Kings finally begin title defense in opener with Blackhawks
(Sports Network) - The Los Angeles Kings finally will get their Stanley Cup title defense underway on Saturday, as they welcome the Chicago Blackhawks for a season-opening matinee at the Staples Center.
Thanks to the lockout, the Kings had to wait several months longer to unveil the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship banner, but that moment will finally come in a pre-game ceremony on Saturday.
Los Angeles entered last spring's playoffs as the eighth and final seed in the West, but managed to turn in a stellar 16-4 record en route to winning the Cup. The Kings' dominant postseason ended on June 11 with a 6-1 home win over the New Jersey Devils in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Although it's nice to finally show off the franchise's first Stanley Cup banner, there are Kings who are glad it took this long for that moment to arrive.
"Usually when you win the Cup, you've got maybe a good month of training before the season, and now we've had ample amounts of time," Kings forward Justin Williams recently told the Los Angeles Times. "There's no excuse for bumps and bruises: 'We played long last year.'
While the lockout allowed star goaltender Jonathan Quick ample time to recover from offseason back surgery there is one valuable King -- Anze Kopitar -- who is still dealing with an injury. Kopitar, who led the club with 76 points last season, is suffering from a sprained knee and is doubtful for Saturday's opener.
Kings general manager Dean Lombardi managed to bring back every player from the team's Stanley Cup-winning roster and maybe that strategy can help L.A. become the first team to win consecutive titles since Detroit pulled of the repeat in 1997 and '98.
The Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup in decades in the spring of 2010, but head coach Joel Quenneville's club has lost in the opening round of the playoffs in each of the two seasons since. Last year, Chicago was bounced out by Phoenix in the West quarterfinals.
"We know expectations to win are high and getting back to being a champion is the ultimate goal," Quenneville recently told NHL.com. "We're all looking forward to winning and we all know the ramifications if we don't. We welcome that challenge and let's go."
Much of the blame for last year's disappointing season was placed at the feet of goaltender Corey Crawford, who took a sizeable step back after a solid rookie season.
Crawford needs to play better after seeing his goals-against average balloon from 2.30 in 2010-11 to 2.72 last season, but winger Patrick Kane is also in desperate need of a comeback season. Kane -- the No. 1 overall pick of the 2007 draft -- played in all 82 games in 2011-12, but his 66 points marked a career-low and his 23 goals was his second-worst output after his rookie season tally of 21. Making matters worse for Kane, he was embroiled in an offseason controversy after a rampant display of public drunkenness during an infamous weekend in Madison, Wis. last spring.
On the bright side, Chicago forward Marian Hossa is ready to go after he suffered a severe concussion on a vicious hit by Phoenix's Raffi Torres in last spring's playoffs. Hossa is a supreme two-way talent and Chicago would not be nearly as dangerous if he hadn't been able to make a full recovery. In that regard, the lockout was a good thing for Chicago since Hossa wasn't cleared to play until mid-Decemeber, meaning he'd have missed a huge chunk of the season if it had started on time.
The Kings won three of four meetings with Chicago last season, but the Blackhawks have claimed 10 of 14 overall in this series. The clubs have split the last eight encounters in the City of Angels.
L.A. was 22-14-5 as the home team in 2011-12, while the Blackhawks were 18-18-5 as the guest.
01/19 10:57:40 ET