Kings defending title on the fly
If only the Los Angeles Kings gripped their sticks as gently as they gripped their Stanley Cup banner.
After raising the team's first championship banner into the rafters at Staples Center, Los Angeles turned in a nightmarish first period en route to a 5-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks as the National Hockey League resumed play on Saturday after a lockout that consumed the season's first half.
Three first period goals by Chicago – including an odd-angle slapshot by Patrick Kane to open the scoring on an early 5-on-3 power play – sunk the Kings on an afternoon when emotions were soaring. Deflections, rebounds and lousy bounces all got past all-world goaltender Jonathan Quick, who shut Chicago out twice a season ago.
"(He) didn't have a good game," coach Darryl Sutter said. "Don't get too philosophical."
And don't sound any alarms.
"In a regular year, you have those five, six preseason games. That's where you're going to get your timing," captain Dustin Brown said. "Now it's going right into the real thing, and it's a matter of guys preparing themselves, and I think at least for the first couple games, keeping the game very simple.
Wanting to "keep things simple" is a hockey adage often heard in locker rooms following a loss. It was also a perfect description of the way the Kings were able to get on the scoreboard late in the second period. Trailing 4-0 and with the grinding line of Kyle Clifford, Colin Fraser and Jordan Nolan controlling the puck deep, Rob Scuderi received a pass at the blueline and snapped a quick shot past a screened Corey Crawford, who saw nothing save for Clifford's 6-foot-3 frame.
So without the benefit of a preseason, and with the sloppy play inherent in what appears to be a transitional period away from the NHL lockout, how will teams be able to implement their systems and continue to develop players if they've only been skating together for one week?
"We can scrimmage against ourselves. We can do battle drills up the yin yang, but it doesn't really matter until you get in-game competition," said Scuderi, whose goal was the seventh of his career.
"You're in a physical battle. You're getting your muscle memory back and your conditioning. We don't want to treat any of these games as warm-up games, but we're going to have to pick up good habits. Even once we were down 3-0, 4-0, I still think we had a good urgency to just play the right way."
One obvious concern regards the statuses of star center Anze Kopitar and shutdown character defenseman Willie Mitchell, two players scratched with knee injuries who affected the team's line and defensive pairings.
In Kopitar's absence, Jeff Carter slotted as a first-line center in between Dustin Penner and Justin Williams, while Mike Richards centered Simon Gagne and Dustin Brown, who moved back to his more comfortable right side after a season at left wing.
The result wasn't particularly effective, as Los Angeles didn't match up well with Chicago down the middle and surrendered goals to key Blackhawks: two for Marian Hossa, one for Jonathan Toews and one for Kane. Michael Frolik also scored after wiring a wristshot off the post and in for Chicago's third first period goal.
The Gagne-Richards-Brown line bore the brunt of the team's matchup struggles, with each member finishing a minus-three. The trio combined for two shots – both by Brown.
"From a standpoint of Xs and Os, we were a little off our game," Brown said. "It's just important for us to probably look at some video and go over it. It's the same system. Everything is the same for us."
It's an on-the-fly adjustment for the 2013 Los Angeles Kings, a development that will forge ahead into unfriendly territory as they hit the road for three games, beginning Tuesday night in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche. (FOX Sports West / 6:00 p.m.)
There was advice passed along between the 2010 Cup winners and the 2012 Cup winners, thanks to Kane. To use an often repeated Sutter observation, there may be some "tough sleddin'" ahead.
"Everyone is going to play their best game against the Cup champion. That's a game you want to prove yourself and make a statement," Kane said. "I think that's what we were feeling tonight, and we had the opportunity to do that."
NOTES: With two assists, Kyle Clifford earned his third career multi-point game. … Quick allowed five regulation goals only once in 2011-12, a 6-5 shootout loss to San Jose on April 5. … Quick stopped 117 of 121 shots against Chicago in 2011-12, shutting the Blackhawks out twice. On Saturday, he stopped 17 of 22. … In their next home game, the Kings will surpass 25,000,000 fans in attendance in franchise history, not counting neutral or European games in which they were the home team.