Column: Banner start, bummer game for Kings
San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski, left, and Kings goalie Jonathan Quick make contact behind the net during the second period of the Kings’ 4-0 loss Wednesday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Kings defenseman Matt Greene tries to keep the puck away from San Jose Sharks forward Adam Burish during the second period of the Kings’ 4-0 season-opening loss Wednesday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Bathed in soft white light, the Kings’ latest Stanley Cup banner was lifted to the rafters at Staples Center on Wednesday night, a tapestry woven of the hopes, dreams, sweat and fortitude of more than two dozen players and coaches during a remarkable playoff run last spring.
Think about that for a minute.
Not the sweat and fortitude, though it’s mind-boggling to realize winger Kyle Clifford played the Stanley Cup final with a broken wrist and goaltender Jonathan Quick played the final two-plus rounds with a wrist injury that required off-season surgery.
Think about this being not their first banner but their most recent, their second in three seasons. This was the final time to enjoy that before the season began and reality intruded, in the form of the Kings’ flat performance in a 4-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks.
The Kings’ party pooped out late in the second period, when Tommy Wingels and Matt Nieto scored goals 14 seconds apart to double the Sharks’ lead. Jokes about how the Kings had the Sharks where they wanted them — referring to the Kings’ comeback from an 0-3 series deficit in the teams’ opening-round playoff series — died in the suddenly silent arena.
There will be better days this season for the Kings, now 0-2 in games after they’ve raised a Stanley Cup banner. Defenseman Jake Muzzin, who sat out because of an undisclosed injury, is likely to return in their next game, on Saturday at Glendale, Ariz. They’ll straighten out their communication. They’ve made adjustments before. This was a wake-up call, an affirmation that they’ll need every bit of the resilience and diligence they showed last spring.
Being distracted by the banner-raising ceremony was an excuse and not a legitimate reason for the loss, team captain Dustin Brown said.
“There’s worse problems to have,” he said. “It’s one of those things that kind of goes with the territory. I don’t think that’s why we were sloppy. We were sloppy because we didn’t prepare properly.”
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter, asked Wednesday morning what kind of message he had delivered to his team about defending its title, responded with typical blunt truthfulness.
“It’s tough to defend it if you don’t make the playoffs,” Sutter said. “You can’t get caught up in all the glamour part of it. It’s not just winning it, it’s getting there, getting into the position of being a playoff team and then that’s another year.
“We’ve got a long ways to go before we start thinking about that, and if you’re on top of the game you know that our division has gotten a hell of a lot tougher.”
But the Kings are tough too, or they wouldn’t have had a second championship and second banner-raising ceremony.
The next time fans see the banner it will be in its permanent place, next to its brother from the 2011-12 season. For anyone who has watched the Kings longer than five years, for those who experienced the agony of watching prime draft picks turn into superstars with other teams over four decades, looking up at one Cup banner was surreal. Seeing two seemed almost too much to grasp.
This is a new era for the Kings, with higher expectations and, now, experience at handling championship celebrations. The proceedings Wednesday hit the right notes but had a businesslike tone, more subdued than their celebration of their 2012 championship.
Play-by-play announcer Bob Miller, their signature voice, was the master of ceremonies and sounded as enthusiastic as ever about being at the rink a few days short of his 76th birthday. Luc Robitaille, the Kings’ president of business operations, recapped the team’s dramatic playoff run, declaring it “some of the greatest hockey we’ve ever seen.”
Rogie Vachon and Marcel Dionne took part, an appropriate touch. For too long, Vachon, Dionne and the Miracle on Manchester playoff victory were all the Kings had to boast about, the best photos in a memory book with lots of blank pages. Inviting them back to share the new, good times was only right.
The lone departure from the script occurred when Clifford tripped over the carpet laid on the ice for the ceremony. He was fine. The Kings were not. But they will be better. Now they can say they know what it takes because they’ve done it before — twice. And they have the banners to prove it.
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