The Los Angeles Kings won their final preseason tuneup in Hamburg, Germany, defeating the Hamburg Freezers of the DEL, 5-4, in a game where the Kings really looked like they could not care less out on the ice. Not surprisingly, the Freezers took the exhibition game much more seriously, getting a chance to potentially knock off an NHL team, but the Kings still prevailed in the end. Jonathan Quick played the first 31:42, and was pulled after he gave up his 3rd goal, which was the original plan anyways to have the goalies split the game, and Jonathan Bernier came in and gave up one goal in 28:18, not surrendering the goal until there were 29 seconds remaining in the game. Justin Williams (on his 30th birthday!), Alec Martinez, Anze Kopitar, Brad Richardson, and Ethan Moreau scored the goals for the Kings. Dustin Penner was scratched with a lower-body injury and was replaced by Scott Parse. Terry Murray says Penner’s status for Friday is “questionable.” If Penner is not able to play on Friday, Parse will likely check into the lineup. If Penner is, Parse will likely be scratched along with Kevin Westgarth and Davis Drewiske, although Terry Murray has not yet confirmed what the lineup will be on Friday. Colin Fraser is set to start the year on the injured reserve, no word on when he’ll be ready to return. Jake Muzzin also will, but is likely heading for the AHL when he’s healthy. Kevin Westgarth also may not be ready to start the year, no word on when he’s going to be able to return or whether he’s going to be put on injured reserve. When Fraser and Westgarth are healthy though, the Kings’ roster will be full, and it appears Scott Parse will be heading to the waiver wire. Viatcheslav Voynov is likely heading for Manchester as well now that the preseason is over. Jeff Zatkoff is in Europe with the Kings as the 3rd goalie, but will return to Manchester once the Kings return to North America. I gave my thoughts on the Kings’ projected roster and lineup for Friday in my season preview, check that out here http://thehockeyhouse.net/los-angeles-kings/2011-2012-los-angeles-kings-season-preview/ if you wish.
For now, the Kings’ attention turns to the New York Rangers. I’d like to know how many times the Kings have opened their season against the Rangers, or any Eastern Conference team for that matter… Or had their season opener broadcasted on TSN… The Rangers are coming off a season where they squeaked into the playoffs on the last day of the season, but were defeated easily by the Washington Capitals in five games. However, the Rangers are notorious for hot starts, and they’ve added the biggest unrestricted free agent on the market this summer in Brad Richards, who finally gives them the #1 centre they’ve been craving forever, and him alongside Marian Gaborik on the Rangers’ top line should form a fearsome duo for opposing teams to deal with. The hope in New York is that Richards does not end up like several other of the Rangers’ recent big signings: the recently bought out and retired Chris Drury, Scott Gomez who was traded after two sub par years in New York and recorded a whopping seven goals in Montreal last year, and Wade Redden, who currently plays for the Connecticut Whale. The Rangers are hoping that Richards can provide them with a #1 centre, a power play quarterback, a leader with a Stanley Cup ring and a Conn Smythe, and a fantastic playmaker who makes players around him better (specifically Marian Gaborik, Glen Sather hopes), and will turn the Rangers from bubble playoff team to Stanley Cup contender.
The Rangers will be without top defenseman Marc Staal for the start of the season though, which is a big blow to their blue line that the Kings will look to take advantage of. Without Staal, their blue line on Friday will likely consist of Michael Del Zotto, coming off a disappointing season where he spent time in the AHL, Steve Eminger, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonaugh, Michael Sauer, and one of Stu Bickel or Brendan Bell. Not the most terrifying defense corps in the league, to be certain. However, behind them looms one of the best goaltenders around, workhorse Henrik Lundqvist, and will provide what the Kings expect to be a much improved offense and power play after some big time summer acquisitions and some growth from within with a stiff test in their first game.
On the other side of it, Jonathan Quick will likely get the call in goal, and he and the Kings defense and penalty kill will look to duplicate its success from last season, and will get the first chance to try and stop what could be a dangerous Rangers offense this year, led by the dynamic duo of Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, who is looking for a bounce back year, rather than become the latest free agent flop in The Big Apple. New York has some dangerous forwards behind those two as well, most notably two-way forwards Brandon Dubinsky, Derek Stepan, and Ryan Callahan. If Quick can play like he did coming out of the gate last year though, and the Kings defense and penalty kill can have the same kind of success that they had last year, and there’s no reason to believe that they can’t, then they should be able to hold the Rangers offense in check.
The next test for the Kings will be solving Henrik Lundqvist. The Kings struggled mightily offensively last season, but now with six forwards who have scored 30 or more goals at least once in the NHL (although they may be without Penner on Friday, and even if he does play, would likely be playing hurt so it could limit him, so hopefully it goes away quickly and doesn’t limit him for long), offense shouldn’t be nearly as much of a problem. Their power play was also brutal last year, but now with Mike Richards and Simon Gagne in the fold, and expected bounce back years from power play quarterbacks Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, the power play should be much less of a sore spot. But, again, the Kings have their work cut out for them with Lundqvist.
So, the Kings have their hands full with the Rangers, now with Brad Richards, and the Kings could be playing them at the wrong time as well. As mentioned earlier, the Rangers tend to fly out of the gate to start the season most years (before collapsing and either missing or barely making the playoffs). Can the Kings get their season started off on the right foot by getting 2 points in Stockholm and taking down the Rangers? We’ll find out on Friday.
Side note: The Kings played the Rangers once last season, in New York, and it was a 4-3 Rangers victory in a shootout. Jonathan Bernier was in goal for that game, but Quick is expected to start this one.
Side note: Both of the Kings’ games in Europe, Friday against the Rangers and Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres, count as home games for the Kings. Meaning when the Kings return to North America, they will play only 39 games at Staples Center, and 41 more on the road. I can’t imagine Kings fans are too thrilled about losing two home games this year. The Kings hit New Jersey and Philadelphia before returning home to Los Angeles for their home opener against the St. Louis Blues however, so then it will be down to an even 39/39 split.