So who gets to play with Kings center Anze Kopitar?
The smile from right wing Devin Setoguchi adequately answered the question on Saturday morning. The Kings had their final preseason game Saturday night, facing Colorado, and Kopitar played his one and only exhibition contest.
Colorado won, 2-1, as Gabriel Landeskog scored 30 seconds into overtime. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick was closing in on his second shutout of the preseason but Avalanche forward Mikhail Grigorenko tied the score, 1-1, with 1:14 remaining in regulation. With Las Vegas entering the league next season, it was the Kings’ final Frozen Fury game here.
Nostalgia trip aside, they have tough roster decisions to make before the season opener.
“This was the best game we played tonight,” Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said. “I don’t really have any complaints. I think this was his (Setoguchi’s) best game tonight. It’s not like we solved something in training camp. We’ve got injuries and a suspension.
“…Thankfully we have guys like Kopi and Jeff (Carter) who are really easy guys to play with. I think he (Setoguchi) has still got the ability to play in the NHL. We’ll just see what everybody else thinks.”
Kopitar, fresh from captaining Team Europe in the World Cup of Hockey, centered a line of Setoguchi and left wing Dustin Brown against the Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena. Setoguchi, who is in training camp on a professional tryout, called this preseason finale “a do-or-die situation.”
“You can’t get any better situation, so there’s really no excuses for me not to be effective out there,” Setoguchi said Saturday morning. “Playing with those two guys, they’ve given me the chance to play offensively and try to do something.
“I understand the situation I’m in. I didn’t take full advantage of it last night, but I’ve got to be prepared and ready to go.”
Injuries opened the door for the likes of Setoguchi and younger prospects to crack the roster. Winger Marian Gaborik (injured foot) will be out for several more weeks and center Nick Shore (undisclosed injury) is not expected to return soon.
“There’s always injuries. It was Kinger (Dwight King) that went down last year, which happened here,” Kopitar said. “There’s always bumps along the way. I don’t think it’s uncertain because we know Gabby is not going to be with us for quite a bit now.
“I think Darryl is just going to play it by ear. It’s not like I’m not used to having different wingers on any given night. It’ll be fine. It’s not a concern.”
The Kings and goalie Jeff Zatkoff struggled in Friday’s 6-3 loss to the Dallas Stars in Las Vegas. Dallas scored twice in 33 seconds to turn a 2-2 game into a 4-2 lead. Setoguchi started the game on a line with rookie center Adrian Kempe and Brown.
“It wasn’t a good game,” Setoguchi said. “The game, on a tryout, you’ve got to produce every night. You’ve got to be effective every night. I don’t think I even had a shot on net. It was frustrating for me.
“Tonight, I’ve got to make sure I’m on top of my game and give everything I’ve got and hopefully everything goes well.
Said Kings Coach Darryl Sutter: “The difference for him tonight is – we haven’t had Kopitar in the lineup. He’s a right winger, so he’s not playing with Jeff Carter. That’s where Tyler (Toffoli) plays. If there would be any impact for Devin tonight, that would be getting to play with Kopitar. Hopefully that’s good for him.”
Setoguchi, 29, has played 471 regular-season NHL games and knows that No. 472 is within tantalizing reach. The Kings open the season on Wednesday at San Jose, and Setoguchi had his best NHL days wearing a Sharks’ uniform, scoring a career-high 31 goals in the 2008-09 season.
His last NHL regular-season game, with the Calgary Flames was on Nov. 22, 2014. He entered a rehabilitation clinic in Malibu about a year and a half ago and has been candid in interviews about his past struggles with drug abuse and alcoholism.
The support he has received has been gratifying, but he was looking at Saturday as an important barometer.
“For me, I’ve got an awesome chance,” he said. “I’ve been challenged by the coaches, by management, to play well. I get my chance tonight.”
Sutter, though, had a slightly different take, saying: “I don’t think one game is going to have an impact on who’s here and who’s not.”