At 10:02 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, a clean-shaven Jonathan Quick stepped onto a perfectly clean sheet of ice, coaching consultant Bernie Nicholls spilled a bucket of pucks onto that surface, and the L.A. Kings began their quest to repeat as Stanley Cup champions with a clean slate. After a summer spent celebrating their Cup triumph and a four-month limbo created by the NHL lockout, the Kings are determined to live in the moment.
A McDonald’s logo adorned the practice jerseys and a replica of the Stanley Cup was positioned outside the Kings’ locker room, but otherwise, this team looked a lot like the one that steamrolled through the playoffs to earn the first Cup in franchise history.
An early morning trade sent tough guy Kevin Westgarth to Carolina in exchange for forward Anthony Stewart and the Hurricanes’ fourth-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft and their sixth-round selection in 2014, but otherwise the reigning champs remain intact.
“It’s tough to see a teammate have to leave,” winger Dustin Penner said. “It has to be really tough on him.”
Added Quick: “It’s a part of the game that no one wants to deal with, but it happens. We lived together at Manchester. He’s a close friend and a great teammate and I wish him the best.”
With that, the Kings looked forward, moving into uncharted territory as the team with the target on its back. Every member of the Kings team that was on the ice for the Game 6 Stanley Cup clinching victory against New Jersey on June 11 will be back.
And, to a man, those players are thrilled to put the lockout behind them.
“It’s nice to have a routine and a bit of meaning to our lives now,” Penner said. “With the resolve on this team and the leadership, it’s right back to work.”
Penner was a member of the Ducks’ 2007 Stanley Cup-winning team but did not get a chance to be a part of that team’s title defense after he signed with Edmonton in the summer of ’07. Penner believes there are pros and cons to beginning the season atop the hockey world.
“I think there is an inner confidence in the room,” Penner said. “But at the same time, we know that we are going to be targeted in every building we walk into.”
Otherwise, the Kings are not entirely sure what to expect from the truncated 48-game season.
“You don’t know what to expect,” defenseman Drew Doughty said. “This is such a different schedule than what we are used to.”
Doughty, who has battled weight issues in the past, looked to be in good shape and believes the weeklong training camp will be sufficient for the Kings to prepare for Saturday’s noon season opener vs. Chicago at STAPLES Center.
“I feel good,” said Doughty, who spent the off-season at home in London, Ont., working out with a personal trainer and skating with the London Knights.
“We had a lot of time to work out and a lot of time to recover, so I was able to come here in good shape. I felt good out there today and I have felt good for the past week or so. We have no excuse but to be perfectly ready for Saturday.”
Doughty anticipates everyone being prepared for Saturday’s opener, despite the quick turnaround.
“We are all so excited to finally get the season started,” he said. “We have all been working hard off the ice. We all feel good and this week is important to get ready for the game. I know we are all going to be ready. We have such a short period of time to get ready that we are sticking to basics and really paying attention to details. Making sure we make those tape-to-tape passes and getting our systems back in our head. We are not trying to kill ourselves physically, but mentally we have to get back in that zone.”
Doughty is among those who believes a shortened season will ramp up the intensity of the games.
“It’s going to be playoff hockey every game and that’s what we enjoy. Everyone is in the same boat and there are no excuses. We have to be the best team every night. We can’t go on any losing streaks, that’s for sure.”
Coach Darryl Sutter said the difference between this lockout and previous ones is that today’s players are more focused on off-season conditioning than ever before.
“Year round training and the ability to play around the world,” Sutter said, means most players are reporting to camp in, or close to, game shape. “We had eight or nine guys who were playing. And most of the guys are so respectful of their year-round training.”
Sutter said the ability to “use a lot of players, and trust a lot of players,” would be a key to the compacted season.
“If we can stay away from the injuries, we will have a better chance. There is not enough gap between the teams.”
Sutter said he did not have an estimate on when Anze Kopitar and Willie Mitchell, both sidelined with knee injuries, would be able to skate.
Sutter also said he was as frustrated as anyone by the absence of hockey over the past few months.
“I am from Canada,” Sutter said. “People there want to watch hockey every night.”
QUICK AND EASY
Goaltender Jonathan Quick skated and said that while he has been pain-free for “a couple months,” he admitted his off-season back surgery would have prevented him from playing had the season started on time.
“I wouldn’t have been playing up until about a week ago,” Quick said. “I just got cleared.”
The lockout gave Quick added time to heal but he said it was hard to find an upside in the labor strife that wiped out the first half of the season.
“It came at a cost,” Quick said. “People lost jobs for a bit and fans didn’t get hockey for about four months, so there was a cost.”
Quick said the shortened camp figures to be more purposeful than usual.
“We have a little less than week to get the system down and get some chemistry,” Quick said. “Right now, our primary focus is on winning Saturday and that’s what we are focused on.”
Quick said the Kings ability to bring virtually their entire team back should aid in the quest for chemistry.
“I think it does help that we have the same group coming back,” Quick said. “Where some teams need to find chemistry with guys that never played together before, everybody in here played together the past year. Hopefully, it clicks a little faster than others.”
Still nursing the knee injury he suffered while playing for Mora in Sweden, Anze Kopitar was at the facility for treatment but did not skate.
“I am happy to be back. It was a long wait for everybody and everybody is happy to be back,” Kopitar said.
He said he suffered the injury when he “got tangled up with somebody and couldn’t avoid the check. I got caught in a vulnerable spot and tweaked my knee a little.”
Kopitar does not have a firm timetable for his return but does not expect to be sidelined extensively. He anticipates being back on the ice in the next few days after being fitted for a brace. Still, missing the first day of practice was difficult.
“It’s not fun. You want to be on the ice with the guys, especially since it’s been seven months of not seeing them. It’s a little unfortunate, but I am pretty confident that I will be back out there pretty soon.”
Jordan Nolan took the ice in his customary jersey No. 71 and said he has no intention of asking for a lower number now that he is an established member of a Stanley Cup-winning team.
“I plan on keeping my number,” Nolan said. “It was exciting to get called up and win the Stanley Cup, so I think me and “Kinger” (No. 74) are going to keep our numbers. Maybe it’s good luck.”
Nolan, in fact, is taking nothing for granted. He said he is approaching the season like a man who needs to earn a spot in Coach Darryl Sutter’s lineup.
“It’s nice to know you have a little bit of room to work with,” Nolan said, “but I am still a fourth line guy. I am still fighting for a spot on the roster. I am looking forward to working hard and making the lineup.”
Nolan said Saturday’s banner raising ceremony will be exciting, but the real goal for Saturday is to win the game vs. Chicago.
“Raising the banner is going to be exciting for the members of the team and a great honor for the city of L.A.,” Noland said. “But once that is over, the guys are getting back to work. It’s a short week of practice and guys are pretty focused.”