EL SEGUNDO, CA — The second and third days of the Los Angeles Kings 2007 training camp were highly competitive affairs as players fighting for roster spots in the very short camp were battling it out, both in scrimmages and in drills, trying to make a good impressions on the coaches and scouts in attendance at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California on Tuesday and Wednesday.
On the second day of camp, the Kings got an idea of what their line combinations and defensive pairings might be on opening night.
“We separated players today, and yesterday, we gave a look at what we think our line combinations and defense pairs will be,” said Kings head coach Marc Crawford. “They’re not written in stone, though.”
On day three, the Kings wanted to see the young kids play with the veterans.
“Today, we wanted to see our young prospects play with established NHL veterans, so you saw Thomas Hickey play with Rob Blake,” Crawford explained. “You saw Teddy Purcell on a line with Anze Kopitar. Wayne Simmonds played with Derek Armstrong today and looked extremely good.”
“We tried to give the guys we think are going to be Kings in the future a chance to see how close they are, how they match up with those veteran players,” Crawford added. “Brian Boyle played the whole morning with Lubomir Visnovsky, and we liked how that looked. It was great to see some of our young guys, see that they’re close and see that they’re going to push for jobs this year. Not only that, we see that the future of the Kings is bright.&rdquo
Pre-Season Schedule Begins
On Thursday, when most National Hockey League teams were just starting their training camps, the Kings will already be starting their pre-season schedule at the home of the other team that has already started their camp, the Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks (7:05 PM PDT face-off, Honda Center).
“If you talk to the players, they’ll probably tell you that they’d like a day or two more [to prepare for the pre-season games], but it is what it is,” said Crawford. “We’re looking forward to playing Anaheim. It’ll be exciting. Some of the younger guys will play in their first game. That’s always a monumental occasion for a young player.”
“We’re looking forward to getting a read and seeing how guys play when they’re playing against an opposition team instead of guys they’ve been around for a week or so,” added Crawford.
The Kings will play different squads in the Thursday and Saturday games against the Ducks, but the defensemen will be mostly comprised of veteran players, including Blake, who will likely play in both games in order to test his recovery from hip surgery.
“We’ve got a lot of NHL defensemen, so we’ll have a fairly veteran lineup back there,” said Crawford. “I think we’ll play Boyle on defense. Jack Johnson will play tomorrow. We’re going to have six or seven rookies in the lineup and a couple of kids from juniors.”
“We’re not going to play Hickey or [goaltender prospect Jonathan] Bernier [on Thursday],” added Crawford. “We’ll give them an extra day to get used to things. We’ll probably play them in the second game on Saturday.”
Crawford said that goalies Jean-Sebastien Aubin and Dan Cloutier will split time in goal for the Kings on Thursday.
Zeiler Moving To Center?
If you see rugged forward John Zeiler centering the Kings’ fourth line it will not be a hallucination.
Indeed, the Kings may try Zeiler at the center position on Thursday at Anaheim.
“We need someone in that position, and it will be a hotly-contested position this year,” said Crawford. “Candidates are going to be Brady Murray, Jeff Giuliano—we’ll try Zeiler there. You also want to give some consideration to the younger guys like Marc-Andre Cliche, Trevor Lewis and Gabe Gauthier.”
Defense Must Improve
Although the Kings upgraded their offense with the acquisition of center Michal Handzus and winger Ladislav Nagy in July, the area in need of the most improvement is in their defensive zone.
“I hope you see a big upgrade in our defensive game,” said Crawford. “Where we have to improve is that our goals against has to come down. We can’t hope to be in the playoffs if we don’t get our goals against down.”
Indeed, the Kings ranked 27th in the NHL in goals against last season, allowing 3.38 goals per game, and they gave up 57 more goals than the Calgary Flames, who earned the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference in 2006-07.
“We need to improve our penalty-killing, we have to be better there. If we limit shots against, it’s common sense that we should have less chances against us. Our goaltending has to improve and our coverage has to be better as well.”
Cammalleri Looking Ahead
Forward Michael Cammalleri has looked sharp in camp, and was eager to get back on the ice after a long off-season.
“I feel real good,” he said. “Legs are burning a bit. Lots of workouts, lots of bike rides, but it’s good. It feels great to be out there again. I really like the way my cardio and strength is. Now it’s just about getting the timing back.”
“It’s the most fun of anything I do—playing hockey, so I love being out there again.”
Cammalleri said that he was pleased with the upgrades to the Kings roster during the off-season.
“We’ve definitely done a good job in upgrading and trying to be more competitive,” said Cammalleri. “You look at the roster and think this could be something special.”
And if he is bitter about the way his salary arbitration case went this summer, he certainly isn’t showing it…or talking much about it.
“It was what it was,” he explained. “I knew what I was getting into going in, and so did [the Kings]. That’s really all I have to say about it. We’re here now to play hockey and it doesn’t change the way I play the game at all. That will be extremely evident for everybody watching.”
Veteran defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky was clearly a happy camper on Wednesday when he did something he rarely ever does.
He met with the media for an interview.
The normally reserved Visnovsky usually shies away from the media because he lacked confidence in his mastery of the English language.
But on Wednesday, Visnovsky was not only speaking to reporters, but was laughing and joking around with them as well.
After suffering a broken ankle at the end of last season, Visnovsky said that he is back at 100 percent, but then quipped, “for the first game in the NHL, you’re 100 percent. In the second game it’s 99 percent and then it’s less and less.”
OK…so you had to be there. But the point is, Visnovsky meeting with the media, let alone joking around with a group of reporters, was previously unheard of.
Perhaps the reason for Visnovsky being so happy was that he was rewarded by the Kings with a five-year contract back in July.
“For me, it was good that I have five more years where I can focus just on hockey as opposed to my career,” he said.
“I want to help this team win. I look back two or three years ago, maybe there are five guys from back then,” he elaborated. “It’s a new team. There’s a lot of young prospects with a few veterans. But there’s good chemistry. I’m happy that I got a five-year deal. I’m very happy because I’ve improved every season.”
Another likely reason is that he now has not one, but two teammates from back home in Handzus and Nagy.
“It’s better for me, because we speak the same language,” said Visnovsky. “It’s good to go on the road and speak to someone in my own language. Or sometimes if we lose the game, we can discuss [it].”
Captain Comes Home
Just prior to the opening of training camp, the Kings brought former Kings defenseman and captain Dave Lewis back home.
Lewis, who played four seasons with the Kings from 1979-83 and was the team captain from 1981-83, was hired as an assistant coach on August 28.
“It’s exciting [to be back with the Kings],” said Lewis, who spent seven seasons as an assistant coach and five seasons as associate coach with the Detroit Red Wings, earning three Stanley Cup Championships. “Going through most of the summer not sure what I was going to do—I really had plans on doing nothing. Marc called me late July or early August. Initially, I said that I had to think about it a bit. I slept on it, my wife asked, ‘what are you doing?’ The rest is history.”
“We had some conversations,” added Lewis, who became Detroit’s head coach in 2002-03, after the retirement of legendary head coach Scotty Bowman. “[Kings associate coach] Mike Johnson also called me, and I met [Kings President/General Manager] Dean [Lombardi] in Boston. Everything was very positive. The biggest reason I’m out here is my relationship with Marc, working at some of the All-Star games we worked together.”
Lewis, who was fired on June 15, 2007 after just one season as head coach of the Boston Bruins, has only been with the Kings players for a very short time, but he already likes what he sees and is getting acclimated.
“I see guys who are really keen, really eager,” he said. “What impresses me most is the attention to detail. When you do that, it’s a lot of work, but the rewards are huge. That’s a very good sign, especially in training camp.”
“There’s a ways to go, but every team has a ways to go,” he added. “Some good young kids were here during the prospects week, and now the pros are here. So I’m learning a lot of new faces.”
“I just want to help. I just want to do anything I can to help the players, help the coaching staff do what we have to do to win hockey games. I want to teach, I want to inform, I want to enlighten, I want to support—all the things that are necessary for your team to win, that’s what I want to do.”
Familiarity with the franchise and the area certainly helped bring Lewis back into the fold.
“I had a great experience out here, my daughter was born out here,” he explained. “There’s a personal connection, I have emotional ties, I know some people here. So all those things helped in the decision. I think if it had been another location, I might have just held off for awhile because coaching is a grind. But that was one of the biggest things.”
Roster Cuts Coming Soon
With the accelerated and compressed training camp schedule, roster cuts will come quickly…as soon as this weekend or on Monday.
“We’ll probably send a lot of the junior guys back this weekend—our first cuts will be Sunday or Monday,” Crawford explained. “Then we’ll continue to trim it down pretty quickly next week. We leave after our game on September 18, and we don’t come back until October 1. We won’t carry everybody throughout. Going to Europe, we’re only going to carry 25 players.”
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