Tonight the Kings take on the Vancouver Canucks, a rivalry that stewed last season and will likely be a hotly contested one this season. The Canucks came out on top last year in the playoffs, but failed to get past their old foes the Blackhawks. However, this year the Canucks are the prohibitive favorites to win it all, receiving a lot of backing from hockey pundits.
Can the Kings keep pace with the stacked Canucks, or will this season prove the Kings have another step to go before they enter the upper-echelon of teams? The answer to that is a season away but let’s take a look at some more specific questions we can focus on tonight:
1. Can the kids hang? The Kings head into the first game of the season with quite a few rookies on the roster. Injuries to Parse and Greene opened up a few extra spots temporarily. The 4th line will be an all-rookie crew of Clifford, Schenn, and Westgarth. If the pre-season is any indication, this is a 4th line that can bring more than just muscle. Clifford and Westgarth aren’t injury replacements, they’ll hold down these 4th line roles for the duration most likely. Clifford beat out Rich Clune for the job with his combination of gritty playing, fighting ability, and willingness to go to the net. Westgarth is the new Kings heavyweight. He’s a big kid but he can also play some hockey which will be a refreshing change for Kings fans. Schenn is the future 2nd line center for the Kings, so the 4th line role will be a chance for him to establish his defensive game. Don’t be surprised to see him get some power play time, or maybe swap places with Brad Richardson on the 2nd line now and then.
On defense, Muzzin won the job over former 1st rounder Thomas Hickey. It was a close contest, my vote was for Hickey but the organization likes Muzzin’s variety of skills. It’s a good problem to have, if Muzzin doesn’t pan out I’m sure Hickey will be ready to step up. Some time in Manchester will be good for Hickey to regain his top form after a prolonged injury last year.
2. How much support will Kopitar have? Williams looked great in the pre-season and having him in top shape will be a boon for the Kings. He can flirt with 30 goals and 70 points and if he can prove his injuries were flukes and not chronic problems, the Kings have a serious weapon. Ponikarovsky is the new kid on the block. He’s put up pretty consistent numbers in his career and doing just that will be fine for the Kings. However, Murray thinks he can score more goals. Brad Richardson showed flashes of top-6 talent last season and his stint as replacement for Parse is his chance to steal the job. Does Simmonds continue to impress and raise his scoring totals from last season? He’s got the bearing of a power-forward.
3. Is 5-on-5 scoring improved? A lot of emphasis was placed on the improvement of 5-on-5 scoring, but there was no addition of a bonafide scoring winger. That means the change will have to come from within. Were there enough system changes to improve the flaw?
4. Is this Jack Johnson’s year? Before Drew Doughty took over as the Kings franchise defenseman, Jack was supposed to be the guy. Still, Johnson has the potential to be an excellent defenseman and a ferocious second punch from the blue line. If Johnson continues the path he was blazing after the Olympics last season, and maybe pick up some good advice from veteran addition Willie Mitchell, he can help the Kings take that next step and earn himself a nice raise at seasons end.
5. Will Quick hold onto the job? Not pulling any punches, Quick flamed out big time last season. He was overplayed and never regained early season form after the Olympic break. His workload will be much less this season, but will he be able to stay #1 or will Bernier supplant him? Bernier has proven all he can at the AHL level and successfully beat out Erik Ersberg for the the backup job. Many hockey pundits are talking about Bernier in the Calder Trophy conversation which would suggest they think he’ll be the Kings #1 when it’s all said and done. If Quick falters early, Bernier will be the guy.
The Kings will be rockin’ throwback jerseys tonight against the Canucks, with old school forum blue and gold and the (way, way better) old school crown. The puck drops 7pm PT.
About the Author
Written by Eric Cooney
Eric Cooney was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He shares his thoughts on the NHL as one man who is a northerner, southerner, east coaster, and west coaster. Follow him on Twitter @EricCooney