Game preview: Getting to know the LA Kings

Victor Decolongon

It's finally game day. Let's get started with a preview of the team that stands in the Wild's way of starting the season out right.

Last season, hockey blogs around SB Nation did a 3 questions series. Since this is opening night, we thought it would be a great idea to carry on the tradition and give Wild fans a peak into the mind of a Kings fan. Thanks to John Carroll from Jewels From the Crown for taking time out of his day to answer our questions. Make sure to follow him on twitter at @toshanshuinLA. After tonight's game obviously, cause he'll be saying horrible things about your beloved hockey team.

Keep an eye out for some more game day coverage later this afternoon. There may even be a HW q&a post going up later this afternoon.

How have the Kings changed over the offseason? Do you think it's for better or worse?

Although the roster experienced some slight turnover in this offseason (as opposed to the previous offseason after the Stanley Cup victory, in which the only player the Kings lost from their active roster was enforcer Kevin Westgarth who had not dressed in a single playoff game), for the most part the Kings are still returning the vast majority of players from last year's team. Due to the lowering of the salary cap, the Kings were unable to resign 34-year-old stay-at-home defenseman Rob Scuderi or inconsistent winger Dustin Penner, both of who returned home to their original teams (Pittsburgh and Anaheim, respectively). Scuderi showed signs of losing a step throughout the abbreviated 2013 campaign, as his underlying stats took a step backwards. Penner had well-documented issues putting up points in the regular season throughout his time with the Kings, and although he had a fantastic run during the 2011-12 playoffs, he wasn't particularly effective in the postseason last time around either (scoring just 5 points in 18 playoff games). While both players were important parts of the Stanley Cup Champion team, the Kings shouldn't have much of an issue replacing them. The Kings also watched free agent forward Brad Richardson sign with Vancouver in the offseason. Richardson spent more time in the press box than he had on the ice in the past few years with the Kings, as he was unable to crack the lineup with any consistency.

There was also a big trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the offseason, as the Kings traded backup goalie Jonathan Bernier for Toronto's backup goalie Ben Scrivens (who fought off a training champ challenge for LA's backup spot from veteran Mathieu Garon, in on a tryout) and young winger Matt Frattin. Bernier was a 1st round draft pick with a great pedigree who was once thought of as LA's starter-of-the-future, but Jonathan Quick beat him to the job and the rest, as they say, is history. Bernier performed well for the Kings when Quick struggled to start the 2012-13 season, but Scrivens is a more than capable backup and the speedy Frattin has showed some offensive upside so far in his very short professional hockey career (35 points in 44 career AHL games over two seasons, and last year 13 points in 25 NHL games with the Leafs). He's going to get a look on the wing with Mike Richards & Jeff Carter on the Kings' second line to open the season, and if he can perform well there it will be a huge pickup for the Kings. Additionally, the Kings also picked up a conditional 2nd round draft pick in the deal, AND the Leafs also agreed to retain $500,000 worth of salary, so they also picked up some much-needed cap space as well. It was quite an impressive haul for a backup goaltender, all things considered. Meanwhile, the Kings also traded a conditional 6th round draft pick to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for forward Daniel Carcillo.....for some reason. He's expected to spend a lot of time in the press box, where he belongs. Their only free agent signing of any note was defenseman Jeff Schultz after the Washington Capitals used a compliance buyout on him, a move designed as a backup plan (more on that in a second), but Schultz was put on waivers a few days ago and cleared, and has since been assigned to the AHL Manchester Monarchs.

The Kings' biggest improvement from last season may not come from any free agent signings or trades, but rather from the returns of two injured defensemen. Willie Mitchell, the veteran blueliner who was such a huge part of the 2011-12 Stanley Cup team, missed all of last season and the playoffs due to a severe knee injury. For a while it looked like his career might even be over (hence the signing of Schultz), but Mitchell made surprising progress in his rehabilitation this summer, made it to camp on-time, and now will be in LA's opening night roster. If Mitchell can play at anywhere close to the level he played at during the aforementioned Stanley Cup victory, in which he paired up with young offensive defenseman Slava Voynov to form possibly the best second pairing in the entire NHL, the Kings will immediately have a much better blueline than they iced in the 2012-13 campaign. Another stay-at-home defenseman, Matt Greene, was injured in the Kings' very first game against the Blackhawks last year, and missed nearly the entire year before coming back just before the playoffs. He will also be a big help to the LA defense this year, although it remains to be seen if his struggles after returning last season were primarily due to injury or the 30-year-old physical defender having lost a step as well.

Overall, I think the Kings have likely gotten better in the past offseason. Swapping out Scuderi for Mitchell is an upgrade, possibly an enormous one if Mitchell is able to stay healthy and perform at anywhere close to his previous level. Greene could potentially help out as well. Matt Frattin is a great addition to the Kings' forwards corps, with the potential to more than replace the very limited regular season production of Dustin Penner. The only position they've really taken a step back in would be backup goaltender, and unless Jonathan Quick struggles to start the regular season (which seems like an unlikely possibility; remember, his struggles to start the 2012-13 campaign came right after offseason back surgery, and he got progressively better as the season went along before putting up a .934 sv% in the playoffs), that's not exactly a position of great importance. There's also the potential for the Kings to be even better later in the year, as they have a number of young forwards (Tyler Toffoli, who played very well at times after being called up last year, along with Linden Vey & Tanner Pearson) who were very late training camp cuts and may be called back up to the NHL at some point.

Realistically, what are Kings fans expecting out of the team this season?

Oh, I don't know, how about a second Stanley Cup in three years? Most fans believe the Kings are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, and it's pretty easy to see why. If you put any stock into advanced stats whatsoever, the Kings actually *improved* in this category from their Stanley Cup victory in last year's shortened season. In 2011-12, they ranked 4th in the league with a Fenwick Close percentage of 53.60. Last year, they were 1st in the league at 57.35%, well-ahead of 2nd place Chicago (55.80%). Simply put, the Kings own the puck, and it is very, very difficult for the opposition to even attempt shots against them. Should the Kings not take a significant step back in this area, it's tough to see them not being a strong contender for the third season in a row. I haven't seen a single fan predict the Kings to be anything less than a serious contender, and personally I would consider them right there with the Blackhawks, Blues, & Sharks as one of the four most likely teams to come out of the Western Conference.

For the most part, national media have the Wild finishing a few places behind the Kings this season. What weaknesses do the kings have to overcome this year that the Wild could take advantage of?

If the Kings do have a significant weakness, it would be a lack of team speed. While not a slow team by any means, no one will confuse the Kings with speed demons either, and the Chicago Blackhawks took advantage of this in the Western Conference Finals last year. Should the Wild be able to roll four lines and consistently pressure the Kings breaking out of their own zone like the Blackhawks did in that playoff series, they may be able to have success against them (although Kings fans will also argue, perhaps rightfully so, that the Kings' self-evident exhaustion in that series was a huge contributing factor in the loss as well). However, I am doubtful looking at the Wild's roster that they are deep enough or talented enough on all four lines to be able to pressure the Kings with any consistency. I think it would take some monumental struggles from the Kings, such as Quick having another weak regular season or Mitchell & Greene both failing to be strong contributors coming off of injury, for the Wild to have much success against them this year. The Wild have an intriguing pool of prospects, but given the depth your team lost in the offseason I would have to agree with the pundits on this one.

Bonus question: how do you deal with Dustin Brown being your Captain?! :)

We love Dustin Brown, and you'll love him too when he's diving and flopping for Team USA in Sochi. : D

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