In checkers, the exclamation, “King Me!” signifies that a player skillfully journeyed across the board,..."/> In checkers, the exclamation, “King Me!” signifies that a player skillfully journeyed across the board,..."/>

“King Me!”: LA Kings Season Preview


In checkers, the exclamation, “King Me!” signifies that a player skillfully journeyed across the board, reached the desired endpoint, and is rewarded by being made, King. With the start of a new NHL season two days away, the LA Kings faithful yearn for the occasion to exclaim these two words. Their journey began in 1967 when Jack Kent Cooke founded the Kings, their name chosen to reflect his desire for a hockey team that was powerful and played with a regal air. Forty-three seasons later, the prophesied Kings are perhaps closer now than ever to complete their journey and attain the ultimate goal, to win the Stanley Cup. Are their adjustments to the offense, relentless signature defense, and pure grit enough for a parade? To prepare for what could be an epic season, here is a look at whom, why, and how, the 2011-2012 LA Kings could rule the ice in a new era of silver and black.

This team can no longer be referred to as ‘young’ regardless of what number appears on a driver’s license. This club is mature, focused, and has tremendous confidence in themselves, and more importantly, each other, evident in their ability to spread the love, utilizing any of their scorers, at any time. Their top six are assassins on the ice, led by the unwavering force that is Anze Kopitar. Entering his fifth season with the Kings, I’d say he skates powerfully and carries a big hockey stick. In the past, proof of his talent was mostly found in the stats: he lead the Kings in scoring the past four seasons, played in a club record 330 straight games, and in the 2010-2011 season he tied for seventh in assists and was tenth in points in the NHL. However, the ankle injury he suffered in March may limit him physically early on in the season, so his mental toughness and leadership could prove to be his most valuable asset.

The additions to the offensive arsenal include the multi-skilled Mike Richards, and a player with a lethally high hockey IQ, Simon Gagne (both packing Olympic Gold medals and serious playoff experience). Also, Dustin Penner 2.0 will take the ice, leaner and meaner. If he can use the upcoming contract year, and last years disappointing performance (following a 32 goal season the year before) as fuel, watch out. The secret weapon would have to be Trevor Lewis, taken by the Kings in the first round of the 2006 draft. He has patiently waited to find his game and have a breakout season; it may finally be his time.

Then there’s big D. LA cannot wait to see what $56 million looks like on skates. Entering his fourth year with the Kings, Drew Doughty is the team’s highest paid player, and the third richest defensemen in the league. Expectations are high and aggravated by concern regarding his lack of physical and mental preparation after signing his new contract only a week ago. writer Dan Arritt cites Coach Terry Murray’s plan to address these concerns, “He will use the ‘Lamborghini’ approach, looking to ‘push the gas pedal to the floor board’ to prepare Drew Doughty for the season.”

Consistent, solid defense can turn good teams into great teams, and defense is precisely where the King’s identity lies. Coach Murray built this team’s foundation, laying brick after defensive brick, to engineer one of the top groups of defenders in the league. He demands his men to play with tenacity and cohesion, making intimidation a habit. Look for this fortress of defensemen to play faster and smarter, as off-season adjustments have added balance, solidifying the sheer power of their defensive pairs.

Attention to detail has made this hockey club a viable candidate to play deep into the post season. It is clear from the roster that the Kings are packed with talent, but they also possess the intangibles, specifically, the work ethic, to back it up. The first trek of the season will test the King’s mental strength. They open against the New York Rangers on Friday night in Stockholm, Sweden, then play the Sabres in Berlin, Germany the following night, and then return to the U.S. to face a wicked schedule that doesn’t allow any breathing room until the beginning of November. In order to succeed in October they need to take ownership of their team, right from the jump, enforce their identity, and be confident in their preparation and depth. If they can stay the course, and play, like Kings, then they have a clear path to the desired endpoint.

Jarret Stoll confirmed the team’s focal point in an interview with ESPN reporter Pierre LeBrun where he resolutely states once again, “The Goal is the Stanley Cup.” That may be the most obvious, vague answer out there, but this season, for this team, that is the only answer. If he is bold enough to say it, then LA should be bold enough to support it. They have built the team, done the work, and will not be satisfied with only a playoff appearance. Anything less than the Cup appears to be simply unacceptable. So what is it going to be LA? Is this going to be the year? Can you feel those two words rising to your consciousness? For now, we will have to settle for “King Me?” instead of “King Me!” so please, stand by for greatness.

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