Phoenix Coyotes v Los Angeles Kings

2011-2012 season preview: Los Angeles Kings

2010-2011 record: 46-30-6, 98 points; 4th in Pacific, 7th in West.

Playoffs: Lost to San Jose 4-2 in Western quarterfinals

If you believe fans and the actions of management, the time is now for the Kings. After building expectations last season, the team acquired former Flyers captain Mike Richards (for a package that included prized prospect Brayden Schenn) in an offseason trade and signed Simon Gagne as an unrestricted free agent. After signing 21-year-old restricted free agent Drew Doughty to an 8-year deal worth $56 million in the final days of training camp, management signaled that the Kings are clearly in ‘win now’ mode.

Offense

Over the past few seasons, the main question marks around the Kings forwards have been their left wings and second-line center position. Despite expectations at the beginning of last season, the voids at both positions made some insiders wonder if they’d have what it took to make the next step. They didn’t. But management has done their best to address the void in full: Richards steps in as the undisputed No. 2 center behind Anze Kopitar, while Gagne and deadline acquisition Dustin Penner  fill the top two spots on the left wing. Combined with the likes of Dustin Brown and Justin Williams, the Kings have a legitimate top-six that can compete with just about any team in the league.

Defense

There were clouds of uncertainty as the Kings prepared to head to Europe for their first two games without Doughty. Just about all of the clouds disappeared when Doughty and the Kings reached a last-minute agreement. He’ll join defensive stalwarts Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi on the blue line as the Kings are built on strong defensive play. For the Kings to take the next step though, they’ll need Jack Johnson to step up and play like the player everyone thought he’d be when he was drafted No. 3 overall by Carolina in 2005. He was undoubtedly the weak link on a strong blue line last season — if he can take the next step mentally, the Kings could have the strongest defense in the Western Conference.

Goalies

There aren’t many young goalie tandems like Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier. Quick was given the reins to start last season and never did anything to allow the coaching staff to pull him from the crease. His 2.24 goals against average was among the league’s best and his .918 save percentage was a career best. He’ll need to continue the stellar play because Bernier is breathing down his neck. After a slow start to begin last season, Bernier pulled his game together and was a rock down the stretch. For people that say that healthy competition is a good thing — the Kings are in a good spot.

Coaching

Terry Murray has helped the young players within the organization mature from a collection of NHL hopefuls to a team coming off back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in a decade. The next step for Murray will be to teach the players within the locker room to be able to play with expectations. Murray has proved that he knows how to lead teams to the playoffs at every spot throughout his long coaching career — now he’ll need to help them grow into a dangerous playoff team.

Breakout candidate

Penner was an absolute disaster after he was acquired by the Kings in a deadline deal from Edmonton. Most people forget that he scored in six of his first seven games with the Kings because he went the final 12 games of the season without a point. Between learning a new system, losing his playmaking center, and horrific conditioning, Penner fell apart and eventually found himself in a fourth-line role in the playoffs. This season, he’s in the best shape of his career (as he enters a contract year), he’ll have Kopitar feeding him the puck and he has a better idea of what the organization expects of him on the defensive side of the puck. Look for a career year for the reenergized and motivated Penner.

Best-case scenario

For the first time in their 44-year history, the Kings don’t have any glaring weaknesses. If newcomers like Richards and Gagne can smoothly make the transition to the Western Conference, Kopitar can continue his assent to elite center status, and Doughty can rediscover his Norris Trophy finalist form of 2009-10, the Kings will have all the pieces to make a deep run in the playoffs. If everything falls into place, this team could have fans in Los Angeles having flashbacks to the memorable run to the Stanley Cup finals in 1993.

Reality

The reality is that the Kings have never had these kinds of expectations. They’ve had times when they were expected to be one of the better teams in the Western Conference, but this season the Kings are looked at as possible Stanley Cup contenders. It’s a different animal for a team to play with expectations. Assuming all of the new players can seamlessly fit into their new roles and the team can avoid the ill-timed injures of a season ago, the Kings have the type of team that can win the Pacific and finish second in the conference.

Speed, skill help Stars score late victory to take series lead over Blues

Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg (3) is hit by St. Louis Blues center Paul Stastny (26) during the second period in Game 1 in the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs Friday, April 29, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.

Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.

As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.

The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.

Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.

Elliott was furious after the Stars opened the scoring in the second period, as Antoine Roussel tallied on a rebound after yet another nice Dallas passing play in the offensive zone.

Stars forward Patrick Eaves left the game early in the third period and didn’t play another shift after being hit in the lower part of his leg with the puck from a point shot.

 

Video: Roussel opens the scoring for Dallas and Elliott wasn’t happy about it

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The Dallas Stars grabbed the all-important first goal in Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues on Friday. And it was agitating forward Antoine Roussel who capitalized in the second period.

Roussel buried a rebound at the end of a pretty passing play from the Stars. Blues goalie Brian Elliott was furious, as defenseman Jay Bouwmeester slid into the crease in an attempt to block the shot.

WATCH LIVE: Nashville Predators at San Jose Sharks – Game 1

Nashville Predators' Paul Gaustad, left, defends against San Jose Sharks' Joel Ward (42) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in San Jose, Calif. Nashville won 2-1. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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After stunning the Anaheim Ducks with a Game 7 win in the first round, the Nashville Predators remain in California to take on the San Jose Sharks in the second round. You can catch Game 1 on NBCSN (10:30 p.m. ET) or online with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Sharks have some ‘pent up energy,’ eager to start series with Preds

Game 7 win is ‘a big step’ for Predators

Burns, Doughty, Karlsson named finalists for 2016 Norris Trophy

Ottawa Senators' Erik Karlsson poses with the James Norris Memorial Trophy after winning the award at the NHL Awards show Wednesday, June 24, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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Brent Burns, Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson have been named finalists for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman, but the debate about who should win is likely to persist right through to June 22 and the annual NHL Awards.

Not only did Karlsson, last year’s Norris winner, lead all blue liners is points with 82, he led the league in assists with 66 and finished tied with Joe Thornton for fourth in the entire NHL in total points. Those lofty offensive totals could make the Ottawa Senators star the clear favorite to claim the award for a third time in his career.

From NHL.com:

Karlsson is the first NHL defenseman to score at least 82 in a season since Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers (85 points) and Ray Bourque of the Boston Bruins (82 points) in 1995-96.

Burns — is there an award for most outrageous beard? — is also coming off an impressive regular season, finishing just shy of the 30-goal mark with 27 and 75 points in 82 games for the Sharks. He’s also had a strong showing in the post-season, as well, with eight points in the opening round versus L.A.

Doughty’s offensive numbers don’t match up with the production from Karlsson or Burns, with 51 points in 82 games for the Kings. There were eight defensemen ahead of him in overall point production. But he’s often recognized for logging hefty amounts of ice time, averaging 28:01 in the regular season, on a Kings team that often dominates puck possession at even strength.

“If you’re going to win, I don’t care how good you are, you’re going to have to play the other side of the puck,” Kings GM Dean Lombardi recently said to the Associated Press.

“You’re going to have to make those little plays that aren’t going to show up on the highlights. (Doughty’s) defensive partners — the little things he’ll do just to get his partner time to make a play. He’s three steps ahead of everything, and because he is that, he makes it look easy.”