The NHL couldn’t have picked much worse of an opponent for the Kings to play their home opener against.
You see, to say that the St. Louis Blues have been a thorn in the Kings’ side over the last couple of years would be a drastic understatement. Last year, the Kings were 0-4-0 against the Blues, being outscored 15-6, and scored just one goal in two of their games, and were shutout in another. Then, of course, to top it all off, there was the infamous St. Patty’s Day Massacre at Staples Center. On March 17th, 2011, St. Patrick’s Day, the Kings were destroyed 4-0 by the Blues, in a game that the score did not serve justice to how much the Blues dominated. St. Louis outshot LA 39-17, had a shot by Alex Pietrangelo from centre ice beat Jonathan Quick, and the Kings were booed off the ice after the second period. They fared no better in the third period. I believe that the green jerseys that the Kings wore in warm up in honour of St. Patrick’s Day have since been banned from Staples Center. Hopefully that game was the climax of all of the Kings’ struggles against the Blues. Overall in the last two seasons, the Kings are 1-7-0 against the Blues, with 7 straight losses, and dating back to the 2008-2009 season, the Kings are 1-8-0 against the Blues. The last time the Kings beat the Blues was on October 10th, 2009, In St. Louis, and was a 2-1 Kings regulation victory. The last time the Kings beat the Blues at Staples Center? Well, the good news, it was a 6-2 win. Pretty solid. The bad news? It came back on December 11th, 2008. That’s not good against a team in your own conference. That’s four straight wins for the Blues at Staples Center. What makes it even weirder? Over the last two seasons, the Kings have been a playoff team both years, and the Blues haven’t in either year. Yet somehow, the Blues have won all four games they’ve played at Staples Center over that span, and seven of eight overall. Some teams just have your number, and that appears to be the case here. Is it a mental thing now? Do they just think they can’t beat St. Louis at this point? Do they take them too lightly? Or is it a match up problem for the Kings? There is a theory that the Blues have been too fast for the big, slow Kings, which makes sense because the speedy Phoenix Coyotes have also given the Kings trouble over the last couple of years, but with much more teem speed added this summer and some of the old, slow guys leaving, that shouldn’t be as much of a problem for the Kings anymore.
Needless to say, if the Blues make the playoffs this year, and I think they can, I don’t want the Kings to face them. Not just because they have the Kings’ number, but we all remember what Jaroslav Halak did for the 8th-seeded Montreal Canadiens in 2008-2009. If the Blues sneak into the playoffs with a lower seed, watch out. Do not sleep on them.
But anyways, hopefully this is the year that the Kings can break the hex that St. Louis has over them, and hopefully this is the game that the Kings can do it, in front of a Staples Center that will be rocking for the Kings’ home opener in a season in which expectations are as high as they’ve ever been for this organization. St. Louis is no pushover though. The Blues are a good young team that appeared to be on the verge of a bounce back season last year, after missing the playoffs in 2009-2010 they looked to prove that that year was a fluke, not the 2008-2009 season when they reached the post-season for the first time since 2003-2004, and they got off to a red-hot start going 9-1-2 out of the gate. However, the Blues faded as the season wore on, and a bad run of injuries didn’t help them either. But this year they look to return to the playoffs, and in my mind, they appear to have to team to do it.
Up front, they’ll be getting their first full season out of the very underrated power forward Chris Stewart, who I am a big fan of and believe is in for a breakout season and could even score 30 goals. He was fantastic after coming over in a mid-season trade from Colorado last season. They also have another very underrated player in Alexander Steen, captain David Backes, Patrik Berglund, T.J. Oshie, and Matt D’Agostini. All are good young players who could still continue to improve. They also added a couple of veteran depth forwards in Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner whose experience and leadership will prove invaluable for the talented young Blues. Unfortunately for St. Louis, a couple of big pieces of their offense in David Perron and Andy McDonald are on the injured reserve, as is rugged forward B.J. Crombeen.
On the back end, the Blues are lead by a couple of very talented young puck movers in Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, and are complemented by stay-at-home veteran Barret Jackman. The rest of the Blues defense corps isn’t terribly intimidating, with the likes of Nikita Nikitin, Roman Polak, Kent Huskins, and Taylor Chorney. They’re missing the services of talented yet very injury-prone defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, who is on the injured reserve, a place that the former first-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs back in 2001 has become all too familiar with throughout his career. Behind their blue line looms a very solid goaltender in Jaroslav Halak, who the Kings will try to get their offense going against after a slow start to the season where they’ve only scored nine goals in their first four games. The fact that some of the Kings’ power forwards such as Dustin Penner, Dustin Brown, and Kyle Clifford haven’t gotten it going yet this season hasn’t helped the offense, although Penner’s been injured and Clifford’s been getting fourth-line minutes. I don’t know why Brown hasn’t looked very good so far, he doesn’t look like himself and isn’t playing nearly as physically as he usually does, but hopefully he gets it going.
It’s not just the Blues that are dealing with injuries, however. The Kings will be without the services of top defenseman Drew Doughty, who has been placed on injured reserve and is expected to miss 7-10 days with a minor shoulder sprain. He could be activated in time for the October 25th game at home against the New Jersey Devils, but it’s not yet known if he will be ready for that game. When Doughty suffered an early-season concussion the last season, the Kings went 4-2-0 in his absence, and will hope for similar success without him this season, but losing your top defenseman is never a good thing. He hadn’t exactly been lighting the world on fire so far this season, but it was expected that he would need some time to get to the top of his game after missing almost all of training camp and the pre-season, but he’d still been logging a ton of minutes this year, and now his progress to getting back to where he needs to be will be stalled by injury, exactly what happened last year when he attempted to play his way into shape after not being in great shape in training camp. An unfortunate start to the season for Doughty when we’re all hoping and expecting for a much better season than he had last year.
Russian prospect defenseman Viatcheslav Voynov, who is coming off a great season in the AHL and a training camp where he turned heads, has gotten the call up to replace Doughty for the next week or so and not only will he get to make his NHL debut, but he will in the Kings’ home opener. Voynov appears to be ready for the NHL, but there’s just no room for him on the blue line with everyone healthy. If Voynov plays well for these next few games, then the Kings have a tough decision on their hands once Doughty’s healthy.
Dustin Penner left practice early on Monday because of the knee contusion that he suffered on Saturday in Philadelphia, and his status for this game is not yet known. Tough start to the season for Penner after he also missed the end of the pre-season and the Kings’ first two regular season games because of a lower-body injury that he suffered early in training camp and played through most of training camp with.
Forget all of the travel, the Kings have had a tough schedule to start the year by just looking at their opponents so far. However, the Kings finally get to play one in their own building and will look to use it to their advantage and give the hometown crowd something to cheer about early on. Los Angeles will hope to get off to similar start at home that they had last year when they won eight straight games at Staples Center to start the season, a franchise record for most consecutive home wins to start the season.
Will the Kings win their hope opener and finally remove the hex that St. Louis has over them, or will the Blues spoil the party and continue their reign of terror over LA?