EL SEGUNDO, CA — Since the end of the 2008-09 season, it seemed like everyone in the Los Angeles Kings organization was talking about higher expectations for the 2009-10 season and that talk has only increased and grown louder, so to speak, as the Kings hit the ice for the first time in their 2009-10 training camp on September 13 at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California.
One of the first things noticed during the first day on the ice was that players who were not on the ice wore t-shirts with the phrase, “Only Reason We’re Here,” on the back.
Translation: the Kings expect to make the playoffs this season.
“This is the year we’re going to take a step where it’s going to be fairly evident that we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with down the road if we stick with it [their plan for building the team],” said President/General Manager Dean Lombardi. “We’re ready to put expectations on this group already and that’s usually odd to say, particularly when you’re that young on the back end.”
“Our goaltender is 23,” added Lombardi. “Four of your top six defensemen are 23 and under. I really like how this group has come together so quickly. We’re ready to start putting that heat [expecting to make the playoffs] on them.”
Indeed, from the front office to the coaching staff and from the players right down to the equipment staff, that page is all about qualifying for the post-season party.
“The wording is a little bit different, but the reason we’re here is for each other and the reason we’re here is to make the playoffs, which is goal one,” said veteran left wing Justin Williams.
“We had a meeting yesterday and that’s the first thing [Kings head coach] Terry [Murray] said yesterday,” said right wing Wayne Simmonds. “He said that we’re coming in this season looking for a playoff spot and everyone’s on the same page with that.”
Of course, qualifying for the playoffs is something every team strives for. But for the 2009-10 Kings, who have not made the playoffs since 2002, the expectations are not unrealistic for the first time in years.
“Every team’s goal is to make the playoffs and I don’t think it’s an unreasonable thing to shoot for,” said newly-acquired veteran left wing Ryan Smyth. “We’ve got a great group in that locker room and we have to find ways to build, game by game.”
“I know that in this room, we’re not going to be satisfied with not making the playoffs,” said defenseman b. “We need to stay focused on getting off to a good start to the year and continue that on through the season.”
“This is definitely the year for us to break though, to show everybody around the league that we can play hockey and be a playoff team,” said center Anze Kopitar. “Everybody’s expecting playoffs. Everybody’s pretty confident around here. We’re hoping to give our fans some action in late April and May.”
Expectations High For Williams
Last March, Justin Williams arrived in Los Angeles, shortly after the Kings acquired him in a trade deadline deal, wearing a cast on his hand.
With about six weeks left in the season, Williams, 27, was unable to fully recover before the season ended, and it showed in his play. But he says the injury is now ancient history and he is looking forward to being a major contributor.
“Coming off of injuries, especially the ones I’ve had, it’s tough to get back for anyone and coming to a new team added another bit to it,” Williams explained. “But at the same time, I’m not making excuses. This year, [he is] healthy, situated and knowing the guys a little bit better, I’m excited with the way I’m going to perform and the way the team is [going to perform].”
“I’ll take it as it comes, but if I don’t score, at the very least, twenty goals on an offensive line, it’s probably going to be a disappointment,” Williams emphasized. “The team’s going to need me to score goals, the team’s going to need me to help others score goals. If I do that, the number will be as high as I’ve seen in the past.”
On the first day on the ice in training camp, Williams played on a line with Kopitar and Smyth during drills.
“How could you not like playing with [Kopitar]? He’s extremely skilled, a large man out there,” said Williams. “He’s fun to play with, very confident and looks to make plays. I like that.”
Stoll Slowed By Arthritis
Right wing Jarret Stoll was stricken with arthritis in his wrist, knees and elbows and did not participate in on-ice drills, but has been skating.
Stoll said that he does not anticipate that it will prevent him from starting the season.
“It just cropped up at the start of August,” he explained. “I’ve never had it before. We’re dealing with it and we’ll get through it.”
“It’s getting better every day,” he elaborated. “It started in August, but by no means do I expect to miss the start of the season. That hasn’t even entered my mind. It’s gotten better every day.”
Stoll hopes to be a full participant in training camp soon, but he will have to be cleared by the Kings medical staff first.
“It’s going to be determined by the doctors,” said Murray. “He’s getting treated. The doctor is going to have the say as to when he’s clear to get on the ice and practice. He’s doing almost everything, as far as skating and doing some off-ice workouts [are concerned].”
“He still has a little bit of an issue with shooting the puck and with doing some push-ups,” added Murray. “That’s a little bit of a concern for him.”
“I was hoping to skate today, but they took me off there,” said Stoll. “Hopefully, in the next couple of days I’ll get back out there. I was skating the last couple of weeks–it’s fine to skate. The only thing is in my [right] wrist. That’s the only area where it’s still in my body.”
“I’ll probably be playing next week,” added Stoll. “I’m taking some good medicine. I’m taking a shot every week which is helping.”
The question now is how long the arthritis will be a concern for him.
“I might have to stay on these medications for the whole hockey season, who knows,” Stoll noted. “But there’s no side effects by using these medications. That’s not an issue. I thought it might be, but it’s not.”
Raw Audio Interview with Justin Williams
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