The last time the Chicago Blackhawks visited Staples Center, Dustin Brown shook off trade rumors with a hat trick, Jeff Carter made his Kings debut, and Jonathan Quick posted a shutout in a 4-0 Los Angeles victory that represented the tectonic shift between the early season Kings and the Kings that would go on to win the Stanley Cup.
“I think it’s just a matter of time before the bounces start going their way and pucks start going in the net,” Carter said before his LA debut.
He was on to something.
Carter and the Kings will welcome the Blackhawks back to Staples Center for a banner raising ceremony and the NHL opener on the afternoon of Saturday, Jan. 19, multiple sources reported Wednesday. It marks the first hockey game played in the building since Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final and the wild celebration that erupted into the streets of downtown Los Angeles after the Kings won 6-1 and defeated the New Jersey Devils in six games.
The Kings are amongst the strongest Cup contenders in the abbreviated 48-game 2013 season, which will see teams play either four or five games against divisional opponents and two or three teams against other conference opponents. There will be no inter-conference play.
Because of the tight schedule, injuries to key players will have a much larger implication than injuries in a traditional, 82-game schedule. Star center Anze Kopitar, who sprained his MCL in his final game playing for Mora IK in Sweden hours before the lockout ended — talk about poor luck — would be highly questionable for the opener. He’s expected to miss two to three weeks.
Mike Richards, Carter and Jarret Stoll are all candidates to absorb minutes at center should Kopitar miss any time. Top prospect Tyler Toffoli, 20, also has a chance to earn a roster spot with Kopitar’s uncertainty. He has excelled in his first long professional look, tallying 26 points in 34 games for Manchester of the AHL.
Other than Kopitar’s potential absence, the Kings are poised to return their entire Cup-winning lineup.
In preparation for the season, Los Angeles will host a news conference at Staples Center at 4 p.m. PT Thursday, with appearances by governor Tim Leiweke, president/general manager Dean Lombardi, president of business operations Luc Robitaille and coach Darryl Sutter. The event will be carried live on FOX Sports West and FOXSportsWest.com.