LOS ANGELES — Following the Los Angeles Kings’ third period collapse, resulting in a 3-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on January 22, based on the reaction across the World Wide Web, one would think the sky is falling, Dustin Penner is back to being the worst player in the history of the game, and the Kings are doomed.
Of course, in an abbreviated season, every game counts that much more, and there is almost no time for a team to catch up if they dig themselves into a hole early in the season.
Nevertheless, it is too early for doom and gloom, and yes, that includes Penner, who was somewhat of a hero for the Kings not all that long ago, right?
First off, injuries have already taken their toll, with star center Anze Kopitar missing the first game due to a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee, and defenseman Willie Mitchell is still recovering from off-season knee surgery (he is on the current road trip, he has been cleared by doctors, and is skating in practice).
The Kings also lost defenseman Matt Greene, who will undergo surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back, and is expected to be out of the lineup anywhere from eight to twelve weeks, perhaps longer.
Speaking of backs, goaltender Jonathan Quick is seeing his first real action after off-season back surgery.
Injuries notwithstanding, The Kings’ 0-2 start was all too predictable, and their sluggish play may not be over just yet.
Most of the Kings players are rusty, both physically and mentally, after a seven-month layoff due to the National Hockey League lockout. The rust is most noticeable in the play of the top lines, which should not be a surprise, given that among those players, only Kopitar and winger Dustin Brown played meaningful hockey during the lockout.
Other Kings who played competitive, meaningful hockey during the lockout include Jonathan Bernier, Andrew Bodnarchuk, Kyle Clifford, Dwight King, Trevor Lewis, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin, Jordan Nolan, and Slava Voynov.
In case you haven’t noticed, aside from Bernier, who did not play in the first two games, and Bodnarchuk, who was recalled from the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League on January 21, and did not play at Colorado, those who played during the lockout have been sharper and faster, and their decisions were quicker and better, compared to the rest of their teammates.
The reason: those who did not play competitive hockey during the lockout did little more than work out in the gym, skate, and play pick-up hockey—nowhere near enough to prepare anyone for playing in an NHL game.
Although Quick cannot be blamed for either loss, he is not immune from rust, something that many goalies across the league are trying to shake off.
“If you watch games [across the league over the last couple of days], there’s big rebounds, funny saves, a lot of goals,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “The goaltenders are probably the most important guys who haven’t played for a long time.”
Up front, as poorly as the Kings’ top lines have played, given that only Brown and Kopitar played during the lockout, it should be no surprise that the top lines are so far behind.
“I’m actually the only one [on that line who] didn’t play meaningful games during the lockout,” said right wing Justin Williams. “Kopi and Brownie were playing a little bit. I need to simply first, get myself comfortable, get myself going. The plays will takeover from there.”
“We’re working backwards, I mentioned that the other day,” Sutter told the media in Edmonton on January 23. “[Center Colin] Fraser’s line has been the best, then [center Jarret] Stoll’s, then [center Mike] Richards’, then Kopitar’s tonight. The kids on the back end were really good [last night] and Jonathan [Quick] was a lot better. But we need our top forwards to be a lot better.”
President/General Manager Dean Lombardi said that there is no mistaking the fact that players who were playing during the lockout give their teams an advantage.
“The teams that had [a lot of their] guys playing in the minors [or overseas], they’ve got an edge,” he stressed.
Veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi pointed out that even though there is not a lot of time to get their act in gear, it will take some time.
“We’ve only been in team practices for six days,” Scuderi said following the Kings’ 5-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on January 19 at Staples Center. “You’re just getting used to the speed again in the first couple of days. It takes a little while to get it back, and then, we hop right into a regular season game. There’s going to be mistakes, and that’s fine. We just have to limit the mental ones.”
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