Though the Los Angeles Kings are coming off their second Stanley Cup championship in three years, they enter 2014-15 as determined as ever.
So do the San Jose Sharks, who are out for revenge following last season’s playoff collapse against Los Angeles.
With most of the 2013-14 team returning, the Kings begin their title defense against the visiting Sharks on Wednesday night.
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Los Angeles found itself on the verge of being swept in the first round before storming back against San Jose, becoming the fourth team to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first three games. The Kings also went to seven games against fellow Western Conference foes Anaheim and Chicago before beating the New York Rangers in five to win the Cup.
"I think some people talk about being satisfied after winning one, but personally … it really makes you hungrier. You want to do it again," defenseman Alec Martinez, who scored in double overtime in Game 5 against the Rangers, told the Kings’ official website.
"It’s going to be a tough test, both physically and mentally, but I think we’ve got a good group in this room that know what to expect and have gone through it once or twice before."
Veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell signed with Florida, but Los Angeles returns every regular on all four forward lines. Top center Anze Kopitar finished with team highs of 29 goals and 70 points and was a career-best plus-34 to lead the West.
"We’ve got basically the same team," said forward Justin Williams, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner after racking up 25 points in the playoffs. "I feel our hunger is going to be exactly where it needs to be because we’ve felt what it tasted like to have it and to have it taken away from us."
The Sharks also had a relatively quiet offseason despite last season’s finish.
"Last year is over with," forward Tommy Wingels said. "People are going to want to talk about it, we’re going to want to think about it, but you need to eliminate it from your memory because it’s over with. Our focus is on the start here and getting off to a good start."
In one of the team’s more surprising moves, veteran center Joe Thornton was stripped of his captaincy. Thornton finished three points off Joe Pavelski’s team-leading total of 79, but he came up empty during San Jose’s four straight postseason defeats to Los Angeles.
"Joe, nothing bothers him," defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. "But he’s motivated more than ever to prove (people) wrong. When a C or an A gets taken away from you, I don’t know how it feels, but maybe you’ve got something to prove. Joe’s a guy that we believe in, and we need him to be his best and he is and he will be."
Antti Niemi remains No. 1 on depth chart after recording a career-high 39 wins last season, but Alex Stalock could see more time in goal. Stalock, who made seven of his 18 starts after the Olympic break, went 12-5-2 with a 1.87 goals-against average and two shutouts.
Los Angeles yielded an NHL-low 2.05 goals per contest last season as Jonathan Quick posted a 2.07 GAA in 49 games despite a groin strain that caused him to miss 24 contests. Then-rookie Martin Jones got a chance to shine as a result, winning his first eight starts and going 12-6-0 with four shutouts and a 1.81 GAA overall.
Jones may again play a key role as the Kings could take it slow with Quick early on following offseason wrist surgery. He is 10-1-1 with a 1.96 GAA and three shutouts in his last 12 home starts against the Sharks, including playoffs. Quick needs one shutout to tie Rogie Vachon’s team record of 32.
Los Angeles, which went 5-0-2 during the preseason, is looking to avoid losing a third consecutive home opener. The Sharks have won four straight season openers.