The Staples Center will be packed tomorrow with fans eagerly awaiting the return of their Stanley Cup Champion LA Kings. Celebrations are scheduled to begin long before the start of the banner raising ceremony at 3pm ET (2pm CT), officially sealing off the Kings’ 2011-2012 victory year, and announcing the hunt for a new champion.
For Chicago Blackhawks, the spectacle will be all too familiar, it being only two years since their own banner was raised amidst seas of cheering fans. That night however, was tainted by a loss to the Detroit Red Wings 3-2. Having made early exists from the playoffs the last two years, the Blackhawks would like nothing more than to make a splash Saturday afternoon and steal the spotlight on LA’s big day.
Tearing down the Kings’ reign will not be easy.
Last season the Kings went 3 for 4 against the Blackhawks, including two shutouts. The only win Chicago managed was a 2-1 victory at the top of the season in LA.
|March 11, 2012||LA @ CHI||LA 3-2|
|February 25, 2012||CHI @ LA||LA 4-0|
|December 28, 2011||LA @ CHI||LA 2-0|
|November 16. 2011||CHI @ LA||CHI 2-1|
But that was last year, right? And the Kings have got to be experiencing some of that post-championship hangover, right?
Don’t be so sure.
The LA Kings were able to retain the vast majority of their roster, and Chicago has made very few changes to the core crew, meaning the two teams who dropped the puck with each other last year are essentially back on the ice tomorrow.
LA was dominant at the start of their 2011 season and under the pressure of the playoffs were absolutely able to capitalize. This opening night for them is about putting on a show for their fans and demonstrating they are a cup contender again by delivering the win, which in no way should be influenced by any kind of “hangover” given the extra long break the team had due to the work stoppage.
Chicago goes into this game with a lot to prove defensively. By far the Blackhawks struggled most last season in goal and with special teams –Chicago’s PP ranked 26th and their PK 27th last year. New defenseman Sheldon Brookbank should have an easier time adjusting to the Hawks’ line as he has been practicing consistently throughout the offseason with his new teammates, and coach Joel Quenneville has already started to mix up the PP with Viktor Stalberg and Andrew Shaw, but was this shortened training camp enough to prepare Chicago overall for their spotlight debut?
No one is going to be under more scrutiny tonight than goaltender Corey Crawford. Starting his third year with the Blackhawks, the pressure is on in between the pipes, with a less than ideal exit from the playoffs last year following a few soft goals in OT. Luckily, Crawford has shown some fire this past week, getting ready to convince us he has the consistency in goal Chicago needs.
CHI v LA, 3pm ET (2pm CT) on NBC, tune in a little late if you’re not up for the pomp and circumstance of the first ever LA Kings’ Stanley Cup Championship banner to be raised. Going to be a close game, very high energy.
Hockey is back ladies and gentlemen.
Injuries: Chicago’s Steve Montador remains out indefinitely with a concussion. LA will be short Willie Mitchellwho is recovering from knee surgery he underwent this summer, and Anze Kopitar, who suffered a knee injury while playing in Sweden just days before an agreement was reached between the NHL and NHLPA to end the lockout.
UPDATE: Chiago Captain, Jonathan Toews, travelled with the team to LA, but missed Friday afternoons team practice because of the flu, but Quenneville is hopeful he will make it to the ice tomorrow.
(This post appeared previously on thecheckingline.com)