The events of Saturday’s home/season opener for the Los Angeles Kings almost needs to be evaluated in two separate ways. As a fan of the franchise, it was an epic day to remember. The banner was lifted to the rafters. The Cup was passed around the ice in front of the fans one more time. Every player from that Cup-winning team was retained, giving the team a sense of permanency. It was an event that will forever have a place on the Kings’ timeline of milestones.
However, the rest of the day was forgettable…
The Kings were royally trounced by the Chicago Blackhawks, 5-2. While the extenuating circumstances make it hard to evaluate the Kings’ first performance of the season purely based on their play, their play in itself left something to be desired. Namely, the Kings let the Blackhawks dictate the pace of the game. The Kings were constantly on their heels, seemingly waiting to counter punch, and when they did, it was not effective.
When the Kings finally managed to gain some momentum in the 3rd period, the Blackhawks quickly shut it down with a timely, albeit fluky goal. The glory the Kings had raised to the rafters was won last June, the rest had to be won Saturday on the ice, and they were not in championship form.
Now let’s talk extenuating circumstances. First, it’s obvious that the Kings are suffering from Stanley Cup hangover. It’s hard to focus on the opponent in front of you when you just saw a banner raised to the rafters. Hopefully the loss on Saturday will be enough to wake them up and realize that they won’t be able to cakewalk their way to wins this season. The relative ease with which they steamrolled opponents in the playoffs last season was due to hard work. Time to work hard again.
Another big contributor to the Kings loss was the absence of their best player, Anze Kopitar. He not only contributes, he is a force on all parts of the ice. Also absent was Willie Mitchell, the Kings shutdown stalwart. Swapping Mitchell for Davis Drewiske is certainly not going to solve that problem.
Then there was the invisibility of the rest of the team’s leaders. Shouldn’t the absence of Kopitar be rendered less painful by Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Dustin Brown? The Kings only goals were scored by the grinders and grunts, Rob Scuderi and Jordan Nolan. The Kings’ depth at forward should provide insurance in the case of injury. Hopefully those guys will find their A-games and soon because this short season doesn’t provide much time for floundering.
The loss of one game isn’t so terrible. It hurts losing in the home opener directly following the banner raising. However, the bigger loss is that of Matt Greene who is now gone for the season with a back injury. With Mitchell still recovering, it leaves the Kings with a major shortage of stay-at-home types, and an overage of puck-movers. Do the Kings go with Drewiske and Muzzin? Or will AHL call-up Andrew Bodnarchuk get a chance to shine?
The good news is that Kopitar will be returning soon. The Kings’ leading scorer should give the team a boost both emotionally and on the scoresheet. Yet the one thing the Kings will not be able to shake for the remainder of the season is the target on their back. They are the defending Stanley Cup Champions and everyone wants to knock them off.
We’ll see if they’re up to the task.