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Expectations in the Air for the Kings
At 46-27-9 and 101 points, the Los Angeles Kings amassed only their third 100-point season in franchise history that dates back to 1967. Despite losing to the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in six games, their first appearance in the postseason in eight years sparked a lot of excitement and expectation amongst the fans, players and executives that was palpable at the Kings’ second annual Hockey Fest held at their training facility at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo on Saturday.
All of the expectations on the Kings can be boiled down to one moment of the afternoon. During the Kids’ press conference session a kid asked Jack Johnson, Wayne Simmonds, Brad Richardson and Matt Greene what the players expected this upcoming season. Only two words were uttered: “Stanley Cup.”
The Kings’ executives were a little more cautious about their rhetoric. “We’re getting to the hardest part right now,” general manager Dean Lombardi said. “This is the first year where I think there are legitimate expectations on this team.”
Anze Kopitar agreed. “Last year coming in we said our goal that we were going to playoffs. This year it’s more expected from us. We had a good season last year, but now we’ve got to take that and improve on some stuff and get going again.”
With Norris Trophy finalist Drew Doughty patrolling the back-end and two top-notch goalies Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier covering the net, it’s clear that the Kings really needed to shore up their front line during the offseason.
They did get left-winger Alexei Ponikarovsky to fill the void of the departing Alexander Frolov and hard hitting defenseman Willie Mitchell to improve the back line. However in order to provide a quick strike offense that head coach Terry Murray desires they still need to do more.
“Our 5-on-5 scoring was 18th in the league and that’s not good,” Lombardi said. “If you match up to some of the elite teams, we’re short on skill. That’s why we dabbled - actually we more than dabbled - with this whole [Ilya] Kovalchuk thing. The type of elements he brought were attractive.
“We’re on the same page that we probably need to upgrade our skill level to match up with the big clubs. I certainly think that [Anze] Kopitar is going to get better. I expect Justin Williams to bounce back. Dustin Brown is going to get better. Ryan Smyth is showing up in the best shape of his career. The elements are there where we can improve. That being said, that’s one of areas we’re looking at to upgrade our skill level.”
Captain Dustin Brown however is optimistic of the young guys to improve their offensive capabilities if no deal can be done before the start of the season.
“If you look at our key guys on this team, if we score five or six more goals that’s 30 extra goals and that’s where we’re looking to get at,” Brown said.
With an near sellout crowd of 2,000 fans descending on the Kings’ practice facilities decked out in their old Forum-Blue-and-gold Rogie Vachon sweaters, silver-and-black Wayne Gretzky sweaters and black-and-purple Luc Robataille sweaters, Saturday was a thrill as images of the Stanley Cup flitted through their head.