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Kings remain hungry for another Stanley Cup

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.



There's a reason no Stanley Cup champion has repeated since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98.

"It's damn hard," forward Justin Williams said.

It got harder because the rest of the Western Conference upgraded in the offseason. But if there's a team that's poised to pull it off, it's a Kings team that returns everybody except defenseman Willie Mitchell.

"I think some people talk about being satisfied after winning one," defenseman Alec Martinez said. "But personally … it really makes you hungrier. You want to do it again. The amount of fun that you have, just with your teammates, with your family, it's a really special thing and you want to keep doing and do it as many times as you can. 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."

Unlike when they defended the Cup in 2013, the Kings say they are better prepared for it this time around and stuck to a well-defined offseason timetable for getting back to work. There won't be much speculation about a roster that hasn't changed much for three years running, but there are a few wrinkles as L.A. begins its second title defense.

Forwards

It hardly was surprising to see that the Kings opened training camp with the same line combinations they used during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Marian Gaborik-Anze Kopitar-Dustin Brown line was terrific and well complemented by the dynamic of the Tyler Toffoli-Jeff Carter-Tanner Pearson line.

The most intriguing aspect of the top six is whether the Kings can get a full season of production from Gaborik, who came to Los Angeles at the NHL Trade Deadline and formed a seemingly telepathic partnership with Kopitar.

Gaborik liked his new home so much he didn't test free agency, instead signing a seven-year, $34 million contract in June.

"I've made enough money my whole career," Gaborik said. "So it wasn't about money. To get a taste of the Cup I think that gives you motivation to repeat and to be hungry again. That is that motivation to go back there, to do it with this team and to play in this environment and to play in this state is an awesome mix. I didn't want to leave."

Kopitar got recognition for his two-way play as a Selke Trophy finalist and will look to lead the Kings in scoring for the eighth straight season. Brown muddled through inconsistency until after the 2014 Sochi Olympics and will look to have a better all-around season.

Whether Toffoli and Pearson can continue their chemistry with Carter is another question. Pearson's two-way ability became increasingly evident last season and Toffoli always seems to be in the right place to finish. Carter scored 27 goals in his first 82-game season with L.A. and has been more effective since he was moved to center.

That allowed the Kings to put Justin Williams on the third line with Jarret Stoll and Dwight King, while Mike Richards was with Kyle Clifford and Trevor Lewis. The bottom six likely will see more experimentation as Richards seeks to shake off a poor offensive season (11 goals, 41 points in 82 games).

Richards, who scored one goal between Nov. 25 and March 1, hired a trainer for the first time since his junior-hockey days "just to push me and make sure I'm there every day, almost like a babysitter, I guess.

"I worked out in the city, too, with other guys who are in the NHL. I think just having that presence around people and working out to push each other, I think for the first time I saw the benefit of it."

The Kings are just under the salary cap so there's not room for promotion, although that could change with injuries. Adam Cracknell and David Van der Gulik were signed for depth.

Defensemen

It seems a crime that Drew Doughty didn't finish in the top five in Norris Trophy voting, which took place before the playoffs. That's Doughty's time to shine, and he made an argument that the Kings can boast the best goalie and best defenseman in the NHL after he had 18 points in 26 playoff games and logged 40 minutes of ice time twice in the Stanley Cup Final.

Doughty, who sat out the beginning of camp with an upper-body injury sustained during the offseason, also helped make Jake Muzzin into a first-pairing NHL defenseman who averaged 19:01 of ice time per game in the regular season.

The Kings largely kept their defense intact with Robyn Regehr, Slava Voynov, Matt Greene and Martinez, who scored the series-clinching goals in the Western Conference Final and Cup Final.

For the first time in five years the Kings won't have Mitchell's veteran presence on and off the ice. General manager Dean Lombardi didn't have room to re-sign him after he signed Greene to a four-year extension.

"He was a huge part of our team and part of our run both years," Martinez said of Mitchell. "It's just like when you lose a guy to injury. You're not going to replace a guy with one other person. Everyone's got to elevate their game and it's time for other guys to step up in a leadership role. We're going to miss him but I'm confident in the depth in our defense and how much we've grown as a [defense] corps the past couple of years."

Brayden McNabb figures to get a look as he progresses into becoming an NHL regular. At 6-foot-4 and 208 pounds he projects as puck mover with snarl if he can improve his skating. McNabb knows it's a tough lineup to crack but it helped that he was with the team during the Cup run.

"That's a huge learning experience for myself and I think it's going to benefit me going forward here, just seeing what they went through and fuel the fire for myself to hopefully someday win a Stanley Cup," McNabb said.

"It helps me with the systems and being in the meetings during the playoffs definitely helps with how they play the game."

Goalies

Jonathan Quick opened camp skating with the team but the Kings will give him ample time to properly recover from a June wrist procedure. Quick played with the injury from the Western Conference Second Round series through the Final, which might explain why his 2.58 goals-against average and .911 save percentage wasn't close to the remarkable standard he set during the 2012 Cup run, although those statistics were skewed by the 13 goals allowed in the first two games of the first round.

Quick otherwise remains the least of the Kings' worries. He has 31 shutouts, one behind Rogie Vachon's franchise mark of 32, and Quick also should reach 200 regular-season wins.

Martin Jones, who began his NHL career 8-0-0, proved himself in the Kings' system and will need to continue that if he's leaned on while Quick recuperates.
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