The Kings open the season against the San Jose Sharks tonight (7:30 p.m. / NBCSN / KABC 790 / I Heart Radio), which returns a familiar face to the creases at Staples Center.
Martin Jones, ex-King and current Shark, returns to face the team that signed him out of the Calgary Hitmen program as a training camp invite in October, 2008. After 158 regular season games with AHL-Manchester, one with ECHL-Ontario, and 34 with Los Angeles, with whom he went 16-11-2 with a 1.99 goals-against average, a .923 save percentage and seven shutouts, and captured the 2014 Stanley Cup, he was shipped to Boston as part of the package that landed Milan Lucic for the Kings. The following week, Jones was traded from Boston to San Jose for a 2016 first round pick and the rights to prospect Sean Kuraly.
“Our focus is to win hockey games,” said Jones, who stopped 97 of 100 preseason shots. “It’s not about me going into LA and playing. It will be nice to get that one over with and get our focus on the season.”
Still, there will be an interesting twist with Jones suiting up for a team that has emerged as the Kings’ chief rival.
“It’s always a match-up you look forward to, just because in some ways it’s been a bigger rivalry than Anaheim-Los Angeles, if you look at all the hockey they’ve played against each other,” Darryl Sutter said this morning.
It’s also a match-up that Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson will be looking forward to. While the two will be more concerned with opening the season with two points in tow, there was still the understanding that they’d be countering a close friend affectionately known from his Los Angeles days as “Joner.”
“Obviously I want to score, and I want to score every night, but it’d be nice to score on Joner, too,” Toffoli said.
Interestingly, Toffoli reiterated an objective of his that surfaced midway through last season. It involves adding close-range goals with more frequency to his diverse repertoire.
“I think I’ve got to do a better job of going to the net and getting in front of the net,” he said. “I said it a couple times last year – get those dirty goals. That’s something that I’ve got to do a lot better. I think my goal total would’ve jumped a little bit if I’d gotten in those areas a little more last year.”
He did score 23 times last season – including a league-high five shorthanded goals – in his second full NHL season and third NHL season overall. This year, there will be a renewed focus to battle for loose pucks in front of the attacking net to make his goal total rise once again.
“I think it just comes down to work, and if you want to get there, if you want to put your nose down,” he said. “I’ve been talking to Payner (Assistant Coach Davis Payne) about those things – I’ve got to do a better job of getting there and fighting for those loose pucks.”
Tyler Toffoli, on whether the Kings played any differently in front of Martin Jones:
I think we played the same way as we do with Quickie. We had a ton of confidence in him, and we knew he would make the big saves at the right time, and clearly he did that for us. Now he’s the starting goaltender for another team because he did so well here.
Toffoli, on what allowed him to find success on the penalty kill:
I think just a lot of pressure, and obviously having a guy like Carts, killing with him for most of the year last year, he puts a lot of pressure, and he shoots the puck on net when we get the chance, and just getting to the net. You’ve got to have the same mentality as you do five-on-five, and if not, try and work a little harder.
Martin Jones, on opening the season in Los Angeles:
It’s going to be exciting. Those are the fun games to play in. Obviously our goal is to go in there and get two points, but I’ll try and have a little bit of fun when I’m there, for sure.
Jones, on Tyler Toffoli wanting to score on him:
I’ll do what I can. Obviously it’s going to be fun to play the old team. Those guys will be trying to score on me, but it’s going to be fun to play against them, for sure.
Jones, on his preseason:
I think I take some confidence of feeling good about it. Other than that, it’s a fresh start for everybody. It’s a long season and we’re excited to get it going.”
Jones, on whether he’s happy with the defense in front of him:
That’s the goal of preseason is to work that stuff out. Obviously with the new D corps in front of me, it’s a lot of communication and making sure we’re working through that. I thought we did a really good job in camp.
Jones, on whether he’ll feel any pre-game jitters:
I think everybody gets jitters the first game of the season. It’s exciting. We’re anxious to get going here. It’s extra special for me going into the old building, but I think everybody is going to have some nerves going opening night.