|The Kings opened their first training camp after a playoff appearance since the fall of 2002.
Last season, the Kings were one of the most talked-about teams in the NHL, as they achieved solid success with one of the youngest rosters in the league.
On Saturday morning, the Kings hit the ice for the start of 2010 training camp. The challenge now is to start the climb again, and perhaps climb even higher this time.
From general manager Dean Lombardi to coach Terry Murray to all 60 players in camp, the Kings know that they're no longer a surprise team. Most league pundits now expect the Kings to make the playoffs, something that couldn't be said a year ago, and in many ways the Kings are now the hunted and not the hunters.
That's a big transition, but one that winger and team captain Dustin Brown
, entering his seventh season with the Kings, said the team is prepared to embrace.
``I think it's similar to last year,'' Brown said. ``We had an expectation to make the playoffs. I think it's similar in that we have that expectation for this team. The difference is that our expectations for this team are a lot greater than they were for last year's team. Prior to that, we didn't really have expectations, period.
``We made the playoffs last year. That was our expectation. Now we want to get to the playoffs and do something while we're there. I think last year was a vital part of that learning process, not only with the experience but with knowing what it takes to make the playoffs. At the start of this season, it's really important for us to get off to a good start.''
The Kings finished sixth in the Western Conference last season, made the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and lost to Vancouver in six games in the first round.
Most of that team has returned. The holes created by the departures of regular players such as winger Alexandr Frolov and defenseman Sean O'Donnell were filled with the signings of winger Alexei Ponikarovsky and defenseman Willie Mitchell
And while the Kings didn't make a huge splash in the free-agent or trade markets, Lombardi and Murray are counting on the team improving simply with experience.
Brown, Anze Kopitar
, Drew Doughty
, Jack Johnson and Jonathan Quick
, arguably considered the core of the team, are all age 25 or younger, meaning that they are still at the stage of their careers at which they should be improving every year.
Based on that, Murray said he feels comfortable with the group at the start of training camp.
``My approach, at the beginning, will be similar to what it has been in the past,'' Murray said. ``The most important thing is getting that foundation in the checking part of the game. That's always the part that we will be identified with. But we're looking at pushing more of the offensive side of the game. I know that we have to improve on the 5-on-5 offensive numbers.
``We're encouraging puck possession. We want attacks. We want little plays made in that offensive zone, driving hard through to the net, getting pucks to the net. We'll stay with that throughout the camp and I believe, over the long haul, that's going to pay big dividends for us.'' WHAT'S MY LINE
The Kings figure to have a new look all around this season.
When healthy, at the start of last season, the Kings' first line of Kopitar, Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams
was one of the best in the league, but the Kings' first line had a new look when camp started Saturday.
Brown moved up to join Kopitar and Smyth, while Williams played right wing on a line with center Jarret Stoll
and left winger Scott Parse
. The other regular line figures to feature center Michal Handzus and wingers Ponikarovsky and Wayne Simmonds.
``I spent considerable time over the offseason looking at line combinations,'' Murray said. ``I arrived at what you’re seeing on the ice, and that’s something I want to go with throughout the training camp and get some looks in the exhibition games and see how it comes along.''
The Kings had a couple potential fourth lines. On one, Trevor Lewis
centered Brad Richardson
and Kevin Westgarth
. On another, Brayden Schenn centered Oscar Moller and Kyle Clifford
. Players such as Rich Clune
, Corey Elkins
and Andrei Loktionov
also figure to get long looks for fourth-line roles.
On defense, Doughty paired with Mitchell, Johnson paired with Rob Scuderi
, and Davis Drewiske
paired with Peter Harrold. Young defensemen such as Thomas Hickey
, Jake Muzzin
, Johan Fransson
and Alec Martinez
are also competing for a lineup spot. BATTLE IN GOAL
The most intriguing training-camp competition figures to be in goal. Quick, who set franchise goalie records for games and wins last season, is entrenched as the No. 1 goalie, but there is heavy competition between Jonathan Bernier
and Erik Ersberg for the No. 2 spot.
Ersberg has primarily been the Kings' backup goalie for the past three seasons and has done a capable job, but Bernier was the top goalie in the American Hockey League last season and is, quite possibly, ready to supplant Ersberg.
``In net, it’s going to be an interesting battle,'' Murray said. ``Quick is our No. 1 guy, and we’ve got Bernier and Ersberg who are going to compete very hard for the No. 2 position. Clearly the organization is not going to carry three goaltenders, so as we get through the scrimmages and into the games, they will be watched very closely by everybody in the organization.''
Of the 60 players on the training-camp roster, only two were not on the ice at some point. Matt Greene
(shoulder) and Colten Teubert (thumb) are out. Slava Voynov
(shoulder) has not been cleared for contact but did participate in some drills, and Marc-Andre Cliche
(knee) did some conditioning skating.
Schenn, who missed last week's rookie camp with a sore knee, was able to fully participate in Saturday's practice. COMING UP
Training camp continues Sunday with practices from 8:30-10:45 a.m., 11:15 a.m,-1:30 p.m. and 2:15-4:30 p.m. at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo.