All posts by Matt

Kings overwhelm the Wild

Los Angeles Kings' Ryan Smyth, from left, Jack Johnson and Anze Kopitar celebrate after Smyth scored against the Minnesota Wild during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Los Angeles on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2009.Game 3: Kings 6, Wild 3

So, which team showed up at Staples after two dramatically different games? Would it be the focused, skilled bunch that ran roughshod over San Jose? Or would it be the tentative and sloppy crew that dropped the home opener to the Coyotes. How about a combination of both?

The Kings followed up their excellent effort against the Sharks on Tuesday with an offensive outburst which netted the top line of Kopitar, Smyth and Williams 5 goals and 6 assists between them. Add to that another Ted (Don’t Call HIm Teddy) Purcell third period goal and another solid performance by Jonny (Don’t Call Him Jonathan) Quick, and the Kings win another game. The power play has netted L.A. five goals, tied for tops in the league (yes, I know it’s early) and scoring with the man-advantage at a 41 percent clip.

Then there’s the penalty kill… yeah… Not so good. Dead last in the league at 36 percent. (Yes, it’s early… I get it). The Kings allowed 7 PP goals, tied with Montreal and Carolina, and just look sloppy.

You know what it seems like to me? Last season, Terry Murray comes in and is given this lineup full of offensive potential. Instead of opening it up to see how she runs, he starts pumping the brakes, testing the handling, kicking the tires, yielding to bicyclists… He started preaching defensive awareness, and improved on the Kings’ dismal defensive showing. The result? They had the 11th lowest goals against average, and played relevant games deep into March. Of course, their 5-on-5 scoring was down, but they were practicing restraint and defensive responsibility.

This season, it looks like Murray has decided to throw caution to the wind, put the top down on this purple-and-black convertible, slammed his pedal down to the metal, and let his silver hair flow in the breeze, kicking the offense into high gear to see what this baby can do. The result? An average of 5 goals a game, and every player on the top three lines tallying at least two points. The flip side? Like I said, poor PK play.

Yes, I am excited to finally see what many people have said for years: this team can flat out go. We do have three lines that can cause fits to opposing teams. But I’m also anxious to see if they can incorporate their defensive game from last season, and combine it with this season’s offensive prowess. Once Terry Murray and the boys do that, this team will no longer have potential, this team will be flat out dangerous.

• LA Times: Kings defeat Minnesota, 6-3, but struggle with penalty killing

“The top line carried us tonight,” Jack Johnson said. “When your best players are playing well, there’s a good chance you’re going to win.”

• AP: Kings’ top line clicks in 6-3 win over Wild

“The big thing is that we’re communicating in practice and obviously it’s leading out into the game situation,” said Smyth, acquired in a trade with Colorado this summer. “It’s a good mix and things are going good right now.”

• CBC: Smyth, Kings overwhelm Wild

Michal Handzus also scored for the Kings (2-1-0) and Jonathan Quick made 26 saves as the team completed a three-game homestand to open the season.

• LAKings.com: First line shines as Kings beat Wild 6-3 

The night also ended well for Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi, who, after the game, received his Stanley Cup championship ring from Kings president Luc Robitaille. Scuderi was a key member of last season’s Pittsburgh Penguins championship team.

They said it

“That line was as good as I’ve seen them since they’ve been together, throughout the training camp and the early part of the season. Hopefully they can keep building on that. Williams, that was maybe his best game. He was very heads up, very intense, really skated very well tonight.” – Terry Murray, Kings head coach

Other royal observations

• Frozen Royalty: Kopitar Line Leads Kings Over Wild, 6-3

Although their penalty-killing continues to leave a lot to be desired, the Los Angeles Kings are riding high on the backs of their top line.

• Examiner.com: Kings hoping for Greener pastures

Well, to paraphrase the noted philosopher Kermit the Frog, “It’s not easy being Greene.” And it’s that lionhearted mentality that makes teammates and opponents alike respect what Los Angeles Kings defenseman Matt Greene brings to the table every day.

Around the Kingdom

• The Royal Half: Fugly for the win!

It doesn’t matter if you saw it in HD, SD or while wearing your BVD’s… it was another Kings victory!

• HockeyBuzz’s Matthew Barry: Kings Cap Off Great Night In L.A. 6-3 Over Wild

The fans in Chavez Ravine were happy.The fans in Anaheim were happy. The fans in Staples Center were happy. While it looked as though the Kings would command a repeat performance of two nights ago when they blew a four goal lead to San Jose, they held off a 3rd period Wild barrage and outlasted the onslaught to prevail 6-3. Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams and Ryan Smyth combined for9 points.

• Inside Hockey: Living on the edge of the crease

Word of advice: if you want a Ryan Smyth autograph, it might be a good idea to try this on your envelope: Kings #94, Edge of the Crease, Staples Center, Los Angeles.  The letter carrier who works the 90015 zip code won’t even blink.  And on game nights, that’s where he or she will find Smyth.

• Battle of California: Let’s Do Some Lines

The Wild tried to avoid the fate of the San Jose Sharks by splitting up their top line to get away from Fro-Hand-Meat, but the result was that they didn’t have one line strong enough to stop Smyth-Kopitar-Williams from running roughshod over their defense.  Then, while the Wild were focusing on matching up with those two lines, the Purcell-Stoll-Brown line snuck in a goal to put the game away.

• Kings Kool-Aid: How the top teams spend their cap space – From The Rink

• A Queen Among Kings: A Regular Occurrence?

• Caligiuri’s Corner: Staying Fresh on the Road Requires Experience

If you think for a moment that eleven days on the road requires eleven suits, eleven shirts, and eleven ties…you are stone cold wrong. Traveling in the NHL requires a unique skill; deception.

From across the aisle, the Minnesota viewpoint
• Star Tribune: This time, a three-goal deficit is too much

Smyth’s beauty of a deflection came 67 seconds in — after Harding didn’t see a Williams shot from way out moments earlier. Harding lucked out on that one because it rang the left post.

• Russo’s Rants: Los Angeles Kings 6, Wild 3

The Kings send two guys to the net almost every time in the offensive zone. Richards said, “We talked about this being a team that goes to the net and we have to be strong out front of our net. They got two deflections with guys just standing there.”

• Hockey Wilderness: Game recap

Tonight, there would be no comeback. While Martin Havlat finally got his first goal in a Wild uniform, the Wild had no answer for Ryan Smyth, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and the rest of the Kings.

Peeping the dailies

<br/><a href=”http://video.msn.com/video.aspx?mkt=en-US&brand=foxsports&vid=73c4322a-5f76-40ba-b999-21f8c271dbca” target=”_new” title=”Kings crown Wild”>Video: Kings crown Wild</a>

<br/><a href=”http://video.msn.com/video.aspx?mkt=en-US&brand=foxsports&vid=6c55dd6d-8f53-47d0-8222-66714e4972a2″ target=”_new” title=”Kings Report: Penalty kills”>Video: Kings Report: Penalty kills</a>

Kings outlast Sharks for first win of the season

Game 2: Kings 6, Sharks 4

After the debacle on Saturday, the season can now officially start after last night’s impressive game against the San Jose Sharks. I was able to procure some nice seats thanks to a good friend (thanks Amy,) and so I took my daughter to the game. I try to take her to at least one game a season, so I figured this wouldn’t hurt. On a school night. Note to self, stick to weekend games for the kid. She got tired and was worried she’d be sleepy at school, so we left after the second. (I know, I know…)

I rationalized it by saying I didn’t want to be there when the Kings lost their four-goal lead, and I’d like to leave on a high note. I got home just as Davis Drewiske potted an empty-netter to ensure the Kings first win of the season. Oh well, there will be other games. (There always are).

The difference between Saturday’s team and the team on Tuesday was multifold: instead of looking tentative, they looked aggressive. Instead of having one line providing chances, there were three. And instead of some players coasting around waiting for opportunity, they made their own.

One of those players is Ted Purcell (or I guess he’s going by Teddy now) looked really good last night, causing several Sharks turnovers and playing like he’s 6-foot-3, instead of 5-foot-9. Add 15 more pounds of muscle on Purcell, and he’ll be a monster. His game-winner from behind the net was a thing of beauty. Lucky? Sure, but it shows that good things happen when you throw the puck toward the net.

On the last Hockeywood Insider podcast, I mentioned that this is the season for Anze Kopitar to become a 90-100 point player. Or at least a point-a-game player. Well, Anze now has two multi-point games. He has really found the player to compliment his skills in Ryan Smyth. Honestly, Smyth could make any player better. And on the other side of the line is Justin Williams. And even though he’s been quiet offensively, he’s done good things in the neutral zone.

I just want to say one thing: Alexander Frolov is not on the third line. I was sitting next to a few yahoos last night, complaining that Frolov should be on the top line with Kopitar. Rather than turn to them and knock their heads together, I’ll just bash them anonymously on my blog. It’s not an actual ranking, it’s just a name. L.A.’s “stopper” line played outstanding against the Sharks top line. Plus, any line with Wayne Simmonds can’t possibly be ranked third in importance. Step away from your XBoxes and pay attention.

Let’s talk about Raitis Ivanans and his fight with Jody Shelley. (Heh, Jody has a girl’s name…) Raitis, or as I have now dubbed him Bullet-Tooth Raitis, jumped to the defense of Davis Drewiske with the savagery of the character from movie Snatch. Over at HockeyFights.com, they deemed Bullet-Tooth the victor. I especially like how, at he end of the fight, Ivanans turned Shelley (heh, his last name is a girl’s name, too…) around and shoved his face against the glass, WWE-style. The only thing I could think was “Thank God Ivanans is on our side.”

The Kings did give up a four goal lead. The one glaring thing that sticks out to me was the mental lapses that resulted in penalties, especially in the second period. Too many men on the ice is flat out unacceptable. The penalty lead to the Sharks’ first goal by Setoguchi, and started their rally. And Frolov’s double minor was regrettable, but at least it bloodied Setoguchi.

Which brings me to the special teams. Last game, the Kings killed off three of the four penalties against the ‘Yotes, while notching three power play goals. Tuesday night, they gave up four power play goals, while only scoring once on the man-advantage. Guess you can chalk that up to the law of averages. The Kings are still at 50% with the man advantage, and there’s an effort to improve the 5-on-5 scoring.

But don’t think this win doesn’t hold some considerable weight. San Jose is still the reigning President’s Cup team, and the addition of Dany Heatley makes their top line a formidable one. Remember that scene in Jaws, when Brody is chumming the waters, mocking Quint when all of a sudden, the shark’s huge head appears and scares the crap out of Brody. This Sharks’ team is that dangerous, as evidenced by coming from four goals down. Always lurking under the surface, waiting to strike. But the Kings showed the temerity to fight through adversity to come out on top.

Enough analysis, let’s celebrate the Kings first win of the season!

• AP: Kings blow 4-goal lead, rally to beat Sharks 6-4

It’s still awfully early, but the Kings believed such a stirring victory is a sign that perhaps the same old Pacific Division pecking order could change this season.

• Canadian Press: Kings blow 4-goal lead but rally to beat Sharks

Blake, the Sharks’ new captain in his second season with the club, was booed every time he touched the puck by the crowd in half-full Staples Center.

• L.A. Times: Kings almost let a big one get away

Davis Drewiske secured the victory for the Kings (1-1) by scoring into an empty net, his first NHL goal. Ryan Smyth scored his first goal as a King and Rob Scuderi suffered his first nose injury — bruised but not broken — and certainly not his last.

• LAKings.com: Purcell’s late goal lifts Kings over Sharks, 6-4  

“We’re glad that we stayed composed and (we’re) pleased to get the win,” Kings defenseman Matt Greene said, “but obviously the penalty kill has to be better and that put the game in jeopardy. It shouldn’t have been that way. For the most part, the guys stayed composed and we came back to win the game.”

They said it

“I really like what Raitis did there with the hit on Drewiske. They’re trying to get something going. I know that. They’ve got some energy guys out on the ice and they’re trying to stimulate their team and get excited about something. They got a hit and Raitis steps in and supports his teammate. It was a great job by him. It might have got them underway a little bit, but in the long term, those kind of plays by our guys responding, are critical to our success.” – Terry Murray, Kings head coach

Other royal observations
• LA Kings Insider: Game notes

So much for faceoffs being a key, as the Kings won only 26 of 61 faceoffs (43 percent) Jarret Stoll won 11 of 14 faceoffs but Michal Handzus lost 17 of 24 (30 percent).

• Frozen Royalty: Kings Blow Another One…Almost

Kings center
Anze Kopitar led the way for the Kings with a goal and twoassists, while defenseman Davis Drewiske scored his first National Hockey League goal and added an assist. Center Michal Handzuscontributed two assists.

Around the Kingdom
• A Queen Among Kings: A Questionably Solid Win: Kings 6, Sharks 4

My mantra of the Kings being “consistently inconsistent” continued last night by their sheer meltdown in the middle of the game. Yes, their passing and transitions were impressive, but the inevitable excitement and inability to immediately calm the nerves after their lead was built lead to the Kings suffering 4 unanswered power play goals from the Sharks.

• Press Box Perspective: Kings refused to give up

Also, for those Kings fans who worried that Rob Scuderi had won the Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh and might not play as hard for a the Kings in LA… I think Rob proved himself to be the tough guy he’s always been last night. Scuderi took a puck to the nose (it’s not broken, just caused gushing blood) and only missed a shift as they got him cleaned up and made sure that he wouldn’t bleed all over as he went out to play the rest of the game.

• The Royal Half: One down.

If you would have told me that after 2 games the Kings would have 9 goals… I would have been beyond happy. But if you told me that they would have also given up 10 goals in those 2 games… not so much… Jon Quick looks brilliant at times and downright LaBarberian at others.

• Inside Hockey: Who were those guys?

Almost the same bunch of guys suited up in black Tuesday night as had three days earlier for the Kings when they lost 6-3 to Phoenix Saturday night.  Most of the same things happened before the game, including the singing of “God Bless America” instead of the national anthem.  So you’d think, if you were into superstition, that the same things would later happen on the ice as had the game before.  You would be wrong.  Way wrong.

• Kings Kool Aid: I Now Love Raitis Ivanans (and new bonus nickname)

…because of the insane ferocity with which he charged at whoever it was who ran Drewiske. That was just about the scariest thing I have ever seen and every team in the league should have it in mind when they play the Kings.

• Battle Of California: Kings-Sharks: Exhale

It’s funny how a win like this can be viewed by different people.  If you’re a Kings fan, are you happy that your team won, no matter what?  Are you upset the Kings almost blew a 4-0 lead?  If you’re a Sharks fan, are you upset the Sharks were so terrible 5-on-5?  Or happy the power play looked so good?  If you’re me, you just kinda wanna go to bed.

From across the aisle, the San Jose viewpoint
• Mercury News: Sharks come back from four-goal deficit but lose to Kings

“We’re not going to win games giving up six goals,” he began. “We’re not going to win games not scoring five-on-five. We’re not going to win games with goaltending like that. We’re not going to win games if we don’t get our penalty-kill clears out. We won’t win games looking for players for the first half of the night.”

Peeping the dailies

Here’s the fight between Ivanans and Shelley

ESPN’s Kings Ransom proves everyone has a price

Last week, I was asked if I’d like to screen ESPN’s new documentary Kings Ransom, after I had blogged about whether Wayne should come back to L.A. I said “absolutely.” I had read Yahoo’s Puck Daddy’s assessment of the flick, and wanted to see it for myself. After all, it was Gretzky who was my introduction to hockey. And after seeing that cool history video before the Kings home opener, I figured it would be a great time to revisit that era.

As it started, it shows the Great One walking through a vacated Great Western Forum. It took me right back to 1988, when I was a senior in high school in Los Angeles. As the documentary unfolds, it’s starts in Edmonton, when a glass-eater of a trade was proposed by new Kings owner Bruce McNall to Oilers owner Peter Pocklington. Trade the greatest player in the game where? For what?

The stunning revelation was that Pocklington actually said “Let’s talk later” floored me. It is a reminder that no matter what the circumstance, sports is also a business. And that’s something that the average sports fan may recognize, but is still perplexing. Granted, much of it has to do with finances and circumstances, whereas a fan’s devotion for a franchise often unwavers. The average fan doesn’t understand completely the Law of Diminishing Returns, and how it relates to sports, they just want their team to win. The documentary attempts to reveal part of that, how a player’s worth does indeed drop with age. But then the director Peter Berg abandons it to focus more on the result of Gretzky appearing in L.A.

Back to me… so it’s the summer of 1988. The Lakers just beat the Detroit Pistons to secure their back-to-back championship. The Dodgers were marching toward a World Series berth, thanks to the Cy Young Award winning Orel Hershiser. The Los Angeles Rams were just starting a season that would propel them into the playoffs. Sports in L.A. were at a peak. Then word breaks that the Los Angeles Kings, a team that was completely off my radar, just traded for the Great One. When I asked my old man about it, he off-handedly told me he ‘holds the record of hat tricks or something.’ (Which is true, Wayne had 50 3-goal games)

Now, I peripherally knew about hockey and the Kings. I knew that they played in the same arena as the Lakers. I knew that they wore purple and gold jerseys, because they were owned by the Lakers owner. And I knew that in hockey, players beat the crap out of each other. Other than that, I knew very little about the sport or the players. My Dad was more into tennis and auto racing, and we watched football Sundays sometimes. Then the news broke that Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Kings, and the surrounding hype intrigued me. They changed their jerseys, to mirror the Los Angeles Raiders color scheme. The logo was changed. The team was changed.

There’s a point in the doc where Wayne’s playing in L.A., and there are talking about the boon of fans that he’s attracted. Bob MIller recounts how fans just started flooding phone lines, just handing over their credit card numbers for seats. The arena went from 7,000-8,000 fans a night to being sold out. Stars like Tom Hanks, Michael J. Fox, Billy Crystal, John Candy and Magic Johnson all came to see L.A.’s newest star play. Even the former President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, wanted to experience greatness. There’s footage of a woman is being interviewed, and she says “Everybody loves the Kings, but the only hockey player the people of Los Angeles have ever heard of is this Wayne guy.” Well, that describes most of my friends.

Fast forward five years, and the Kings have become perennial playoff contenders. Gretzky had already won the Hart Trophy, and had put the Kings on his back. He had tallied 100+ points each season until 1992-93, when he injured his back. By now, I was completely hooked. I watched games on Prime Ticket, and had started playing roller hockey out at the park on a converted tennis court, and had purchased a Sega Genesis with my meager wages from the video store, so I could play NHLPA 93.

Los Angeles was completely engulfed with Kings fever. I’m not quite sure how I could sufficiently describe just how big it got. For the 1993 Playoffs, the Kings were the only show in town. They rolled through the Campbell Conference bracket, beating Calgary, then Vancouver. As the series went to Toronto, more and more people in Los Angeles were hopping on the bandwagon. I remember Game Seven like it was yesterday, and the elation swelled through the city and it’s hockey fans unlike anything I’ve seen. There was no resentment from hardcore fans of the newbies to hockey. Everyone was on board and riding the wave.

As a Kings fan, I was on top of the world. What I didn’t understand was were fans who were absolutely livid at Pocklington, whose dynasty came crumbling down just as it was reaching its peak. Sure, the Oilers won another Cup without Gretzky, but imagine what could have been. The documentary shows the range of emotions from Edmonton fans, from denial to disgust. There’s an image of an road sign, announcing that Edmonton was the ‘City of Champions,’ that someone had spray-painted the letter’s L.A. Fans were pissed.

The only parallel I could draw to recent times was when Shaquille O’Neal was traded by the Lakers after their 2004 season. The Lakers had just lost to the Pistons, and there was upheaval. Shaq wanted more money, Phil Jackson was asked to step aside by Jerry Buss, the static between Kobe and Shaq… everything blew up. So Shaq was traded to the Heat, and the Lakers failed to make it back to the Finals for five years. Many people, including Kobe, have gone on the record saying the Lakers could’ve won 2-3 more titles, if they hadn’t blown it up. As a Lakers fan, it killed me to see that unfold the way it did. And that’s how I can empathize with the Oilers fans.

Back to the documentary, Kings Ransom does a good job showing the lead-up to the trade, with interviews with Gretzky, Pocklington, Glen Sather, Bruce McNall, Marty McSorley and Luc Robitaille. Some of the best exchanges involve Pocklington and Sather, when discussing just how pissed Sather was after hearing about the trade. You could tell he was still a bit sore. There’s some great images and video of the old Forum, and the fans who made it great. It took me back to the friendly confines of the Great Western Forum, where you could walk around the entire arena unhindered. Those were the day.

But I was sort of let down by just how blank Gretzky was in his interview with director Peter Berg. Granted, it’s been 20 years, and I’m sure he’s had plenty of time to think about it. His responses seemed canned and measured, and really lacked any emotion. Like he hasn’t been asked before about the trade before… And to me, his response of “I felt I had a calling” seemed a little less like he was drawn by fate, but rather pushed by circumstance.

All in all, Kings Ransom does provide a decent Cliff Notes account from all sides, and as a hockey fan, I found it enjoyable.

Here’s a preview

Other reviews

• Yahoo! Puck Daddy: Film Review: ESPN-ization of Gretzky trade in ‘Kings Ransom’ doc

Berg works hard in crafting an effective hour of hockey nostalgia, but ultimately that detachment from Gretzky circa 2009 is the difference between a Good One and a Great One for ESPN.

• The Hockey News: ‘Kings Ransom’ relives blockbuster trade of Gretzky from Edmonton to Los Angeles

“I knew I would get nothing for him in the free market because I couldn’t bid what others would and that’s how the deal got done,” Pocklington told the audience. “If I hadn’t done what I’d done, we wouldn’t have won another Stanley Cup. It was the right thing for hockey and the right thing for the Gretzky family.”

• New York Daily News: Peter Berg’s ESPN documentary ‘Kings Ransom’ examines Wayne Gretzky trade to Los Angeles Kings

Yet it’s clear in “Kings Ransom” that Gretzky looks back with ambivalence. He never won another championship, and there are long moments in “Kings Ransom” that call to mind the old gospel lament “He got what he wanted, but he lost what he had.” 

Hockeywood weekend returns: Week 1

This season, I’m going to track where the Kings are ranked through the different news sites. Since there has only been one week, there’s not going to be much change. But it should give fans a good idea where the Kings are in the minds of those who cover hockey.

Yahoo! Power Rankings: 25. Even if they don’t win enough games to reach the playoffs, the Kingsshould be exciting to watch. Good young talent on display here. GM DeanLombardi better hope ownership has patience. (Obvious first week, so generic comment.)

TSN’s NHL Power rankings: 25. The Kings continue to develop young players as rookies Drew Doughty, Oscar Moller, Wayne Simmonds and Jonathan Quick all played significant roles but, at some point, the process has to go beyond continually developing youthful talent. (Ed. note: Um, Moller’s not on the team)

ESPN Power Rankings: 15 (!) Nice way to open a season full of high hopes: lose at home to the Coyotes. (Ed. note: they have L.A. ahead of Colorado at 2-0-0. Hmmm)

Sportsnet Power ranking: 15. Big things are expected from a team that will make a push for its first playoff game in seven seasons, so a 6-3 loss to Phoenix is unacceptable.

CBSSportsline Power Rankings:23. You never know how young players will react going forward, so you have to take the impressive steps many Kings took last season with a grain of salt. But veterans Ryan Smyth and Rob Scuderi are nice additions and the goaltending here could surprise people.

The Hockey News Power Rankings: 27. Super sophomore Drew Doughty scores two points, but is a minus-2 in opening 6-3 loss to Coyotes.

I’ll take the average, and the official Hockeywood Power Ranking is…. 21. What’s that mean? Nothing. Then again, it’s the first week.

BlogNation

• Elliotte Friedman’s: 30 random thoughts.

1. Overreaction Award I: Kings fans who booed their team off the ice in the 6-3 Opening Night loss to Phoenix. Ridiculous. It’s only one game.

• Sports Illustrated Allan Muir Around the NHL: Third annual wheels off edition

11. The season’s first noteworthy trade will involve: Alexander Frolov.
Despite his prodigious talent, Frolov’s always starred in his own movie: The Fast and the Frustrating. With unrestricted free agency looming, GM Dean Lombardi has a tough decision to make on the 27-year-old winger. Is he really part of the solution or more valuable as a bargaining chip? Look for Lombardi to start making calls in December to gauge the market

And here’s Barry Melrose from ESPN, talking about the NHL’s breakout teams, and guess who he mentions…

Kings left confounded by Coyotes in home opener

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 03: Jonathan Quick #32 of the Los Angeles Kings jumps over a sliding Scottie Upshall #8 of the Phoenix Coyotes and Matt Greene #2 during the first period at the Staples Center on October 3, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)GAME 1: Coyotes 6, Kings 3

Do you know how much it rules to live in Los Angeles? Traffic was snarled on the 110 Freeway, just outside Staples Center. One of the possible reasons? Saturday’s home opener for the Kings coincided with AdultCon, a fan fair and lifestyle expo, at the Los Angeles Convention Center. That’s right, a porn convention. Only in L.A.

The Kings pregame festivities were nice outside at LALive. Good music,lots of stuff for people to do. (For an outstanding look at the goingson, check out The Royal Halfblog. Kontos is hilarious, especially his play-by-play of the PurpleCarpet. I LOLed) All of which I passed on to get my grub on. I met somefriends down at the ESPN Zone, and wolfed down a chicken Caesar saladand an iced tea before ascending to the 300s. As my friend pointed outto me, it was like the first day of school. It’s nice to see all yourold friends come out, talk about what they’ve done over the summer.

There,I watched the Kings roll out a flashy video, giving a visual tour ofthe Kings castle, highlighted by snippets of the Kings’ storiedhistory. It was all there: the Miracle on Manchester? Check. The Frenzyof Figuroa? Check. The Triple Crown Line? Check, check and check. Kingsbeating the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1993, to win the Smythe Trophy? Um,check. There was no mention, however, of McSorley’s curved stick or theKings losing to Montreal in the Stanley Cup. Guess that’s better leftunsaid. But they did highlight Luc Robitaille scoring the most goals infranchise history to cap off the video. Tell you what, I’d like to see THAT video go up on Kings Vision. The one thing I DON’T want to eversee if a replay of that game.

And the pre-game introductions proceeded, with each Kings playerpushing through a facade of two old castle double doors before skatinginto the ice. The video on the ice included a streak of fire thatreached from the corner they skated out to center ice, where itexploded in a fireball. It was delightfully cornball, and I can appreciate all the work put in. Especially on that video. Among the players getting a large round ofapplause was Wayne Simmonds, surprisingly.

Personally, I’m blaming this loss not on the turnovers or the lack ofscoring. I blame Lisa Loeb, who sang God Bless America instead of TheStar-Spangled Banner. What’s up with that? After she finished, fans didn’t know whether to sit down or not. It was bizarre. Doesn’t matter, ’cause she’s still hot, even if she’s preggers.

Well, it looks like what I said in the season preview is correct. There are too many holes on the Kings offense for the team to take anyone by surprise. Last season, the Kings were dead last in scoring 5-on-5, and this season hasn’t started off like they wanted. The Yotes outscored the Kings 5-0 at even strength. Many of the Phoenix goals came off of turnovers, a few by Doughty surprisingly. And just when you thought the momentum had shifted in the Kings’ favor, the Coyotes would capitalize.

One thing that I think every fan could agree upon: Anze Kopitar left iton the ice last night. Talk about pressure, this kid has the weight ofan entire franchise on his shoulders. With a goal and an assist,Kopitar is already ahead of the pace I figured he’d hit: a point agame. Now, let’s see if he could sustain it.

All in all, a very frustrating night to be a Kings fan. It’s been a long summer, and hopes are always high when preseason starts. And for the majority of the preseason, it seemed as if the Kings were ready to kick the tires and light the fires. But then they came out with an absolute dud of a game, after which Terry Murray said “That’s probably the worst scenario that you can have on an opening night. We looked very out of synch, we were not passing the puck well,we were over-handling, a lot of turnovers, just sloppy play.”

• AP: Vrbata’s two goals lift Coyotes past Kings

    Phoenix made it 2-0 when Matthew Lombardi was credited with a goal at 17:48 in the opening period. Kings defenseman Matt Greene inadvertently knocked the puck into his own goal when he tried to block a pass from Lombardi to Upshall.

• L.A. Times: Coyotes are guests, but it’s the host Kings who play ugly

    The Kings approached this season with hope, stability and a lineup that oozes promise at every position. The Phoenix Coyotes approached this season with Coach Dave Tippett in place for only a week, no clue about where they’ll play next season and a hodgepodge lineup sprinkled with untried kids and retreads.
    The clueless team Saturday was the Kings, whose defense collapsed in a6-3 season-opening loss before a stunned sellout crowd at StaplesCenter.

• Daily News: Kings have a familiar beginnning, and it isn’t good

    “It just wasn’t there 100 percent,” Quick said on his performance. “I felt good all day. I felt good going into the game, but at the end of the day I didn’t make the saves I needed to help keep my team in the game.”

• LAKINGS.com: Kings fall to Phoenix 6-3 in season opener

    “Definitely not the start we wanted,” Kings forward Anze Kopitar said. “I don’t know where we went wrong. We didn’t manage the puck good and we didn’t pass the puck good. The puck was bouncing all over the place. We had some breakdowns in the defensive zone that led to goals.”

More royal observations

• Frozen Royalty: Frozen Royalty Audio: Coyotes Bankrupt Kings, 6-3

One of the questions making its way through the Bob Miller Press Box at Staples Center on Saturday night was: Which team is bankrupt and has no owner again?

• Examiner.com: The Dean of Patience

On the eve of the season opener for the Los Angeles Kings, their general manager exuded a quiet confidence that his young pups can continue to move up the stack and end a franchise playoff drought that stretches back to 2002.

• Press Box Perspective:  Why Can’t the NHL Learn from the NFL, MLB, & NBA?

• Joe Caligiuri’s blog Offsides: Before the National Anthem – What Really Happens

Not knowing how my night will play out tomorrow, I’m going to paint a visual of what takes place before the National Anthem is sang and long before the first broadcaster, blogger, or beat reporter gets there first questions off their tongue.

They said it

“Maybe we didn’t win all the preseason games, but I thought we had made good habits we built in practice. You have to be able to play your system and stay together as a team. We aren’t going to go anywhere if we fall apart like that a little adversity hits us.” – Rob Scuderi, Kings defenseman

Looking through purple-hued goggles

• A Queen Among Kings: Pee-yew! Coyotes 6, Kings 2

Just when you thought the Los Angeles Kings had it all figured out, they open the 2009-10 season with the poorest performance I’ve seen… since last season! But at least at the end of last season they were playing with full effort for entire games; tonight lacked consistency and teamwork.

• The Royal Half: Game ONe

Well someone at the Los Angeles Kings marketing department was working overtime today as the Kings threw together a pretty big home opener celebration. It was enough to even make an unemployed man smile.

• HockeyBuzz’s Matt Barry: I know it’s only one game

The Taylor Hall countdown has officially begun!

• The Throne Room: Getting Fired Up for Saturday

I will also be the first to remind all the doom-and-gloom-sayers who didn’t expect this team to get to the postseason yet again once it’s all over with. That said, having been a fan for 20+ years now, I understand where people are coming from. That’s where faith comes in for me.

• Mayors Manor: Kings Fail to Turn Over a New Leaf

New season. Another loss. This is maddening. Look, the Kings aren’t going win every game this season. Yet, you want to see them compete every night. Tonight was bad, real bad. And the first loss always hurts the most.

• Kings Kool-Aid: Kings Exceed Expectations Tonight

…in Manchester.

From across the aisle, the Phoenix viewpoint

• Five For Howling: Coyotes Win Season Opener, Down Kings 6-3

Not a lot went wrong for us last night. As someone that’s watched the Coyotes a lot over the past few years, this squad knew what they were doing like never before. The only weak spot we saw in our team last night was the Penalty Kill. That’s something we have got to work on.

• Hipchecks: Blog

LA’s goaltender Quick has some major potential but he still needs some work. Although the best thing he did all night? He had to play leapfrog over one his players and Scottie. I have never seen a goalie jump like that! Scottie apparently liked to invade Quick’s personal space. He ran Quick down and put himself in the net, instead of the puck. I’ve told the guys before, you don’t get extra points if you go in the net. Two of our goals trickled into the net when Quick wasn’t able to quite locate the puck.

Peeping the dailies

<a href=”http://video.msn.com/?mkt=en-us&brand=foxsports&from=metadatawidget_en-us_foxpsorts_videocentral&vid=65ae05dc-ac50-4597-a995-c0c1a6237e6f” target=”_new” title=”Kings Report: Bad start”>Video: Kings Report: Bad start</a>

2009-10 Season preview part 2: Forwards and prediction

Previously, I mentioned that Dean Lombardi’s vision of his Kings are slowly coming into focus. And with his defense and his goaltenders pretty much squared away, the real fuzzy part of the picture concerns the Kings’ offense.

You see, the Kings’ offensive machine took a hit from the defense-first scheme. They dropped from 14th (2.76 GFA) to27th (2.42) last season.It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out you need to put the biscuit in the basket to truly be successful.
 
Lombardi’s pick-ups of forwards Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams should compliment the Slovenian Stunner, Anze Kopitar. Williams has been paired withKopitar at the end of last season and for most of training camp, while Smyth gives the top line some real grit. Brown has been paired with TedPurcell and Jarrett Stoll.

This is Purcell’s season to take that next step and solidify himself as a Top Six player. Alexander Frolov should play with Michal Handzus and Wayne Simmonds, giving the Kings three genuine scoring lines. And scoring is what they need to do.

However,some of the offensive pieces they have now are showing signs of wear.Frolov and Stoll have missed some time during training camp, and Williams has a history of being plagued by the injury bug. This teammight be deep on potential, but if any of their veterans pull up lame,it’ll affect the squad adversely. If those players continue to getdinged, that’s going to put more pressure on the kids to step it up.

Onekid in particular, Ted Purcell, is positioned to do one of two things:1) he’ll emerge from the protective nest of the minors himself and takeflight or 2) He’ll get pushed out of the nest and plummet toward the rocks below. The average NHL player scored 10 goals last season and tallied 23 points. Can Purcell reach that plateau? My projection, basedon sharing that line with Brown and Stoll/Smyth and my skewed viewpoint, is 50 points: 20 goals, 30 assists. That’s a pretty big bump from last season, but he’s got the tools and supporting cast to do that. And early in training camp, he’s looking like he’s planning on spreading his wings this season. If he doesn’t quite pan out, Oscar Moller is waiting in the wings down in Manchester.

It’s also time for Anze Kopitar to step up and become the superstar center he’s being paid for. Kopitar needs to leapfrog players like Shane Doan,Corey Perry and Mike Ribeiro, and take his place among the other80-point scorers of the league. Put it to you this way, the Kings need Kopitar to lead the way this season if they hope to advance in the crowded Pacific.

Dustin Brown comes in as the face of thefranchise, and the Kings’ captain is poised to make a significant jump offensively. With more quality players around him and an improved blueline, Brown no longer has to focus on being the muscle and can lend his hard-nosed attack on the offense. How many goals? Gee, I don’tk now… I don’t want to be that guy: “This guy must score 23.7 percent of the time for the Kings to contend…” Pffffft. I have a hard enough time balancing the checkbook. I do know that Brown is also going to need to pick up his scoring if the Kings hope to rise in the standings.

Alexander Frolov is in the last year of his deal, and is poised to be extra-focused on his new contract. But I’m not sure we’ll be seeing career highs from Frolov this season. I believe we’ve seen the ceiling for Frolov, and he’s been Mr. Consistency. Plus, he’s really hard to hit off the puck. My guess is he might be moved by the trade deadline if the Kings are in contention. 

Ryan Smyth, Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll are all cut from the same cloth, in my opinion:quality veterans with a nose for the net. These three are tagged with double duty: improve their game while elevating the game of their younger linemates. Each of these players have proven with the irrespective clubs that they should flourish in this role. But the one player from this group that really needs to step it up from this group is Williams. He needs to revert to his 30+ goal scoring ways this season, or the Patrick O’Sullivan trade will look ill-advised.

Wayne Simmonds is another player that could continue to surprise a lot of people this season. (Grant, two of those were empty-netters, but that also speaks volumes of Simmonds, being out on the ice when the game’s on the line.) The kid can flat out play, and he’s tallied two multi-goal games already this preseason. Sure, he made his bones being a scrapper last season, but he can score. Putting him on a line with Handzus and Frolov could prove to be the right combination.

I’m also not going to differentiate between the second and third line. The pieces are interchangable, and could very well alternate in its success. The only line that I will say is the top line is the Kopitar/Williams/Smyth line. The other two lines gives Murray quite the opportunity to keep the pressure on other teams, so neither can really be considered more important than the other.

Lombardi’s vision of the team is almost in focus. Almost. Will the Kings make the playoffs? My guess (which I know will make some fans upset) is no. This team has taken baby steps throughout Lombardi’s rebuilding process.They played meaningful games into March last season, and their core players have now experienced of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. But their offense still has too many questions revolving around it. A lull is to be expected, especially when a team is learning a new system like’s Murray’s D-first game plan.

Logic says that when the defense comes, the offense will soon follow after. This team has an overabundance of potential, but that and $5will get you an iced mocha. I hope I’m wrong, I hope the players rise to the expectation of the playoffs. But I just don’t see the Kings making full strides just yet, so Kings fans will have to wait another season.

All we’ve heard this preseason is how different everything feels like,and I’m it does. But I’ve felt the same way every season since the lockout. The pundits all claim the Kings are the team to come out of nowhere to be the surprise team this year. But if people are already saying that, how much of a surprise can they be?

Whether they continue on their snail’s pace or leap several teams in asingle bound, the Kings season looks to be an exciting one.

More notable previews:

• Yahoo! Sports’ Ross McKeon: Kings’ rebuilding must leave ground floor

Los Angeles has to take advantage of a team that slips – Dallas?Minnesota?Edmonton? St. Louis? Will the Kings be in a position to do that? Itsays no here.

• NHL.com: Kings make no secret of playoff aspirations

Afterseven years of hoping and dreaming and ultimately disappointing, it’st ime to make some big plans and follow through with them.

• SI.com: 2009-10 Pacific Division preview

BOTTOM LINE: The young Kings are getting closer, but a rebuild this intensiveis a patience-testing process. They’re not a playoff team yet, but they’ll make plenty of noise before this season’s through. 

• CBS Sportsline: Five things: Offense holding back rebuilding Kings

With any luck, Frolov will give the Kings the breakout season t
hey have been waiting for. A first-round draft pick in 2000, Frolov has shown flashes of being an elite level scorer, although he has surpassed the 30-goal mark only twice in his career, including last season when he had 32.

Bring Wayne back to Los Angeles

It was reported earlier today that the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, is stepping down from his position as head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes. Yahoo’s Greg Wyshynski has a blog up about The Wayner stepping down.

It’s often said that great players make lousy head coaches in sports, and Gretzky’s Exhibit A. This was a frustrating coda for a stellar career, like Jordan in a Wizards’ jersey. Today marks the day in which the Coyotes have a new chance to compete under new leadership, and the day The Great One starts bringing the focus back to his unparalleled successes in a hockey sweater on the ice rather than his failures in a suit behind the bench.

I’ve got nothing but mad love for Gretzky, as he was the reason I became a Kings fan when I was in high school. He put a face to an otherwise faceless franchise, and made it easier for the average fan to start caring about hockey. L.A. is a star-driven town, and Gretz was the biggest of them all.

That is why it’s time to bring Wayne back into the fold as part of the Los Angeles Kings.

Wait, wait, wait…. I know what you’re already going to say. “What possible good will it do to have him back in Los Angeles?” “He can’t coach, why bother?” “We’ve moved on.” Before all you puckheads get your compression shorts in a wad, hear me out. When the Kings brought back Luc Robitaille and made him President of Business Operations, it was the right decision. Luc helped revamp how the Kings did things behind the scenes. But more importantly, he became the face of the franchise, from the management side of things.

Dean Lombardi is a solid general manager, but every interview I’ve watched of him, he comes off as uncomfortable. Dean doesn’t give many interviews, and the ones that he does give are very business-like. Dean’s a suit, and as much as I find what he says in interesting, he also comes off as a professor teaching probability theory.

Luc, on the other hand, is perfect for that role. The public knows him because he’s played the game. Luc is very polished, and is very accessible to the fans. Plus, he provides that link to the Kings’ past that many franchises would kill to have. Luc’s the greatest left winger in the history of the NHL, how’s that for credibility?

Not only that, but Luc’s brought back one of the Kings true legends back into the fold: Marcel Dionne. For years, relations between Dionne and the club were fractured. It stemmed back from his faling out with then-coach Pat Quinn and then-general manager Rogie Vachon. During his rookie campaign, Luc grew close to Dionne and they remained friends. And when he was in a position, Luc brought Marcel back to the Kingdom, much to the older fans delight. Dionne now serves alongside Rogie as Royal Ambassador.

This is where I see Wayne fitting in. There’s no doubt the Kings have their coaching and scouting sorted out now, after years of disarray. And as much as Wayne is a competitor, he didn’t really have the same kind of impact in management that he did on the ice. I doubt he’ll get another gig coaching in the NHL, but he’s too big a star to become a scout or something else lower in an organization. That’s why Luc should extend an invitation to No. 99 to become another ambassador for the sport here in Los Angeles.

This town loves it’s superstars, and as much as old-school and hardcore Kings fans love Rogie, Marcel and Luc, Wayne provides the biggest opportunity to garner interest of hockey here in Los Angeles. Host hockey camps, shake hands, promote good sportsmanship, anything… if only Gretzky would be willing.

That’s why it’s also time for Gretzky to come to terms with his status as legend. It’s a hard thing to absorb, I’m sure. I really don’t know how I’d deal with that kind of hero worship. I’m pretty sure I’d want to remain humble. But he’s going to have to tear off that Band-Aid and bite the bullet. As evidenced by Luc, Marcel, Rogie and several other L.A. legends, there’s a way to accept that moniker gracefully and respectfully, without losing who you are:

Look at Magic Johnson. After a stellar career was cut short after retiring due to testing positive for HIV, Magic tried his hand at being head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1993-94, and stepped down at the end of the season after L.A. failed to make the playoffs. He bought a percentage of the team, and now makes occasional appearances on behalf of the Lakers. He is beloved throughout LakersLand, and accepted his place in the basketball zeitgeist. His number hangs from the rafters of the Staples Center.

Tommy Lasorda is Mr. Dodger. After serving as coach of the L.A. Dodgers,  Tommy tried his hand at being general manager in 1998, when Fred Claire was fired. At the end of the season, he handed the reins over to  Kevin Malone. He continues being involved with the franchise to this day. Tommy is all Dodgers, all the time. Not only does his number hang at Dodger Stadium, his likeness hangs in the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

How about UCLA’s John Wooden? Coach Wooden’s success on the court as coach of the UCLA Bruins is unsurpassed, and he’s treated like royalty, not only from Bruin alums, but across the college basketball landscape and beyond. He’s got awards named after him, buildings named after him, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He still retains the title of Head Men’s Basketball Coach Emeritus at UCLA. There isn’t a more respected coach in all of basketball, college or pros.

Gretzky is already etched on the Mt. Rushmore of the Kings franchise, let’s make it official. Bring Wayne back.