Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Kings: A Devil of a road trip continues
By Dan Arritt
Dustin Penner will make his 2011-12 regular-season debut for the Kings on Thursday in New Jersey.
Kings (1-1-0, 2 points) at New Jersey Devils (1-1-0, 2 points) at Prudential Center, 4 p.m. (PT)
Five storylines to track:
1. Rested Devils – While the Kings have been on the road since Sept 30, playing exhibition games in Anaheim and Las Vegas before departing for their season openers last weekend in Stockholm, Sweden and Berlin, Germany, the Devils haven’t traveled anywhere since playing a preseason game Sept. 29 in Philadelphia. In fact, they haven’t left the East Coast since last season. Those are drastic differences. It will be interesting to see how their respective schedules come into play.
2. Penner's debut – Dustin Penner sat out the last two games with a lower-body injury but went through full practices Tuesday and Wednesday in suburban Maryland and announced he's ready to make his season debut against New Jersey. Penner will play left wing on the second line with Mike Richards and Dustin Brown. It’s safe to say, a lot of folks are eager to see if the hard work Penner invested in the summer will pay off with increased production. Penner has come out of the gate strong in recent seasons, tallying three goals and an assist in his last three season openers.
3. Kopitar burning – Anze Kopitar has three goals in the first two games for the Kings, putting him on pace to score a league-record 123. Of course, that won’t happen, but it’s great to see the best player on the Kings get off to a hot start, especially coming off season-ending ankle surgery. Kopitar has developed some instant chemistry with right wing Justin Williams, who assisted on two of Kopitar’s goals. Kopitar has a goal and two assists in six career games against the Devils but is also an uncharacteristic minus-5.
4. 2011 Turnaround– The halfway point of last season marked one of the great turnarounds in NHL history and, by devil, it just so happened to occur in New Jersey. The Devils were 10-29-2 after a 2-1 loss Jan. 8 in Philadelphia, then proceeded to win 23 out of the next 28 games, with two of those losses coming in overtime. They didn’t make the playoffs for the first time in the previous 13 years, but their second-half surge and a 3-2 victory in the season finale against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins left a good feeling heading into the offseason.
5. Coolly Remembered – The Summer of Ilya Kovalchuk probably won’t be forgotten for a while, at least until Richards scores 50 goals, or the Kings win a Stanley Cup title. Kovalchuk strung out negotiations with the Kings during the summer of 2010, only to sign with the Devils. He didn’t help his standing when he told reporters after a loss to the Kings last October that the recruiting trip out West that summer “was more for my wife, because she'd never been in L.A.” Kovalchuk then went out and scored 31 goals in 81 games, his lowest goal total in a full season since his rookie year in 2001-02.