The Los Angeles Kings — the dark horse turned powerhouse unexpectedly during playoffs last season — have returned ready to defend their glory. Sort of.
The Kings showed a lot of heart to dispel the myth they are unable to function as a unit. But they only just got their sea legs when it comes to the consistency necessary to remain top contenders.
Perhaps the new responsibility of being champions is getting to them, as the Kings have so far flopped during their home opener (in which the championship banner was raised), fumbled their lead over the Colorado Avalanche in the heat of the third period, and continued to show that for some gosh darn reason they can never perform well against the worst team in the NHL, the Oilers.
The Kings’ “claim to fame” is the only eighth seed to ever raise Lord Stanley’s Cup. But the cutesy, Hollywood a la “Miracle” tales won’t keep them afloat forever. The team cannot afford another flimsy start in the wake of the lockout, considering how short a time they have to get into playoff shape.
Despite the disappointment of a 2-2-1 start, the Kings are made up of essentially the same Cup-winning players as last season. Daryl Sutter is set to stay in place to continue giving the guidance needed for the Kings to become a scoring team, not just a defending one. No Terry Murray flashbacks when it comes to coaching.
In all seriousness, this team could repeat last season — but bigger and better — if the players remember to maintain focus and cut back on sloppiness.
Injured players, however, could set the team back. The Kings have a tendency to scramble when important players are benched, as noted by the horrendous loss to the Blackhawks Jan. 19 when star center Anze Kopitar sat the game out with a knee injury.
Once Kopitar returned, however, big defenseman Matt Green — who scored the last goal of the Stanley Cup final — had to be placed on injured reserve.
The team has clearly been suffering, as its reverted to its old ways of leaning on Conn Smythe-winning goaltender Jonathan Quick to save the day. Quick has a solid offense in front of him, and there’s no reason for the Kings to hold him to a standard of perfection to pick up the slack.
Among other players to keep an eye on, Kopitar is skating like he never got hurt, making a killing in face offs during last Thursday’s game against the Oilers. This guy is a risk taker and an intelligent player who pulls crafty, last-minute stunts that fooled even the likes of Marty Brodeur during the Cup final.
Newbie Jeff Carter has also proven to be an important force, scoring goals that are not only spot-on but — dare I say — beautiful.
Disappointingly, though, the fans haven’t heard much about captain Dustin Brown, a stellar leader even during the Kings’ worst seasons.
The Kings are a winning team overall, but goals need to be scored and plays need to be made if they hope to keep the Cup.
At the very least, the Kings will use this season to prove that the championship was well deserved. At best, they can transform themselves from a one-hit wonder to a respectable team.