January 19, 2013 7:11 pm

After Puck Drop, Kings Opener Lacks Suspense

It was one of those rare, crystal clear days in downtown Los Angeles; the kind where you feel like can reach out and touch the Hollywood sign. Given the elaborate stagecraft on display during the pregame ceremony celebrating the Kings’ Stanley Cup championship, STAPLES Center could just as easily have been a movie studio as a hockey rink.

But even Ben Affleck would have had trouble making this one suspenseful. The Kings fell behind early and were never able to make a game of it as they dropped a 5-2 decision to the Chicago Blackhawks, before a disappointed sellout crowd of 18,545.

“I think our top players can all be a lot better,” Coach Darryl Sutter said.

True enough. But it’s hard to imagine the pregame ceremonies being any better.

After the Kings received their rings, the players took turns skating with the Stanley Cup, a ritual typically reserved for the end of a championship season, not the start of the next one. It was a highlight of the afternoon.

Another memorable moment came soon after, when Rogie Vachon and Marcel Dionne were joined by the parents and brother of Ana-Marquez Greene, who died in the Sandy Hook school tragedy, to present the championship banner to Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, and Matt Greene. The three Kings lettermen then skated it to rink attendants who raised it to the rafters amid a deafening chant of, “Go, Kings, Go.”

Then came the game itself, which was unable to live up to the events that preceded it. One game represents the smallest of sample sizes, so we still don’t know how the Kings will respond to wearing crowns on both their jerseys and their heads.

We do know, however, that the Kings have targets on their backs, and the Blackhawks started taking their shots early. On this day, the biggest stars in town were wearing road white jerseys. Marian Hossa (3 points), Patrick Kane (2 points), and Jonathan Toews (2 points) made things tough on the Kings all afternoon.

Chicago took advantage of an early 5-on-3, and when they stretched their lead to 2-0, the Kings found themselves in the kind of hole they avoided throughout last year’s title run.

“We just couldn’t get any momentum after that,” Sutter said.

The first goal came at 3:41, when Kane took a pass from Hossa and one-timed a shot past Jonathan Quick to suck a little of the magic from the building. Chicago made it 2-0 at 12:57 when Hossa put a pass from Daniel Carcillo past Quick. A minute and 14 seconds later, Michael Frolik made it 3-0.

The second period didn’t start any better for the Kings as Jonathan Toews, who was all alone in front, put the rebound of a Patrick Kane shot past Quick at 1:16 to make it 4-0.

It wasn’t until Rob Scuderi beat Corey Crawford at 18:38 of the second period that the crowd finally had something to new cheer about. The stanza ended with the Kings on the wrong end of a manageable 4-1 deficit.

Midway through the third period, Jordan Nolan brought the Kings to within a pair of goals by beating Crawford at 9:20. Matt Greene and Kyle Clifford assisted.

But just 15 seconds later, Hossa snapped a wrister from above right faceoff circle that beat Quick for his second goal of the game.

Emotional pregame ceremonies, be it a jersey retirement or the unveiling of a new banner, are never easy. They sap emotion and almost demand a team live in the past, at least momentarily. Sutter likened today’s atmosphere to Game 4 of last year’s Final, when, with anticipation of a Cup-clinching win hanging thick in the air, New Jersey took a 3-1 win to avoid a sweep.

“You have to focus on what you do yourself,” Sutter said, “more than what everyone else wants you to do”

Still, Sutter said he thought his team did a good job of avoiding the distractions.

“It really wasn’t an issue,” Sutter said of all the pregame hype. “I thought the ceremony was awesome and I thought we had a pretty good start. We nearly had the 5-on-3 killed, but didn’t.”

With the NHL’s truncated 48-game schedule, if the Kings realize that if they spend any amount of time looking back at last year, they will likely find themselves looking up in the Pacific Division standings.

“There is definitely more value given to each game,” Brown said. “But that doesn’t change your approach. We struggled up and down last year. It’s a matter of rebounding and staying in the field.”

Last season taught the Kings a lot about sticking with it, a lesson that will come in handy, Brown said.

“We never got too high, never got too low,” Brown said. “That is our M.O.”

Saturday afternoon at STAPLES Center, on the other hand, had both highs and lows. A Stanley Cup championship was celebrated in style. But if it was the first win of a new season you were looking for, like that banner up there in the rafters of STAPLES Center, you were left hanging.

NOTES:
The day’s festivities began with Bob Miller introducing a video tribute and asking for a moment of silence in honor of David Courtney, the Kings’ longtime public address announcer, who passed away in November at the age of 56.

In addition to the unveiling of their championship banner, the Kings revealed new standards displaying the retired numbers of Rogie Vachon (30), Marcel Dionne (16), Wayne Gretzky (99), and Luc Robitaille (20). Like the Stanley Cup banner, the retired banners now hang from the rafters. The numbers are larger than the old ones and billow in the breeze, conjuring something you might see an old-time hockey arena like Boston Garden. The Kings chose a sans-serif Chicago Bears-type font for the numbers.

The Kings’ rings were designed by Tiffany & Co., and feature the team’s crest atop a Stanley Cup encrusted with diamonds. They were presented the players by Nancy Anschutz, wife of team owner Philip Anschutz. After receiving their gin, players then skate through a reception line made up of Tim Leiweke, Dean Lombardi, and Luc Robitaille.

For the Kings, Jake Muzzin, Brad Richardson, and Anthony Stewart were scratches.
The Kings wore patches commemorating their Stanley Cup title on their jerseys.
After a day off tomorrow, the Kings return to practice Monday before embarking on a three-game road trip that takes them to Colorado, Edmonton, and Phoenix.

SPECIAL GUSTES PARTICIPATED IN TODAY’S CELEBRATION:
Participating in today’s ceremony were the Greene family from Sandy Hook, CT, including their 8-year-old son who plays hockey in his community’s junior development program. They accepted the invitation this week from the LA Kings to attend the game and agreed to take part in the ceremony to honor the memory of their daughter Ana Márquez-Greene and pay tribute to families from all across America who watch hockey, play hockey and share experiences like today that bring joy and happiness into our lives.

The three family members joined Marcel Dionne and Rogie Vachon on the ice to present the 2012 Stanley Cup Banner to the Kings Captains just prior to it being raised.

Anyone wishing to help the community of Sandy Hook can do so by donating to a special fund that benefits all 26 families who lost members of their family at www.mysandyhookfamily.com

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