The first two minutes of the Los Angeles Kings’ season went precisely as hoped. The 58 that followed were a mess.
A full 60 minutes and their first win of 2015-16 will be the goal Friday night against the Arizona Coyotes, who enter the first full season of a rebuilding project with greater hopes than the meager expectations placed on them by others.
The Kings kicked off an opening five-game homestand with Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to San Jose after Nick Shore’s goal at 1:49 in the first period provided an initial jolt. It was 2-1 by the end of the period and 4-1 at the end of the second.
"We were pretty sloppy," captain Dustin Brown said. "Sloppy in our rushes, sloppy in our (defensive) zone. That was probably most of it. We weren’t competing in the corner and making hard plays coming out of our zone. We didn’t play very well."
Jonathan Quick was outdone by his former backup, Martin Jones, with the senior of the two stopping 27 of 32 shots. Kings coach Darryl Sutter was more concerned with a top line of newcomer Milan Lucic, Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik he referred to as "flat."
"We’re playing against a big, fast team (and) we didn’t play like a big, fast team," Sutter told the team’s official website. "You’ve got to check. If you don’t check, you can’t score. We had a lot of guys, especially top guys, that weren’t interested in that part of the game."
Fortunes could change against Arizona. The Kings have posted three shutouts with five goals allowed over a 4-0-1 stretch in the series. Quick is 3-0-1 with a 1.23 goals-against average and .949 save percentage in that span.
The Coyotes are trying to distance themselves from those times, as well as their 4-23-1 finish to last season that led to their second-worst record since moving to Arizona.
Offense will remain a concern until they prove otherwise after ranking 29th last season with 165 goals, and they managed just four in six preseason games.
The club’s struggles came in part after unloading Keith Yandle, Antoine Vermette and Zbynek Michalek at the trade deadline, though they’ve brought back Vermette and Michalek.
In terms of younger players, center Max Domi played two years in the minors after being the 12th overall pick of the 2013 draft and is expected to be a dynamic force now that he’s in the NHL. Winger Anthony Duclair came to Arizona from the New York Rangers in the Yandle trade and is considered one of the best up-and-coming players.
"Outside these halls I know where we’re probably projected, but I think if our mix is right, there’s a lot of people who are anxious to get back and show people we are better than we were, not only on the ice but off the ice," general manager Don Maloney said.
Arizona needs a bounce-back season from Shane Doan after the team captain finished with 36 points in 79 games last season for his lowest points-per-game mark (0.46) since 1997-98 – though at 39 as of Oct. 10, it might be wiser to seek production elsewhere.
The team could also use more from Mike Smith, who has struggled with health and inconsistency since carrying the Coyotes to the 2012 Western Conference finals. In 62 games last season, the 33-year-old posted his worst save percentage (.904) since 2009-10 and worst-ever GAA (3.16).
The veteran is 2-4-0 with a 3.35 GAA and .906 save percentage over a seven-game span against the Kings.