The rise of the Los Angeles Kings last season was nothing short of meteoric. After squeaking into the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, the Kings dispatched the mighty Vancouver Canucks in just five games, before they swept the St. Louis Blues and beat the Coyotes in route to a Stanley Cup final win over a much-more seasoned New Jersey Devils team. The question is a simple one for the Kings. Can they repeat? The answer is a simple one as well. Yes. The fact that the Kings managed to hold on to every major player on their championship team is proof of that. Confident in their chances, the Kings are a playoff lock and an obvious Stanley Cup contender.
Last Year: While the team drank champagne in June, the first half of the season was an utter mess. The team’s offense, weakened by the early loss of Simon Gagne and the ineffectiveness of Dustin Brown, Mike Richards and Dustin Penner, was ranked towards the bottom of the league. It was only on the strength of their defense, superb goaltending by Jonathan Quick and the late-season acquisition of Jeff Carter that the team began to produce the type of scoring needed for its playoff push. Once the playoffs began, the offense clicked, with all four lines contributing and banging bodies. If the Kings can find that type of energy this season, even with leading scorer Anze Kopitar on the shelf for the first stretch of the season, they’ll be a dangerous team to play against.
Question Marks: Kopitar’s injury and the wonder of how Gagne and Carter will perform means the offense may have similar problems producing. Perennial Vezina contender Quick also had minor back surgery during the offseason. Although backup netminder Jonathan Bernier has proven himself to be a more than capable understudy, the Kings would rather have Quick between the pipes. If Los Angeles can avoid the injury bug and get 15 goals each from Carter and Gagne, they’ll have little problem getting into the playoffs.
Wishful Thinking: That the bottom two lines will carry over their success from the playoffs. Dwight King, Trevor Lewis and Jarrett Stoll are underrated workhorses, but expecting them to bring that same frenetic energy to the regular season just isn’t fair to them. While they will anchor the Kings’ bottom two lines, they will return to their normal grinder roles and will not be the offensive threats many fans expect them to be. King’s five goals in 28 games for the team’s minor league affiliate in the AHL prove that.
Prediction: The Kings will battle injuries early, but will round out at the halfway point of the season. Once Carter and Richards rediscover their chemistry and Kopitar comes back healthy, Brown and the Kings will be the defending Stanley Cup champions they should be.