Los Angeles Kings Remain Tough Opponent Despite Losing Kovalchuk Bidding War


Los Angeles Kings Remain Tough Opponent Despite Losing Kovalchuk Bidding War The Kings are coming off a breakthrough season in 2009-10. They qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2002, had more points than any L.A. team since the 1990-91 squad finished with 102 in the midst of Wayne Gretzky‘s heyday in Hollywood and their 46 wins tied a franchise high from that same season. For all that, the Kings still failed to get out of the first round in the postseason, but the pieces are in place for another potential breakthrough to even bigger things this season.

2009-10 Record: 46-27-9, 101 points (3rd Pacific Division, 6th Western Conference, lost in first round to Vancouver, 4-2)

Bruins record vs. Kings: Boston leads the all-time series 78-33-13-3, but the Bruins lost both meetings last season in shootouts, falling 4-3 in L.A. on Jan. 16 and 3-2 at the Garden on Jan. 30. Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar did the bulk of the damage as they each scored goals in both games and Kopitar also scored in both shootouts.

When to watch: The Bruins host the Kings on Saturday, Nov. 20 and go to L.A. on Monday, Jan. 24.

Familiar faces: Goalie Jonathan Quick, who set a Kings record with 39 wins last season, hails from Milford, Conn. and honed his skills at UMass-Amherst, while defenseman Peter Harrold played at Boston College.

Key additions: F Alexei Ponikarovsky (free agent)

Key losses: F Alexander Frolov (signed with N.Y. Rangers); D Sean O’Donnell (signed with Philadelphia); F Raitis Ivanans (signed with Calgary); F Juraj Mikus (signed with Spartak Moscow)

Burning question: Can the Kings compete for the Cup without Ilya Kovalchuk?

The Kings were in on the Kovalchuk sweepstakes this summer, but dropped out when the bidding reached ridiculous levels — so ridiculous that the NHL rejected Kovalchuk’s 17-year, $102-million deal with New Jersey pending a grievance hearing this week. It’s hard to blame the Kings for not matching that, but would Kovalchuk have put them over the top as a title contender? L.A. also didn’t land Simon Gagne and despite persistent rumors, don’t seem inclined to trade for Marc Savard. They settled for Alexei Ponikarovsky (21-29-50 last year), but he merely replaces the departed Frolov (19-32-51) instead of upgrading the attack. The Kings still have a solid offense led by emerging star Kopitar and will now have plenty of cap space to re-sign standout young defenders Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson when their entry-level deals expire after the season. But is there enough firepower to match up with Chicago, San Jose and Detroit in the West?

2010-11 outlook: Even without Kovalchuk, the Kings won’t be a fun team to play against. They can still put pressure on a defense with Kopitar (34-47-81), Ryan Smyth (22-31-53) and Dustin Brown (24-32-56) leading the way. They lost some toughness with enforcer Ivanans and former Bruin O’Donnell leaving via free agency and Matt Greene sidelined with a shoulder injury to start the season, but Brown has finished in the top three in the league for hits in each of the last four years and Wayne Simmonds supplies plenty of sandpaper to the lineup, so they won’t exactly be pushovers in the physical game either.

Did you know? Kopitar is one player opposing goalies don’t want to see skating to center ice for the shootout. He was 8-of-16 on shootout attempts last year and is 18 for 40 (45 percent) for his career. That includes six game-deciding shootout goals. He was also 2 for 2 against the Bruins last year, helping the Kings sweep the season series with Boston.

Next: We’ll head to Phoenix on Thursday to check out last year’s biggest surprise while the Coyotes are still calling the desert home.

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