TRAINING CAMP: Los Angeles Kings star center Anze Kopitar looked good in practice for a second straight day. Will he be back in the lineup for the season opener? News on Kopitar’s status, Willie Mitchell getting back to skating, contract extensions for the Kings’ braintrust and more. Raw audio interviews also available.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — The Los Angeles Kings spent the final day of their abbreviated training camp trying to hammer out all the kinks in their game that they possibly could before Saturday’s season opener against the Chicago Blackhawks (noon PST; televised regionally on NBC).
“It was a short camp, so there’s going to be kinks all the way [throughout the season],” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “Every team’s going to have’em. You try and cover as much as you can without overloading them.”
“I think we’ve had a good week, but there’s still going to be stuff that you’re going to have to stay sharp on,” added Sutter.
“I’m just worried about getting back to our good, team game, as early [in the season] as possible,” said center Jarret Stoll. “You don’t want to not be ready, and then look back, and try to get it going after the fact. You want to make sure you’ve got it going on before [the start of the first game].”
Like the compressed schedule they face, the Kings squeezed a lot of work into one week, not to mention covering a lot of material.
“We were going over all of our old systems, making sure that it was back in our minds,” said defenseman Drew Doughty. “We went over everything we needed to do, and we put in a lot of hard work to get back into shape.”
“We just kind of built every day,” Stoll noted. “We made sure we got our legs under us, we made sure to get our hands going, just getting to feel good again about our lines, and about our system play, and go from there. We’ve watched a lot of video, and we did some stuff in the gym.”
Prior to facing off against the Blackhawks, the Kings will raise their 2012 Stanley Cup Championship banner, and they will receive their Stanley Cup rings, during a pre-game ceremony.
That raises the question about how much of a distraction that will be for the Kings.
“It’s always difficult dealing with those kinds of things, but we’re going to have a lot of energy from the fans, with the banner raising stuff,” Doughty noted. “We’ve just got to have that carry over into the game. We’ve got to flip a switch on once the puck drops, and forget about what we did last year.”
“The ceremony was something we couldn’t do during the lockout,” said defenseman Rob Scuderi. “We’ll have some fun with it. I’m going to enjoy it. I missed out on the one in Pittsburgh [after winning the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2008-09; he signed with the Kings as an unrestricted free agent the following summer]. But the reason we’re all there is to play a hockey game, so I think we’ll be able to flip it pretty quick.”
“We’re all eager to play the game,” added Scuderi. “We’ve all had a lot of time off, and we’re anxious to play. But it’s a quick moment to reflect on [our] success last year, and enjoy it [quickly] before we start a new one.”
Kopitar Getting Close
Center Anze Kopitar participated in a full practice for the second straight day on Friday, and took full contact for the first time, without difficulty.
“If anything, it felt a little better,” he said. “I don’t feel any pain, or anything.”
Kopitar suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee on January 5, during his last game with Mora IK in Finland.
Even though Kopitar is not experiencing pain or other discomfort the Kings are taking the conservative approach with him.
“It’s 99 percent sure that I’ll be out of the lineup tomorrow,” said Kopitar. “That’ll give me a couple more days to get ready for Tuesday [at Colorado] or Thursday [at Edmonton].”
Shortly after Kopitar made that comment, Sutter eliminated the remaining one percent, confirming that he would not be in the lineup against Chicago.
Kopitar will start the season as a non-roster player, which means he can be added to the active roster at any time. Despite his status, he will be a full participant Saturday’s pre-game festivities.
“I’m pretty sure everything’s going to be pretty overwhelming,” he noted. “I guess, since I won’t play tomorrow, it’ll be little bit more enjoyable because I won’t have to play after. But I feel for the guys. I’m definitely going to be a part of that group tomorrow. It’s going to be a fun experience for everybody.”
Mitchell Starts Skating
Defenseman Willie Mitchell skated for the first time in several weeks after practice on Friday (January 18), a light skate under the watchful eye of head athletic trainer Chris Kingsley.
“I’m trying to be smart, because I’ve been at that point where it felt really good, but then I went from zero to 60, and set myself back a little bit [right after Christmas],” said Mitchell. “I’m trying to do it in a little more controlled manner this time.”
“I skated once, kind of like I did today,” added Mitchell. “The next day, I went a little too hard, and it blew up on me. The body was saying ‘a little too hard, a little too much.’”
Mitchell said that the injury involves cartilage in his knee, and that no ligaments are involved.
“I was working out with my trainer, and then, the next day, I started to have a sore knee, and it progressively got worse,” he explained. “I saw a doctor up in Canada, and I had an MRI done. There was just a little bit of cartilage stuff that they had to clean up. It’s a wear-and-tear thing.”
Like Kopitar, Mitchell will begin the season as a non-roster player.
Contract Extensions For Lombardi, Robitaille, Sutter
On January 18, the Kings announced that President/General Manager Dean Lombardi, President/Business Operations Luc Robitaille, and head coach Darryl Sutter have been signed to contract extensions.
Lombardi was signed to a four-year extension, while Sutter was extended for three years. The term of Robitaille extension was not available at press time, but it is believed to be a multi-year extension.
Robitaille was out of town on Friday, and was unavailable for comment. Meanwhile, Lombardi and Sutter spent much of their time giving credit to others.
“Generals manage, soldiers win,” said Lombardi, crediting his players.
“The best part is Dean’s [extension], not Darryl’s,” Sutter stressed. “He’s the guy who put all this in place, so that’s what’s more important.”
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Anze Kopitar (1:08)
Drew Doughty (1:04)
Jarret Stoll (2:32)
Willie Mitchell (7:04)
Daryl Sutter (7:13)