Los Angeles Hockey: Willie Mitchell

Five questions for the Kings

January, 18, 2013
1/18/13
9:38
AM PT
LOS ANGELES – When the NHL lockout finally ended, it looked like the Los Angeles Kings wouldn’t have many questions heading into this season. Well, at least not as many as their counterparts. After all, they were primed to be the first team in recent memory to return every player on their roster after winning the Stanley Cup.

That was before the Kings shipped forward Kevin Westgarth to Carolina for forward Anthony Stewart and a couple of draft picks. While the Westgarth trade shouldn’t have too much of an effect on the Kings’ on-ice performance (he hasn’t played since last February), there are a few other players from last year’s roster who are question marks for the Kings as the season begins. Their status and the status of the Kings' ownership are two of the many questions facing the team as they look to be the first back-to-back Stanley Cup champions in 15 years.

1. Will the Kings suffer a Cup hangover?

If there is one positive about the NHL lockout from the Kings’ perspective it’s that it has been seven months since they’ve won the Stanley Cup. There really shouldn’t be any excuses about hangovers or lack of rest with that much time off. Then again, it’s only natural for a team to have a bit of a letdown after being celebrated as champions for the past seven months.

The Kings have been around the world with the Stanley Cup for over half a year and will once again spend the day with it Saturday as they finally raise their championship banner at Staples Center before their regular season opener against the Chicago Blackhawks. Will it be hard to get motivated for Game 1 of the season after being patted on the back for an hour or so pre-game? Maybe, but the Kings also realize that in a 48-game, intra-conference regular season schedule, there isn’t much time to waste. Kings coach Darryl Sutter basically described it as an extended version of the playoffs.

AEG president and CEO and Kings governor Tim Leiweke said he has experience with championship letdowns after the Los Angeles Galaxy, also owned by AEG, won the MLS Cup in 2011 and started last season 6-11-2 before turning their season around and winning their second straight MLS Cup. The Kings will look to repeat that outcome while getting out of the gates with a better record.

2. How will the impending sale of AEG affect the Kings and their moves?

AEG, which owns the Kings, Galaxy, Staples Center, LA Live, Home Depot Center and hundreds of other assets, is currently up for sale. The sale process is in the early stages but is expected to be completed at some point during the NHL season. So will an ownership change during the season affect the Kings’ chance at repeating? Not at all if you listen to Leiweke, who said the company and whoever the new owner is will be just as committed to putting a championship team on the ice as Philip Anschutz was.

“We’re committed to winning,” Leiweke said. “[Kings general manager Dean Lombardi] has the green light to make any moves he believes will improve this team. Whether that’s signing a player or making a trade or whatever, we’re committed to winning the Cup again.”

Leiweke and AEG already showed their commitment in the offseason by keeping the team intact and inking most of their core players to long-term contracts.

3. How will Jonathan Quick respond to offseason back surgery and what will happen to Jonathan Bernier?

Another one of the positives of the lockout as far as the Kings were concerned is that it gave their goalie and Conn Smythe Trophy winner, Jonathan Quick, more time to recover from offseason back surgery. Quick had surgery in August and if the season had started on time he would have missed at least three months. Quick has been on the ice since the start of training camp and said he feels fine heading into the start of the season. Sutter also mentioned that as long as Quick feels fine he is going to lean on him more during this truncated schedule with the importance of every game heightened.

With Quick healthy and inked to a 10-year $58 million contract, backup goalie Jonathan Bernier, who could probably start on most teams, is looking for playing time elsewhere and hoping the Kings will trade him. The problem for Bernier is the Kings will likely take their time as they wait to see how Quick recovers from his surgery. If he looks fine they’ll probably take some more time evaluating what positions they need and what player or players they can get for Bernier.

In the interim, it looks like a win-win for the Kings who will have Quick back for the start of the season and the best backup goalie in the league waiting in the wings if anything happens to him.

4. How long will Willie Mitchell be out and how will that affect the defense?

Leave it to Sutter to just casually slip in some huge injury news in the midst of talking about a completely different subject. That's essentially how reporters found out that Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell underwent knee surgery in the offseason and is way behind schedule. In fact, he’s so far behind schedule that Sutter doesn’t even have a timetable for his return as the season begins.

Mitchell, who had surgery two months ago, was a vital part of the Kings’ Stanley Cup run and a veteran presence on their suffocating defense in the playoffs. He had five goals and a career-best 24 points in 76 regular-season games and one goal and three points in 20 playoff games. He actually averaged more ice time in the playoffs (25:19) than he did during the regular season (22:14).

As far as replacements go, defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk was placed on waivers this week, clearing the way for Jake Muzzin to earn a roster spot while Mitchell remains sidelined. Muzzin played 11 games with the Kings during the 2010-11 season and will compete with Davis Drewiske for ice time in Mitchell’s absence.

5. Will a full season of Jeff Carter cure what ailed the Kings’ offense for much of last season?

Those who jumped on the Kings' bandwagon during the playoffs don’t remember how bad the Kings offense was during the season. It was actually beyond dreadful. In fact, it was so bad you had to feel sorry for Quick, who midway through last season had given up an average of 1.93 goals per game, making him one of just four NHL goaltenders with a GAA below two, but it was largely lost while playing behind the league’s lowest scoring team.

Even with a man advantage, the Kings had a hard time scoring as their power play ranked 16th and converted just 12.8% in the postseason. The Kings finished the regular season 29th in goals per game at just 2.29 per contest.

The Kings are hoping having Jeff Carter, who came over in a trade for Jack Johnson in February, for a full season will fix the Kings’ scoring woes early on. Not only will the Kings have Carter to begin the season but if Simon Gagne, who missed much of last season, can return to his old form and Dwight King and Jordan Nolan, who stepped up at the end of the regular season and the postseason continue to develop, offense might not be as much of a concern for the Kings this season.

Kings come out on top again after lockout

January, 6, 2013
1/06/13
3:25
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- It took longer than anyone would have liked, but the NHL lockout is finally over.

Hockey will be back this month, and so will the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

It could be argued that no team benefited more from the players' staying firm to having a larger salary cap than the Kings, who will enter this season with their entire Stanley Cup-winning roster intact and the ability to keep that roster in place for the foreseeable future.

The NHL was hoping to get the salary cap down to $60 million, while the players were holding firm to $65 million. The owners moved up a little and the players moved down a little, and they finally met at a $64.3 million cap number next year, according to ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun. For the first year, the salary cap is $60 million, but teams can spend up to $70.2 million in the transition period.

As ESPN.com’s Craig Custance notes, that’s no small win for the players -- and the Kings in particular.

According to CapGeek.com, the Kings’ current cap payroll is a little more than $62 million, with their actual salary payroll at just more than $64 million. Next season they have 13 players signed, with $50 million going to Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll, Dustin Brown, Colin Fraser, Dwight King, Kevin Westgarth, Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell, Matt Greene and Jonathan Quick.

Under the proposed cap by the owners, it would have been virtually impossible for the Kings to keep their current roster intact after this season. They likely would have had to let go of free agents like Simon Gagne, Dustin Penner, Brad Richardson and Rob Scuderi. Under the cap they eventually agreed to, the Kings have a chance at keeping this roster in place and surrounding their stars with familiar role players -- something that might mean the difference between a championship and a first-round playoff exit.

And Kings fans don’t need to be reminded how instrumental Penner and Scuderi were in getting the Kings back to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in nearly two decades and helping them win it for the first time in franchise history.

If the NBA lockout last year is any indication, fans will quickly forget about the lockout, and teams with little turnover on their roster and the coaching staff usually have the most success in these condensed seasons that see a short training camp and few practices between games.

By that measure, it should put the Kings in good shape to be among the top contenders to win the Stanley Cup this season as they attempt to become the first back-to-back champs since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.

There had been a general feeling in Los Angeles that the Kings may have squandered an opportunity to seize a piece of the market here after converting so many fans during their magical Stanley Cup title run. But die-hard fans are always going to be there and the fair-weather fans who came along for the ride during the playoffs may well be there again if the Kings are able to put together a similar run.

If anything, the Kings may be coming back at the perfect time: With Los Angeles sports fans looking for something to hang their hats on after the Dodgers and Angels missed the playoffs, after USC’s disappointing football season and with the Lakers below .500, a Kings championship banner raising and ring ceremony to start the season will give residents another chance to hop on the bandwagon.

Kings take Cup to Tao in Vegas

June, 15, 2012
6/15/12
7:02
PM PT
KingsBrenton Ho/Powers ImagerySeveral of the Kings were in Las Vegas on Thursday night with the Stanley Cup.

The summer of Stanley has already begun as the Kings took their prized possession on the road -- outside the state at least -- for the first time since winning the NHL championship on Monday night.

Las Vegas was the destination as many Kings spent Thursday evening at Tao Nightclub, sharing the glory of the victory -- and the Stanley Cup -- with club-goers and fans.

Among the players in attendance were Trevor Lewis, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll, Brad Richardson, Drew Doughty, Mike Richards, Alec Martinez, Kyle Clifford, Willie Mitchell and Jordan Nolan.

The players took turns drinking champagne out of the Cup as those in crowd snapped photos.

Here are a few more photos from the evening's celebration:

Kings Stanley Cup in Las VegasBrenton Ho/Powers ImageryTao Nightclub in Las Vegas went all out in welcoming the Kings with the Stanley Cup.

KingsBrenton Ho/Powers ImageryThe Stanley Cup was the center of attention once again at Tao Nightclub in Las Vegas on Thursday.

Rapid Reaction: Devils 2, Kings 1

June, 9, 2012
6/09/12
8:01
PM PT

Stanley Cup finals

Game 5

New Jersey Devils 2, Los Angeles Kings 1

(Kings lead the series, 3-2)

The good: So, the Kings have lost two straight for the first time in this postseason, and watched their 10-game road winning streak in these playoffs skid to a halt inside Prudential Center. But look at the bright side, they still lead the series heading back to L.A. Right from the opening drop, Kings right wing Justin Williams had an extra jump to his step and a little more zing on his shot. After drilling his second post in as many games 2:40 into the first period, he didn't let his second prime scoring chance go to waste. The play began with a run-of-the-mill clearing pass by defenseman Matt Greene. Williams collected the puck at his own blue line with Anze Kopitar in front of him. Williams smartly elected to keep the rubber, darting toward the high slot and forcing defenseman Mark Fayne to back off. Kings left wing Dustin Brown cut toward the goal, drawing Zach Parise with him. As Williams reached the high slot, he let go of another wrister that beat goalie Martin Brodeur cleanly, tying the score, 1-1, about 3 1/2 minutes into the second period.

The bad: Puck-handling has long been a glaring weakness in goalkeeper Jonathan Quick’s game and it reared its ugly head in the first period. After the Kings owned the first 11 minutes, defenseman Willie Mitchell went to the penalty box for interference in his offensive zone. The Devils nearly scored in the first minute of the power play when Travis Zajac’s shot from the slot trickled through Quick’s pads, but the puck rolled away from the goal line and Drew Doughty was able to step in and clear it from the crease. About a minute later, Quick came out of the crease to handle the puck with plenty of room to send it forward, but he elected to spin and bounce it off the end boards. He didn’t put enough on the attempt and the puck hit the boards and got hung up on the back of the net. Parise swooped in, beat Doughty to the puck and scored on a wraparound before Quick could get back into position. It was Parise’s first goal of the series, as well as New Jersey’s first power-play goal. Not a good omen considering the team that scored first won the previous four games.

About 5 minutes after the Kings tied the score, New Jersey defenseman Bryce Salvador let go of a slap shot from just inside his blue line. L.A. defenseman Slava Voynov was battling with David Clarkson in front of the net and both attempted to get out of the way of the shot. The puck got a piece of Voynov, however, and was redirected to the left of Quick, giving the lead back to the Devils, 2-1. It was the second time in the series the puck has caromed off the rookie defenseman and into his own net. The score held up, sending the series back to L.A. for Game 6 on Monday night at Staples Center.

The in between: At least the Kings and Devils won’t have to compete with the NBA Finals or the Subway Series for viewership come Monday. The NHL will have the afternoon/evening time slot all to its self.

Rapid Reaction: Game 3: Kings 4, Devils 0

June, 4, 2012
6/04/12
7:48
PM PT
Stanley Cup Final

Game 3 (Kings lead the series, 3-0)

Los Angeles Kings 4, New Jersey Devils 0

The good: Barring a historic comeback in this series, the Kings are well on their way to their first Stanley Cup title. They reached this point with perhaps their best all-around performance of the playoffs, getting a superb effort from their penalty-kill unit, another strong game from goalie Jonathan Quick and a pair of goals in the second and third periods.

Kings defenseman Alec Martinez put the Kings on the board first for the third time in this series, pouncing on Dwight King’s leftovers to notch his first career playoff goal. King shot the puck at New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur from the right circle, hitting him in the chest. King was right there for the rebound, shooting it off Brodeur’s right pad and getting in a couple more whacks before Martinez raced into the play and shoved it across the goal line. Brodeur thought the play should have been called dead, but he had no clue where to find the puck during the scramble. Martinez is the 17th member of the Kings to score a goal in this postseason.

While the first goal was a result of persistence and hard work, the second was pure skill. Justin Williams collected a stretch pass that banked off the boards and left it for a trailing Dustin Brown. He looked to his left and spotted Anze Kopitar with a step on the defense and skipped a pass in his direction. Kopitar took a swipe at the airborne puck and put it high in the net for a 2-0 lead with 4:53 left in the second period. It was the first two-goal lead for the Kings since Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.

After six straight power plays by the Devils, the Kings finally got one of their own and showed New Jersey how it’s done. Willie Mitchell took a page out of Quick’s book and snagged a clearing pass with his glove at the blue line, set it down and the Kings resumed their attack. Mike Richards took the puck down low and then passed it out to his good buddy and roommate Jeff Carter just to the right of Brodeur. He put the rubber up high in the net for a 3-0 lead 4:15 into the third.

Just more than a minute later, the Kings went back on the power play. This time it was Williams jumping on his own rebound and putting it past Brodeur for their fourth goal in 20 shots.

The penalty kill was again outstanding for the Kings. They snuffed out all six man-advantage situations for New Jersey, including a five-on-three situation that lasted 60 seconds late in the first period. Kings defenseman Matt Greene came through with two blocks on Ilya Kovalchuk and Quick made pinball-lever save with his right pad to rob Zach Parise, who had received a pass on the far post.

The bad: Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

The in between: Sidelined since Dec. 26 because of a concussion, Kings left wing Simon Gagne made his first appearance of the postseason, taking the fourth-line spot of Brad Richardson. He finished with 11 shifts, 6:39 of ice time and three shots on goal. The Kings were hoping Gagne would breathe some life into the power play, but the Kings spent most of the first two periods killing penalties. Still, the Kings played their best game of the series and possibly the playoffs with Gagne in the lineup, so look for coach Darryl Sutter to stick with that lineup in Game 4 on Wednesday.

Kings: Bounces going L.A.'s way heading into Game 3

June, 4, 2012
6/04/12
9:17
AM PT
Stanley Cup final

Game 3 (Kings lead series 2-0)

Kings vs. New Jersey Devils at Staples Center, 5 p.m.

Five storylines to track:

1. Just win, baby: Safe to say, L.A. is fortunate to be leading this series. The Devils have been hard on the Kings, even beating them at their own game in some areas. If not for Mark Fayne missing a wide-open side of the net late in Game 1, or Ilya Kovalchuk ringing his wrister off the wrong side of the crossbar with seven seconds remaining in Game 2, the momentum could easily be pointing east rather than west. But hey, no team got more unlucky bounces than the Kings during the first three quarters of the regular season. Now the series heads to L.A., where the Kings have actually played an inferior brand of hockey for most of the last eight months. They need to make the right adjustments, or the Devils could easily turn this into the dogfight most everyone anticipated.

2. Full speed ahead: After strolling through the first 16 games at a snail’s pace, the postseason finally shifts into overdrive over the next three days. The Kings headed straight to the airport following Game 2 on Saturday night, getting home around 4:30 a.m. They’ll take the ice for Game 3 warm-ups approximately 36 hours later. Following another day off Tuesday, they’ll come right back for Game 4 at Staples Center on Wednesday evening. Thanks to their 2-0 series lead, the Kings had the luxury of skipping practice Sunday afternoon. Not the Devils. They were out at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, trying to figure ways to get the puck past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. In an interesting scheduling twist, New Jersey is outside the Eastern time zone for the first time since mid-January.

3. Rough around the edges: A few of L.A.’s big-bodied forwards were stymied by the Devils in Game 2. Dustin Brown did not record a shot on goal, Dustin Penner didn’t get one until overtime and Anze Kopitar’s only shot on net came from 171 feet away midway through the third period. New Jersey’s relentless forecheck seemed to be a big contributor to the trio’s struggles. Since that strategy seemed to work so well in Game 2, look for the Devils to turn up the heat in Game 3. It’s up to the Kings to find ways to get the puck out of their end more efficiently. They did a better job in Game 1 by quickly passing the puck into the middle of the ice, but that also left them vulnerable to costly turnovers in a high-percentage scoring area.

4. Sneaky Devils: While the four goals by the Kings in this series have been works of art, New Jersey’s have been as dirty as a junkyard dog. Anton Volchenkov’s shot from the point in Game 1 was saved by the stick of Quick, but then took an unfortunate bounce off the chest of Kings defenseman Slava Voynov and caromed into the net. Marek Zidlicky took another point shot through traffic in Game 2 and that one was tipped in by New Jersey forward Ryan Carter, who was parked in the high slot. Not a bad idea by the Devils, considering Quick is stopping everything he sees. If the Devils are planning to set up camp in front of the net again, the Kings need to be there too. They did a better job of that in Game 2, blocking 19 shots, one of their highest totals of this postseason. The usual suspects, defensemen Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi, led the way with four each.

5. Paging Mr. Smythe: What more can be said about Quick? While in New Jersey, he managed to lower his minuscule goals-against average in the playoffs from 1.54 to 1.44., and his save percentage from to .946 to .947. He’s the reason the Kings have stolen five games in the postseason while scoring two goals or less, including the first two of this series. He’s been exceptionally good in Game 3s in this playoff run, allowing three goals in the three victories at Staples Center and stopping 86 of 89 shots (.966).

Voynov's patience pays off big for Kings

June, 1, 2012
6/01/12
3:35
PM PT
Slava VoynovNoah Graham/NHLI/Getty ImagesEarlier this season, Slava Voynov said he almost gave up his dream of becoming a regular in the NHL.

NEWARK, N.J. -- Three weeks before the trade that sent shock waves through the NHL and turned this season around for the Los Angeles Kings, there was the conversation.

Kings general manager Dean Lombardi sat down with rookie defenseman Slava Voynov in early February and broke the news that he was sending him back to the minor leagues.

The Kings were stacked with defensemen, and Voynov was better off playing full-time for the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, rather than watching games from the locker room as a healthy scratch.

It was heartbreaking news for Voynov, who had already spent three full seasons with the Monarchs and was the final cut coming out of training camp last fall. He came up for five games in October while Drew Doughty nursed a shoulder injury, then was sent down again. He was brought back in November when Alec Martinez was injured and thought he would stick around for good, but then came the devastating news from Lombardi.

Voynov, 22, said he thought about giving up on his dreams of playing full-time in the NHL and returning to his native Russia, where he could become just as rich and famous playing in the Kontinental Hockey League.

But with the demotion came assurance from Lombardi that Voynov, an early second-round pick of the Kings in 2008, would soon be back.

“When I got sent down, I thought about the KHL because, you know, I’m mad and sad,” Voynov said Friday afternoon on the eve of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals. “My friends told me not to think about it, just wait and trust yourself and Lombardi.”

Voynov followed their advice and returned to Manchester, where he continued to play like a man among boys.

Meanwhile, the Kings went 2-5-2 without Voynov in the lineup, and changes needed to be made if they had any hope of qualifying for the postseason for a third consecutive year.

Lombardi, knowing he had an NHL-ready defenseman in Manchester, pulled the trigger on the league’s biggest trade-deadline move, sending defenseman Jack Johnson to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for high-scoring winger Jeff Carter.

(Read full post)

Kings-Devils for Lord Stanley's precious Cup

May, 29, 2012
5/29/12
12:18
PM PT


The Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils are scheduled to kick off the Stanley Cup finals Wednesday at 5 p.m. PT at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Here’s a breakdown of what to watch for as the series unwinds.

KINGS OFFENSE vs. DEVILS DEFENSE

The Kings managed just one goal in two meetings against the Devils this season, but those games were played back in October and this isn’t the same L.A. team. Dustin Brown continues to be the tip of the sword for the Kings, scoring at least five points in each of the first three rounds. Anze Kopitar has scored at least one point in 11 of 14 playoff games, and Justin Williams has hit the scoresheet in 10. The second line of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner also figures to give the Devils problems. Brown, Kopitar, Penner and Carter should be especially effective using their size against New Jersey’s defense. Marek Zidlicky leads the Devils in total ice time, but he’s only listed at 5 feet 11, 188 pounds. Andy Green, who also logs heavy minutes on the blue line, is not much bigger at 5-11, 190, and Peter Harrold, who rarely cracked the lineup while playing for the Kings the last five seasons, stands 6-0, 190.

The Edge: Kings

LANJDEVILS OFFENSE vs. KINGS DEFENSE

The Devils have a triple threat up front in Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, each of whom has scored seven goals in the playoffs. What has made the Devils especially formidable in the postseason is the production from fourth liners Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier. They’ve combined for nine goals and nine assists in 18 playoff games. By comparison, the five players who have rotated on the fourth line for L.A. have combined for two goals and one assist. The Kings are very aware of the top-to-bottom scoring potential on New Jersey, and they’ll counter with a blue-line group that features a nice balance of veteran stay-at-home defenders (Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene) and offensive-minded youngsters (Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez and Slava Voynov). Together, they’ve helped limit the opposition to 22 goals in 14 games, while scoring five of their own.

The Edge: Devils

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Kings have been brutal on the power play this postseason, converting on just 8.1 percent of their opportunities (6-for-74). If there’s a silver lining heading into Games 1 and 2 in New Jersey, they’ve been better on the road, coming through on 5 of 42 chances (11.9 percent). Even that number dwarfs their regular season average of 17 percent. The Devils have improved their power-play efficiency in the playoffs, coming in with an 18.2 percent success rate after finishing at 17.2 during the regular season. They’ve been even better at Prudential Center, cashing in on 8 of 32 man-advantage situations, good for a 25-percent clip. The tables are turned on the penalty kill. The Kings have allowed just five power-play goals and scored five shorthanded. Their 91.2 success rate is better than their 87-percent clip during the regular season and that mark was fourth best in the league. The Devils allowed just 27 power-play goals during the regular season, leaving them No. 1 in the league at 89.6 percent, but they’ve seen 16 power-play goals hit the back of their net in the postseason for a 74.2 percent kill rate.

The Edge: Devils

GOALIES

The series is quite even until you start comparing the men behind the mask. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick has built on his Vezina-caliber regular season by elevating his game to another level in the playoffs. He has allowed more than two goals just twice in 14 games and brings a minuscule 1.54 goals-against average into the finals. As great as Tim Thomas was last season while leading the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup title, his GAA was just 1.98 in the postseason. Two years ago, Antti Niemi of the Chicago Blackhawks won a championship with a 2.63 average in the playoffs. The Devils will counter with 40-year-old Martin Brodeur, a three-time Cup winner and a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame when that time comes. Playoff opponents are averaging a half a goal more against Brodeur than Quick, however. He has allowed more than two goals five times in the playoffs, including three on nine shots in Game 3 of the opening-round series against the Florida Panthers, earning an early seat on the bench.

The Edge: Kings

COACHES

Both benches are backed by coaches who have been with their teams for less than a year, yet they've managed to squeeze the most from their talent after so-so regular seasons. After coming on board in mid-December, Kings coach Darryl Sutter gradually showed his players how to buy into each game both physically and emotionally. He maintained the defense-first system that previous coach Terry Murray had instilled, but made a few tweaks to the lineup that paid off in the playoffs. His most brilliant move was moving Penner on to the second line with Richards and Carter late in the first-round series against the Vancouver Canucks, and dropping rookie left wing Dwight King back to the third line, giving him more favorable matchups. Penner has responded with eight points in the last nine games and King scored five goals in that span. Devils coach Peter DeBoer wears his emotions on his chest much more louder than Sutter, something his players appreciate. DeBoer’s best move of the postseason was likely reinserting Harrold into the lineup following a Game 1 loss to the top-seeded New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals. Harrold provided the Devils a veteran presence on the back end, and New Jersey went on to win four of its next five games.

The Edge: Kings

KEY STATS

The Kings are 8-0 away from Staples Center in these playoffs, outscoring the hosts, 30-13, and netting all five of their shorthanded goals. They’ve swept the opening two games on the road in each of the first three rounds, putting their opponents on their heels before they had a chance to push back. The Kings are the first team in NHL playoff history to win their first eight games on the road, and their 10-game postseason road winning streak dating to last season is also an NHL record. The Devils are 5-2 on their home ice in the postseason, outscoring the visitors, 25-17. Another key area is the goals-against average for each team in the playoffs. The Kings are allowing an average of 1.6 goals on 29 shots a game, while New Jersey is giving up 2.3 goals on an average of 27.6 shots.

Prediction: Kings in six

Kings: Plenty of rest for the weary

May, 24, 2012
5/24/12
11:24
PM PT
Willie Mitchell Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesWillie Mitchell, the Kings' oldest player at 35, says the rest between series can only help his team.

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – The Los Angeles Kings hit the fast-forward button through the first three rounds of the playoffs, becoming the seventh team since the league expanded its postseason format in 1987 to advance to the Stanley Cup finals in just 14 games.

One of the biggest carrots that comes with the 12-2 surge is plenty of rest and recovery from one series to the next.

Two days after the Kings eliminated the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 5 of their Western Conference final, most of the players were able to take another day off the ice Thursday.

Before the Stanley Cup finals begin May 30 in New York or New Jersey, the Kings will have had seven full days to get their legs refreshed, allow their bumps and bruises to heel and build some intelligence on their next opponent.

This comes after they enjoyed five days between games following their opening-round victory against the Vancouver Canucks, and six days to recuperate after their second-round sweep of the St. Louis Blues.

“What’s happened for this team, for now and forever, it’ll probably never happen again,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said of the playoff spacing.

Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell, the oldest player on the team at age 35, said the extra rest is a welcome reward for the team’s speedy run through the playoffs.

“It’s really nice,” he said. “Obviously, the wear and tear of competing at this time of year, it’s another level. … The checks that are made, the checks you’ve got to take and just the games are [played] at such a high level. It’s big. It allows the aches and pains we have, and the nicks, a little more time to rest and kind of go into the series being healthy.”

The only difference heading into this series is the Kings don’t quite know who they’ll be playing in the finals. There's no question which team will be more rested, however.

(Read full post)

Kings looking to maintain road success heading to Phoenix

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
1:53
PM PT
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. –The road has been anything but rocky for the Los Angeles Kings this postseason. They’ve won all five playoff games away from Staples Center during the first two rounds of the playoffs, including Games 1 and 2 in Vancouver and St. Louis, putting their opponents on their heels even before the series headed to L.A.

Does that give the Kings a statistical edge as they prepare to travel to Glendale, Ariz. for Game 1 of their Western Conference final Sunday evening against the Phoenix Coyotes? Probably not. But it sure helps with the comfort level.

“We’re just a comfortable team on the road in general,” said Mike Richards. “With a comfort level on the road, you can go there and steal one early.”

The success away from Staples Center during the playoffs actually dates back two years. They swiped away home ice in Game 2 the opening round of the 2010 playoffs against the Canucks before eventually losing in six games. They did the same against the San Jose Sharks last season before again losing in six games.

Overall, the Kings have won seven consecutive playoff games away from home, one shy of the NHL record set by the New Jersey Devils in the mid 1990s.

“Anytime you have success with something it feels a little bit more comfortable, for sure,” said Jarret Stoll. “It’s a new series, a new team, obviously, and whole new surroundings, so we’re going to have to make sure we’re on top of everything.”

Like the first two rounds of the playoffs, winning Game 1 can set the tone for the entire series.

“Game 1 is a huge advantage if you can find a way to win it,” team captain Dustin Brown said. “It’s one of those things where I think it seems comfortable on the road, in a sense that we know our system really well and we know what we need to do to be successful on the road.”

Jeff Carter has been staying with Richards, his former teammate with the Philadelphia Flyers, since he was traded to the Kings in late February. He looks forward to getting on a plane with his teammates, with nothing but hockey on their minds.

“It’s always nice to kind of get away,” Carter said. “When you’re at home, sometimes there are distractions and guys are dealing with stuff away from the rink.”

Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell, on the other hand, didn’t seem too concerned where the series would start out. He’s just glad to be playing this far into the postseason after making just one other trip to the conference finals in his 12-year NHL career.

“I don’t care if it’s here, New York, Stockholm, sign me up,” he said. “The reality is, if you want to go to where you want to go, you’re going to have to win all different ways, all different situations. When you’re up in a series, down in a series, on the road, at home, overtime, whatever. You don’t make a long run without winning all these different ways.”

Mitchell compared winning Game 1 of a playoff series to winning the first period of a game. It’s a great start, but there’s still a lot to accomplish.

“It gets your feet underneath you and makes you feel good,” he said. “It starts you going in the right direction.”

Right now, that direction is about 350 miles east of L.A.

Kings make comparisons to recent Cup winners

May, 9, 2012
5/09/12
3:07
PM PT
kingsDan Arritt/For ESPNLA.comThe Kings continued preparations Wednesday for their Western Conference finals series against Phoenix.

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- In some ways, the Los Angeles Kings are very similar to the Stanley Cup champions from the past six years. In other ways, they’re quite different.

Nobody knows better than the handful of L.A. players who have won a Stanley Cup title since the 2004-05 lockout season.

Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi, who won a championship with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, said both teams seemed to regroup after in-season coaching changes and then caught fire down the stretch and into the playoffs.

The Penguins made their coaching change in mid-February, when they were five points out of the final playoff spot, then went 18-3-4 to finish fourth in the East. The Kings made their switch two months earlier and took two months longer to catch fire, finishing 13-5-3 to take the final playoff spot in the West.

The year before Scuderi’s Cup win, the Penguins reached the finals but lost to the Detroit Red Wings in six games. Heading into that postseason, Pittsburgh had not won a playoff series since 2001.

Coming into this postseason, the Kings had not won a series since 2001.

“When you win one round, you feel pretty good, like you really accomplished something, and then you win two rounds and you feel real good,” Scuderi said following practice Wednesday at Toyota Sports Center. “You still realize that, when you really step back, you’re only halfway there. … But it is fun, it’s OK to be excited, it’s OK to have fun with it, but you have to realize it’s not our end goal.”

As far as player personnel, Scuderi said there are clear similarities between the top forwards on the 2009 Penguins and the current Kings.

“Some of our best offensive players are some of our best defensive players,” he said.

(Read full post)

Kings: Third-round playoff primer

May, 8, 2012
5/08/12
6:37
AM PT

QUICK FIRST LOOK

Opponent: Phoenix Coyotes

Regular-season records: Kings, 40-27-15, 95 points (8th in the Western Conference); Coyotes, 42-27-13, 97 points (3rd in the Western Conference)

Playoff schedule: TBA

Previous meetings this season:

Oct. 20 at Jobing.com Arena -- Kings 2, Coyotes 0

Playing in front of an announced crowd of 7,128, about 10,000 fewer than showed up for the Coyotes' series-clinching win Monday night in Phoenix, Jonathan Quick stopped 28 shots for the second of a franchise-record three consecutive shutouts. The win also represented the 100th of his career. Dustin Brown gave the Kings a 1-0 lead with a second-period power-play goal, and Kyle Clifford made it 2-0 later in the period off a centering pass from Kevin Westgarth. Kings defenseman Drew Doughty did not play for the second straight game after injuring his shoulder against the Flyers.

Oct. 29 at Jobing.com Arena -- Coyotes 3, Kings 2 (OT)

Doughty returned from a five-game absence because of the shoulder injury but wasn’t a factor as Daymond Langkow scored with 44 seconds left in overtime after his shot deflected off the stick of now-departed Kings defenseman Jack Johnson. The Kings began overtime with 1:46 remaining on a power play but couldn’t capitalize. Mike Richards had provided the Kings a 1-0 lead early in the second period, and Anze Kopitar tied the score at 2-2 with 6:30 left in regulation, ending a nine-game goal-less streak against the Coyotes, his longest against any team in the NHL.

Dec. 26 at Staples Center -- Kings, 4, Coyotes 3

By the time these teams met again, the Kings had a new coach behind the bench in Darryl Sutter. This game was memorable for a few reasons. The Kings scored more than two goals for the first time in 15 games, Simon Gagne suffered a season-ending concussion and Rob Scuderi scored his only goal of the season four minutes into the game to give the Kings a 1-0 lead. Willie Mitchell and Brad Richardson also scored rare goals for the Kings before Brown notched his ninth of the season, which turned out to be the game winner. Phoenix defenseman Raffi Torres, currently serving a 25-game suspension for an illegal hit in the first round of the playoffs, scored two goals for the Coyotes.

Jan. 5 at Staples Center -- Kings 1, Coyotes 0 (OT)

Quick had another Vezina Trophy-caliber performance, outdueling Phoenix goalie Mike Smith for his sixth shutout of the season. Doughty scored a controversial goal in overtime after banking a shot off the skate of Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson as Johnson stood in the crease. Phoenix coach Dave Tippett and team captain Shane Doan complained vigorously to reporters after the game, saying Johnson had interfered with Smith on Doughty's goal.

Feb. 16 at Staples Center -- Coyotes 1, Kings 0

Tempers flared early as Brown laid out Phoenix defenseman Rostislav Klesla four-and-a-half minutes into the game, leading to a fight with Doan a few minutes later. Klesla ended up missing three weeks with an upper-body injury. Richards later fought Martin Hanzal, and Colin Fraser completed the fight-filled first period by scrapping with Torres. Radim Vrbata ended up scoring the game’s only goal with four minutes left in the second period. Vrbata had five goals against the Kings this season, the most against any team.

Feb. 21 at Jobing.com Arena -- Coyotes 5, Kings 4 (SO)

In perhaps the lowest stretch of the season for the Kings, they let a two-goal second-period lead slip away and lost for the third straight game. After getting shut out in the previous two losses, the Kings figured they were back on track after scoring three unanswered goals in the opening period. Even when the Coyotes cut the deficit to one, the Kings answered with a goal by Justin Williams with just over eight minutes left in the second period. But the Coyotes got one back on a goal by Doan, and Vrbata tied the score with two-and-a-half minutes left in regulation on his team's third power-play goal of the game, giving Phoenix a chance to win in the shootout.

Playoff fact: The Kings and Coyotes, formerly the Winnipeg Jets, have never met in the postseason.

Kings: Breaking down the second round series vs. Blues

April, 27, 2012
4/27/12
11:43
AM PT
The Kings and Blues are scheduled to kick off their Western Conference semifinal Saturday at 4:30 p.m. PT at Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Here’s a breakdown of what to watch for as the series unwinds.

KINGS OFFENSE vs. BLUES DEFENSE

Kings coach Darryl Sutter called the NHL a “3-2 league” when he was hired in mid-December to replace Terry Murray, a reference to the typical final score. This might be a 2-1 series, however. St. Louis was No. 1 in the league in goals-against average during the regular season, allowing an average of 1.89 goals a game, while the Kings were 29th in the league in scoring at 2.29 goals a game. The Blues are led on the blue line by 22-year-old Alex Pietrangelo, who had a breakout regular season with 12 goals, 59 points and a plus-14 rating. The Blues will be without No. 1 goalie Jaroslav Halak for the first two games after he injured his ankle in Game 2 of their first-round victory against the San Jose Sharks. That’s hardly a big blow for St. Louis, which features a quality backup in Brian Elliott, who won all three first-round starts and had better overall statistics than Halak during the regular season. The Kings may have finished second-to-last in the league in scoring, but they averaged 2.78 goals over the final 23 games. The top line of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams scored 22 goals or more apiece during the regular season and combined for five goals and eight assists in the first-round victory against the Vancouver Canucks. The Kings also feature plenty of firepower and postseason experience on the second line with Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner.

The Edge: Blues

BLUES OFFENSE vs. KINGS DEFENSE

The Kings were no slouch on defense either, allowing an average of 2.07 goals during the regular season, second best in the league behind the Blues. The Kings and St. Louis also allowed the fewest goals in the first round of the playoffs (eight). The backstop for the Kings is goalie Jonathan Quick, a Vezina Trophy finalist who led the league and established a franchise record with 10 shutouts during the regular season. He also blanked Vancouver in Game 3. The Kings feature a nice mix of offensive-minded defensemen, led by 2010 Norris Trophy finalist Drew Doughty, and defensive stoppers Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene. The Blues will counter with a deep forward corps that features nine players who scored 10 goals or more in the regular season. The player to watch for St. Louis is center Andy McDonald, who missed 51 games with a concussion and six more with a shoulder injury, but flashed his talent in the first-round series, accounting for four goals and four assists in five games. Six of his points came on the power play. McDonald did not appear in any of the four games against the Kings this season.

The Edge: Kings

(Read full post)

Kings: Willie Mitchell has one goal in mind

April, 25, 2012
4/25/12
1:13
PM PT

Harry How/Getty Images
EL SEGUNDO -- Proving it’s never too late to become an elite two-way NHL defenseman, Willie Mitchell scored more points this past regular season than during any of his previous 11 years in the league.

He also established career highs for power-play points, game winners and shots on goal, helping the Kings qualify for the playoffs for a third consecutive season.

Which accomplishment will stand out the most 10 years from now?

“To be honest with you, I’m not going to remember anything about the regular season when I’m done playing hockey,” he said.

Mitchell, who turned 35 on Monday, doesn’t expect his memory to fade once he’s finished with his career. He just knows how his mind works.

Mitchell plays professional hockey for the opportunity to compete in the postseason, a destination that becomes more appreciated the older he gets. As the Kings prepare to take on the St. Louis Blues in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, it’s no surprise Mitchell is playing some of the best hockey of his career, just not the best hockey.

Not yet, anyway.

Mitchell scored the first power-play goal of his career in Game 1 of the opening-round series against the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks, helping the Kings to a 4-2 victory and a series lead they never relinquished.

He then helped finish off the Canucks by blocking a career-high eight shots in Game 5, leading the Kings to their first playoff series win in 11 years.

Those are the moments he’ll cherish when his career is over.

“Maybe, as you get older, [the playoffs] just become so much more important to you, especially if you haven’t won [a Stanley Cup],” he said after practice Tuesday. “I haven’t won, and you look at it and feel like your window’s closing a little bit.”

That why 2003 remains so crystal clear.

(Read full post)

Kings: Second-round playoff primer

April, 23, 2012
4/23/12
1:12
PM PT
QUICK FIRST LOOK:

Opponent: St. Luis Blues

Regular-season records: Kings, 40-27-15, 95 points (8th in Western Conference); Blues 49-22-11, 109 points (2nd in Western Conference).

Playoff Schedule: TBA

Previous meetings this season:

Oct. 18 @ Staples CenterKings 5, Blues 0

After opening the regular season with two “home” games in Europe and two more on the East Coast, the Kings played their Staples Center opener and it turned out to be one of their best home performances of the season. Offseason acquisition Simon Gagne scored two goals and returning veterans Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Jarret Stoll had one each. Jonathan Quick also notched the first of what would be a franchise-record 10 shutouts during the regular season.

Nov. 22 @ Scottrade Center – Kings 3, Blues 2

With a new coach behind the bench for St. Louis, the Kings earned the same result, getting a late goal from defenseman Willie Mitchell to topple the Blues on their home ice. The victory came during the hottest stretch of the season for Mike Richards, another offseason acquisition who was counted on to get the Kings deep into the postseason. He scored his seventh goal in seven games and assisted on another. He finished with nine goals in November before a concussion on Dec. 1 slowed his production significantly. Kings back-up goalie Jonathan Bernier earned the victory in a rare start.

Feb. 3 @ Scottrade Center – Blues 1, Kings 0

This time it was the Kings that had a new coach behind the bench, Darryl Sutter, who was hired in mid-December to turn around the struggling team. St. Louis goalie Jaroslav Halak was coming off a nine-day break for the All Star Game and he out-dueled Quick, who had made his first All Star appearance five days earlier and was beginning a six-game, 11-day road trip. The loss marked one of nine times during the regular season that Quick gave up one goal or less and didn’t come away with the victory.

March 22 @ Staples Center – Kings 1, Blues 0 (SO)

Once again, goalkeeping took center stage as Quick stopped 35 shots to tie the franchise record for shutouts in a season, and the Kings won their season-best sixth consecutive game to put themselves in prime position to reach the playoffs for a third straight season. Jeff Carter, acquired in a trade-deadline deal a month earlier, scored the deciding goal in the shootout. Quick ended up allowing one goal in three starts against the Blues during the regular season.

Playoff fact: The Kings and Blues have twice met in the postseason, in 1969 and 1998, with the Blues sweeping both series.

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