Slow start doesn’t mean end to Kings’ run as Stanley Cup champions
Sure, this is a short season. But a Canadian columnist might have been rushing things a tad when he suggested the Kings’ Stanley Cup defense was doomed after they had lost their first three games.
“OK, so 0-2-1 isn’t the end of the world. But in a 48-game season, can the Kings see it from here?” Mark Spector wrote for sportsnet.ca.
Uh, no. The Kings’ start was hardly perfect, but it didn’t blow up their chances of repeating.
This is the same team that scrambled out of the depths of the Western Conference last season to grab the No. 8 seeding, learning at each step how to overcome doubts and deficits.
“I think we’re a confident group. We certainly showed that we can get it done, no matter what it is,” said center Anze Kopitar, who fueled the top line’s offensive breakthrough by scoring twice in the Kings’ 4-2 victory over Phoenix on Saturday.
“Yeah, it wasn’t an ideal start, but there were still 45 games left. It’s nice to get the first one out of the way ... and now it’s a matter of putting a nice little streak together and focus on our game.”
Players say they’ve seen none of the complacency or “Stanley Cup hangover” symptoms that can afflict championship teams. Excuses and back-patting won’t fly with Coach Darryl Sutter, who has already scratched a healthy Dustin Penner from the lineup twice because of subpar efforts.
Winger Justin Williams won the Cup with Carolina in 2006 and sensed the team’s personality change the following season before it missed the playoffs. He said he hasn’t sensed a negative turn among the Kings.
“For this team I think it’s totally different because everyone is still together, but in Carolina everyone kind of got a payday. Got a bump in a paycheck. A lot of guys who were up for contracts got more money and it seemed a little different,” he said.
“I don’t know if that was the reason we missed the playoffs, but this team has kind of been built for years and built to stay together, built to win in the playoffs especially. I don’t think we have any of that. We’re going to have the arrogance but good arrogance, if there’s such a thing.”
The Kings’ biggest obstacle this season has been losing veteran defensemen Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene to injuries, but Davis Drewiske and rookie Jake Muzzin have stepped in capably.
“One particular challenge is for others to step up and fill the emotional void left by the loss of Greene, who was the emotional leader of this team,” General Manager Dean Lombardi said. “It is an opportunity for others to grow into that role and make us stronger in the long run when Greene returns.”
Muzzin and Drewiske haven’t proved they can play in all situations, and each averages less than 12 minutes’ ice time. Alec Martinez, who averaged 14 minutes 43 seconds’ ice time last season, is exceeding 22. Rob Scuderi is at 24:38, up more than four minutes from last season. Mitchell’s return will ease the burden on Martinez and Scuderi, but it’s unclear when that will happen. Mitchell has been medically cleared after knee surgery but has been reluctant to push himself for fear of experiencing a flareup.
Keeping the Cup roster intact has helped the Kings’ stability but also means there has been no boost for an offense that struggled last season. The 0-for-23 power play is more the fault of strategy than a lack of talent.
“Scoring is not a concern until our top six play up to their potential,” Lombardi said. “Our top six are all entering their prime or in their prime and they have all shown in the past they can produce numbers and be responsible defensively. Obviously, our power play has not had results even though they have been getting good looks.”
Unlike those who saw the end of the world coming after three games, Lombardi is willing to be patient and let this group sort things out. Players believe that will pay off.
“We’re not intimidated by anybody. We feel that as few goals as we’ve scored this year, nothing is insurmountable,” Williams said. “We look around. We know how good we are. We always talk about it, ‘Wow, we’ve got a good team.’ It’s a matter of showing it every night and we’re confident we can do that.”
Defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, who tried to void his trade from the Ducks to the New York Islanders and stayed in the KHL after the NHL lockout ended, will report to the Islanders soon. His agent, Neil Sheehy, tweeted Saturday that Visnovsky was delayed by family medical reasons and will arrive no later than Feb. 11.
Unsigned restricted free-agent defenseman P.K. Subban is expected to meet with his agent, Don Meehan, on Monday after taking the weekend to consider his next step in talks with the Montreal Canadiens. Subban is seeking a five-year deal, but the French RDS network reported the Canadiens’ last offer as $5.1 million over two years.
The New York Rangers’ attempt to add depth up the middle by signing veteran Jason Arnott ended Sunday when team doctors didn’t clear him.
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