The Los Angeles Kings begin their quest to repeat as Stanley Cup champions against the Chicago Blackhawks at the Staples Center this Saturday, January 19. The game kicks off an abbreviated 48-game schedule that resembles more of a race to the finish line than the usual 82-game slate.
Believe it or not, the shorter schedule benefits the Kings. The team played 102 games last season. That’s a lot of wear and tear on the players, which is one reason why winning back-to-back titles is difficult. The current schedule does stuff 48 games into just over three months, but the NHL did a solid job putting together connecting road trips and long-term homestands to help alleviate travel concerns.
Goaltender Jonathan Quick stands to gain the most from this shortened schedule. He was rarely rested last year, and his body will be better suited to handle the daily grind, especially after undergoing back surgery in the offseason.
Unfortunately, the schedule does have a downside. The Kings don’t have 82-games to figure it out like they did last year. They will need to be ready to play from the moment the puck drops on Saturday.
Furthermore, forward Anze Kopitar is still recovering from a sprained knee and will likely miss the Blackhawks game. It’s going to take another week or so for him to get back to 100 percent.
The team is also looking forward to defenseman Willie Mitchell’s return. He still hasn’t recovered from offseason knee surgery, and there is no set date for his return to the lineup. The Kings will be short-handed on the blue line while they await his return to active duty.
Still, the Kings front office managed to keep the rest of last season’s team together, which means they will have the benefit of continuity since the roster remained intact. They also have the benefit of starting the season with Daryl Sutter leading the team. The Kings know his system, and there shouldn’t be many adjustments required for them to hit their peak.
What many fans don’t understand is that the Kings played well-below their talent level for much of 2011-12. This team is loaded everywhere on the ice. There was no excuse for them to finish second to last in goals scored like they did a year ago. The Kings have tremendous offensive talent, and there’s no reason to believe that Sutter won’t bring out the best in this team again.
Look for the Kings to win the division title and contend for a second straight Stanley Cup. They have the talent and the schedule to do it.