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Quick, Gaborik keys to Kings' quest for Cup repeat

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

Time passes quickly around the Los Angeles Kings' practice facility. Not three months expired before they were back on the ice, ready to defend the Stanley Cup; that has become the norm for a team that has made three straight trips to the final four.

"I talked to Mike [Richards] and he was just saying, 'We just finished practice [from last season],'" coach Darryl Sutter said.

The Kings' underlying theme at the start of camp was getting off to a better start and not cutting it so close: Los Angeles has finished eighth, fifth and sixth in the Western Conference the past three seasons.

"Everybody's saying today our goal is to win the Stanley Cup," Sutter said. "Thirty teams are saying that. Their real, more important goal, is to make the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs."

By all accounts the Kings had a more rigid offseason structure for transitioning to the 2014-15 season, which should further solidify them as the team to beat in the Western Conference.

"We've got basically the same team," forward Justin Williams said. "I feel our hunger is going to be exactly where it needs to be because we've felt what it tasted like to have it and to have it taken away from us."

Here are three keys for the Kings to have it again:

1. Keep Jonathan Quick healthy -- Quick is recovering from an undisclosed wrist procedure that he played through from the Western Conference Second Round through June. He was on the ice on the first day of training camp but said, "Obviously it's not 100 percent yet. But we're working it and we're right on track with where I thought we'd be at."

This is the third significant injury for Quick, 28. He had back surgery after leading the Kings to the Cup in 2012 and sustained a grade-2 groin strain in November 2013. The Kings didn't miss a beat during the latter, but it's in their best interest not to have him miss large stretches of the season.

2. Get a full season's production out of Marian Gaborik -- It's one thing for Gaborik to catch fire with the Kings in a small sample size like the end of last season. It's quite another to see if he can maintain that for a full season, the first of a seven-year, $34 million contract he signed in June.

Gaborik joined the Kings via trade March 5 and scored 14 goals in 26 playoff games. Much of that had to do with the chemistry he developed with center Anze Kopitar, and there's no reason to think that can't continue.

The Kings averaged 2.42 goals per game in the regular season, 26th in the League. Led by Gaborik, that figure rose to 3.38 in the playoffs.

"Hopefully he can provide some scoring during the regular season that we usually need," Kopitar said. "It'll be great. We clicked last year. He made it easy for us to welcome him to the team. He was very open about it. He was very chatty, too. It's not hard to get along with him."

3. Learn from their previous defense of the Cup -- The last time the Kings tried to repeat, they began that season 6-6-2. Captain Dustin Brown said their approach is different this time as around.

"Being more ready, more prepared to get back to work quicker," Brown said. "It was different circumstances with the lockout and everything that entailed. When we got back it was a lot more celebrating. As a group of guys we understand what it takes to get off to a good start."

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