Columnist: Kings, Ducks blowing golden opportunity

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Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News has written an interesting piece prior to back-to-back nights of The Freeway Face-Off. The Ducks and Kings will do battle tonight at the Staples Center, then tomorrow night at the Honda Center.

Teaford thinks Los Angeles and Anaheim are “blowing it” with their lackluster starts to the season.

Blowing what, exactly?

The Kings and the Ducks could have the fall/winter/spring stage all to themselves if the NBA lockout continues and the Lakers and Clippers remain on the sidelines.

USC and UCLA aren’t going to the Rose Bowl and their seasons are winding down.

Soon all we’ll have is hockey under the palms in Southern California.

You might think the Kings and Ducks would use this opportunity to make a determined leap onto the front pages, gain a few more seconds on the local television news, lure new fans and get more people talking about them.

Sadly, however, neither team is seizing the day.

The struggles in both LA and Anaheim are well documented. The Kings were supposed to be highly competitive this season, but have been mediocre at best. The Ducks, meanwhile, have just been bad.

If you’re looking for a reason why, consider the roster makeups. Both clubs are extremely top heavy.

The Kings rely almost exclusively on five forwards for scoring: Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, Mike Richards, Simon Gagne and Dustin Brown. (To read about LA’s lack of secondary scoring, click here.) Blueline production is almost totally reliant on Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty.

Anaheim’s even more imbalanced. Up front, scoring is done almost exclusively by Teemu Selanne, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan (Saku Koivu and Andrew Cogliano chip in, just not often enough.) And after Cam Fowler, Francois Beauchemin and the struggling Lubomir Visnovsky, the Ducks blueline gets really thin. Toni Lydman is struggling, Luca Sbisa has been a nightmare and the rotating door of sixth/seventh defensemen (Sheldon Brookbank, Kurtis Foster, Nate Guenin) has done nothing.

“So far, there’s no reason for anyone with the faintest interest in hockey to jump aboard either team’s bandwagon,” Teaford writes. “Neither team has played well enough to warrant extra column inches in the newspapers or sound bites on the evening television news.”

With the NBA locked out, the SoCal sports scene is primed to focus on the Kings and Ducks this season.

But with the way they’re going, it might not happen.

Antti Niemi had to make a save with his bare hand

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Antti Niemi made 31 saves in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night, and 30 of them were pretty standard.

The one that wasn’t came in the third period when he lost his glove during a scramble around the net and still managed to instinctively make a save on the puck. With his bare hand.

Niemi said after the game, via the Tribune Review, that he thought the referees would stop the play after his glove came off, and when they didn’t “I just kept playing.”

You can watch the play by clicking here.

Probably not the type of thing you want to see happening because that looks like a great way to break a bone (or the entire hand) and get sidelined for extended period of time. Niemi said the officials told him there will no longer be an automatic whistle for goalies losing a glove or a blocker, but that one will remain for when they lose their helmet.

The Penguins signed Niemi to a one-year contract this summer as a replacement for Marc-Andre Fleury after they lost him in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights. Niemi is looking to rebound from a tough year in Dallas. He will serve as Matt Murray‘s backup for the season.

‘A good start’ — Stamkos stands out in preseason debut

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The Tampa Bay Lightning and National Hockey League unveiled the 2018 All-Star Game logo Friday.

Far more importantly for the Bolts this evening was the return of their all-star center Steven Stamkos, as he made his preseason debut in what was his first game in 10 months.

His 2016-17 season was abruptly ended in the middle of November because of a knee injury and subsequent surgery, making it the second time in four years his regular season had been disrupted by a major injury.

It may still take a while before Stamkos feels truly comfortable coming back from this injury.But his performance on Friday proved to be a very promising start for No. 91, the Bolts and their fans in Tampa Bay.

He didn’t score, but he assisted on two first period goals, including a nice set-up to linemate Nikita Kucherov, and the Lightning beat the Nashville Predators by a score of 3-1. Stamkos also received a healthy dose of ice time, playing more than 19 minutes, including 5:32 on the power play.

His pass to Kucherov resulted in a power play goal.

“It was exciting to get out there, I was pretty anxious about it… It was a good start, something to build on,” said Stamkos afterward, per the Lightning. “It was nice to just go through a game day, I haven’t done it in a long time… I was glad with how the first one went.”

Golden Knights assign 2017 first-round picks Glass, Suzuki to junior

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The Vegas Golden Knights continue to make roster moves during their inaugural training camp.

On Friday, the expansion club assigned four players to junior. That includes 2017 first-round picks Cody Glass of the Portland Winterhawks and Nick Suzuki of the Owen Sound Attack.

The Golden Knights made franchise history by taking Glass with the sixth overall pick and then selected Suzuki at 13th overall. Both players appeared in two preseason games for Vegas, each recording two points in the exhibition opener versus the Vancouver Canucks.

“Nobody is going to rush (the rookies), that’s for sure,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant told the Las Vegas Sun following the club’s 9-4 win over Vancouver on Sunday.

“We are in a position where we want to make sure they are ready to play. They are going to be good players when they’re healthy and strong enough to play in the league.”

Vegas has all three 2017 first-round picks — Glass, Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom — signed to three-year entry-level contracts.

Mitchell signed PTO with Blue Jackets — shortly after getting cut by Blackhawks

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When the Chicago Blackhawks announced their roster moves yesterday, John Mitchell was among the cuts.

His professional tryout with the Blackhawks had come to an end, as it did for veterans Mark Stuart and Drew Miller.

It can be an uphill battle to make an NHL roster for veterans on professional tryouts. But for Mitchell, he quickly received another opportunity to attend a camp and try to land a spot, signing a PTO with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Mitchell, 32, has appeared in 548 NHL regular season games with 70 goals and 177 points.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets are still without forward and restricted free agent Josh Anderson, as the two sides are stuck in a contract impasse right now. It was reported on Thursday that his representatives have been in contact with Hockey Canada about the 2018 Olympics.