jose's speed. "We got a good first goal but then we just couldn't get the job done on our special teams and they won that battle early and got us behind."
It seemed as if more than that was missing. They lost a lot of experience and lead-
ership when winger Justin Williams became a salary-cap casualty, Regehr retired, and they let a slowing Jarret Stoll leave as a free agent. They played most of last season without Voynov and the seriousness of the spousal-abuse charges to which he pleaded no contest made it likely he wouldn't be back for a long time, if at all. The void created by that turnover might not have been completely filled.
How they react to this will go a long way toward determining what kind of team they will be. "We should take a couple things from this and learn from it," Brown said. "We can't have the compete level where it was tonight and expect to win at this level."
Not even if they were rested and refreshed. "I don't know what it was. All I know is we got pumped pretty good there," Greene said. "Just learn from it move on and we've got to make up those division points now."