The oft-cited Stanley Cup hangover seemed to be in full force and effect during the first three games of the new season.
The pundits speculated that the Kings might well avoid it, as they entered the 2012-13 season still an exceedingly young team, presumably hungry for more success after decades of franchise futility. Virtually the entire roster was back from a club with incredible chemistry that kicked in just before the trade deadline and ended with captain Dustin Brown hoisting the Cup high overhead. The truncated schedule was considered advantageous as well, forcing the team to stay focused with so many games in such a short time span. Besides, Hollywood is used to all-night parties, isn’t it? Hangovers are for neophytes.
To a large extent, however, this is a team of neophytes. Kyle Clifford is just 22, Drew Doughty 23, Dwight King 23, Jordan Nolan 23, Jake Muzzin 23, Slava Voynov 23. Speaking of 23, Dustin Brown is virtually an elder statesman now at 28. Anze Kopitar is just now beginning to enter his prime at the age of 25. Party boys Mike Richards (27) and Jeff Carter (28) join Brown as seasoned-not-saggy veterans. Eight other players on the roster are on the right side of 30, including franchise goaltender Jonathan Quick and his backup Jonathan Bernier. With all the diapers and pimples on the roster, perhaps this was a team even more susceptible to the dreaded hangover than most.
A slow start
After a long Stanley Cup ceremony at the Staples Center on opening night, the team got down to business against the Chicago Blackhawks, who quickly proceeded to give Los Angeles the business, beating them 5-2. With Marian Hossa leading the way with two goals and Michael Frolik, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane notching one apiece, the Kings were unable to match, scoring just two goals from unlikely sources Rob Scuderi and Jordan Nolan. Against the Avalanche at the Pepsi Center, the Kings held a slim 1-0 lead for much of the game after a Kyle Clifford goal, but surrendered three goals in the first 8:16 of the third period to fall 3-1. Lastly, Los Angeles was just 4.7 seconds from their first victory when top pick Nail Yukapov scored to tie the game, forcing the overtime. In the extra session, Sam Gagne batted the puck past Jonathan Quick for the game winner, sending the Kings to their third straight defeat.
Is there a Stanley Cup hangover in La-La land? Tongue-in-cheek references notwithstanding, it’s too early to say for sure. Noteworthy to the effort to thwart it, however, was General Manager Dean Lombardi’s intensive study of franchises such as the Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Lakers, San Francisco 49ers and New York Yankees to see if he could discern how they managed to enjoy extended periods of success in their respective sports. With 25 pages of notes and after having talked to some very high-profile individuals, he said this about winning: “You think you know it all, but you know nothing. It was fascinating. I was very fortunate to talk to some highly successful people.”
And yet, the first three games spun almost completely out of control for Los Angeles. The top line hadn’t earned a single point, Jonathan Quick was average at best, the defense looked at times confused and the power play was anything but, going 0-for-18. Would Los Angeles break through against bitter divisional rival Phoenix?
The Kings paper train the Dogs
Phoenix started the season just about as poorly as Los Angeles, losing to Dallas, Chicago and San Jose and beating Columbus. At home against the Kings and playing against the team that eliminated them from the playoffs in controversial fashion, the Coyotes fell behind 3-1 after two periods on the strength of two Anze Kopitar goals and a Jeff Carter tally, sandwiched around a Mikkel Boedker power play goal, all in the second period. Shane Doan’s wrister twenty-two seconds into the third drew the Coyotes close, but Jake Muzzin’s goal at the 8:35 mark sealed it for the Kings. With the 4-2 win, Los Angeles had earned their first win of the season.
Right winger Justin Williams summed the start to the season as follows: “We’re getting there. It’s a process. You don’t play for six, seven months, it doesn’t come back in the snap of a hat.”
The week ahead
Los Angeles plays the Canucks Monday night at the Staples Center, followed by the Predators at home on Thursday. They travel to the Honda Center on Sunday to play crosstown rival Anaheim. With three games in their own backyard and all against Western Conference rivals, this week should go a long way toward determining whether a gloomy cloud or rays of sunshine stream over the team during the initial stretch of the 2012-13 season.
More importantly, perhaps they had cleared the hangover fog. Yes, it was only three games, but in a shortened season with expectations so high, the Kings just aren’t allowed to leave the party early. It’s Hollywood after all.
Walter McLaughlin is a Los Angeles Kings correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He is an avid sports fan, having followed the Kings since living in L.A. in the mid-1970’s, as well as suffering through Seattle sports teams’ general futility. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and has worked in community banking for over 25 years, specializing in SBA loans. He is married and has two daughters.