At the end of the 2007-08 season, the Kings and the Tampa Bay Lightning each had 71 points, the fewest in the NHL. The Lightning won the draft lottery and selected Steven Stamoks with the No. 1 pick. The Kings then took Drew Doughty at No. 2.
Now, the teams meet at STAPLES Center tonight in a very different environment. It’s still very early in the season, of course, but the Kings and Lightning each have 16 points in 11 games, the most in the NHL (tied with Washington).
For the Kings and Lightning, the quick turnaround has been fueled by a mix of talented young players and top-level veterans. The Kings have built around defense and goaltending, while the Lightning have pulled together a group of very talented forwards.
The teams met once last season, a 2-1 Kings shootout victory in Tampa Bay, and tonight will be another showdown between two of the league’s top young players.
Doughty, in his return after missing six consecutive games because of concussion symptoms, was a Norris Trophy finalist last season. Stamkos, also in his third NHL season, is off to a blistering start, with 10 goals and 10 assists in 11 games.
The two young Sun Belt teams will battle tonight, and one of them will be alone atop the NHL standings tomorrow morning, at least for one day.
"It's more about the turnarounds that are possible in the National Hockey League today," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "The parity is there, obviously. It could happen to any team in the league, and it has happened many times. You take a look at the young teams that have gone on to win, Chicago last year, Pittsburgh had a tremendous turnaround over the past few years, the Flyers, I was there when it was the team that finished 30th in the league and went deep into the playoffs the next year.
"So anything is possible. To me, it says a lot about the ownership of your hockey club. For your owner to say, `Stay with the program, bring your young players along,' that's a very encouraging statement whenever your owner says that, and it buys you the time to develop the right way and change your culture, bring your young players along and give them an opportunity to become NHL players."
There are a couple other subplots to tonight’s game.
For one, it’s a matchup of Leiwekes. Tim Leiweke is the Kings’ governor and his brother, Tod, recently left the Seattle Seahawks to become CEO of the Lightning. Tod Leiweke also previously served as president of the Minnesota Wild.
Two former Kings also hit town tonight. Teddy Purcell, traded to Tampa Bay last season, has one goal and six assists in 11 games for the Lightning. Randy Jones, who signed a free-agent contract during the summer, has three assists and a minus-1 rating,
Kings captain Dustin Brown celebrated his 26th birthday Thursday. Brown made his NHL debut on Oct. 9, 2003, just a couple weeks before his 19th birthday.
DOUGHTY ON GUARD
Doughty will be back in the lineup tonight after a six-game absence, and Murray said he wouldn’t hesitate to play Doughty upward of 28 minutes if situations dictated it.
Doughty also said he would play with a mouthguard, a piece of equipment believed to help protect players against concussions and jaw and neck injuries.
"We do encourage that, through the whole organization," Murray said. "Management, doctors, coaches, we all encourage the players to wear mouthguards. There is medical evidence that that is preventative for any kind of injury. Even going back to competing, battling, 1-on-1, 2-on-2, there is a strength element that does enter into it, when you can have something like that, a mouthguard, to bite down on. It does tighten up the muscles, and it is scientifically proven that you are a stronger player in those compete situations."
The Kings will go with a fourth line of Kyle Clifford, Brad Richardson and Trevor Lewis tonight, meaning Lewis will make his third appearance of the season.
"Trevor has been waiting patiently and has been working very, very hard in his practices to keep himself ready," Murray said. "It's time to get him back in the lineup and give him an opportunity to play. It's a game that's going to be a speed game. Tampa Bay plays chip-and-chase, and hunt it down, and a good transition game.
"With his speed, I'm hoping there is going to be a real good contribution from him in particular, and from that line with Richie in the middle. It should be good, intense, hunt the puck and make good things happen in the offensive zone."
As expected, Scott Parse will join Anze Kopitar and Brown on the first line. The Kings’ second and third lines will remain intact.