Los Angeles Kings: The 10 Biggest Threats to a Stanley Cup Repeat
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The Los Angeles Kings turned their season around when the playoffs started.
Instead of being slowed by their lack of goal scoring, the Kings found their stride and all aspects of their game clicked as they defeated the Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues, Phoenix Coyotes and finally the New Jersey Devils to win the first Stanley Cup in their history..
They may have been the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference going into the postseason, but they were clearly the NHL's best team in April, May and June.
As a result, they are the NHL's next dynasty, right?
Not so fast.
There are a number of opponents and reasons that will threaten the Kings' hold on the Stanley Cup.
Head Coach Darryl Sutter
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Darryl Sutter is all business as a head coach.
When he took over behind the bench last season, the Kings were floundering and had no identity. Sutter made sure that his players paid attention to the details and took their jobs seriously. Sutter clearly got overwhelmingly positive results.
However, it may be hard to take the serious-minded Sutter in big doses. He does not like to take it easy in practice or joke around with his players. He is known for his intensity and brings his focus to levels that many players may struggle to accept (source: ESPNLA.com).
He is a "my way or the highway" kind of coach, and that does not usually lead to long relationships. He may start to rub players the wrong way and that could make it difficult for players to play their best on a consistent basis.
Lack of Goal Scoring
Despite their great run in the playoffs, the Kings often struggled to score goals in 2011-12.
The Kings became a clutch scoring team in the playoffs.
However, their biggest problem prior to the postseason was their inability to score enough goals. The Kings scored 194 goals during the regular season. The only team to score fewer goals was the Minnesota Wild, who recorded 177 goals.
The Kings have plenty of goal scoring talent in Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown. However, if the Kings didn't discover the "secret" during the postseason and merely got hot at the right time, they will have a hard time scoring enough goals in 2012-13.
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There is no getting around the Stanley Cup hangover.
When you play hockey into the middle of June and you celebrate your triumph throughout the summer, it's difficult to prepare for the upcoming season the way you had in previous years.
There are many challenges. The body does not get the same chance to rest and recover. It's tough to hit the mental reset button. Is motivation the same after winning the Cup?
It's easy to say players and coaches will be prepared for another run, but it's difficult to sustain a high level of play the next season.
Jonathan Quick is a brilliant goaltender who ranks with New York's Henrik Lundqvist and Nashville's Pekka Rinne at the top of his profession.
He was at his best during the Stanley Cup run and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy after registering an incredible 1.41 goals-against average, a .946 save percentage and three shutouts.
Quick has incredible talent, but now his team becomes the hunted instead of the hunters.
Instead of saying Los Angeles is coming to town, opponents will prepare for the Stanley Cup champion Kings.
That means the Kings will see a different effort level from opponents and they will have to be prepared every night. That could impact Quick. He will once again have to raise his level to keep the Kings on top.
Can Jeff Carter sustain his level of play?
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How badly do they want to do it again?
There's no way to credibly answer this question at this point in the year.
You can't get through the rigors of four rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs without tremendous desire as well as talent.
However, after you have won the Stanley Cup, are you still just as hungry? Has the hunger been satisfied or does one championship just create the desire for more titles?
High-scoring Jeff Carter was a key performer in the Kings' Stanley Cup run, as he tied for the league lead with eight playoff goals. However, during the regular season, he scored 21 goals in 55 games between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Kings. The year before, he scored 36 goals with the Flyers.
Is Carter the kind of player who will remain hungry? He will have to show his coaches and teammates that the fire is still burning hot.
The Canucks are still a formidable opponent.
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The Kings will have to overcome very tough opponents if they are going to win another Stanley Cup title.
Underestimating the Vancouver Canucks would be a big mistake.
The Canucks are dealing with the back-to-back heartbreak of losing the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals to the Boston Bruins and dropping their 2012 first-round matchup to the Kings.
They will be mad as hell and may not be willing to take it anymore.
They have a powerful team that won the Presidents' Trophy last year and they are not about to go away.
Led by the high-scoring Daniel and Henrik Sedin, the Canucks can fill the net and dominate opponents. The Kings basically shut down the Canucks in the playoffs last year, but it is not likely to be as easy this time around.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues and T.J. Oshie play with an edge on an every-game basis.
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The Kings got a lift when Darryl Sutter took over behind their bench.
The St. Louis Blues got a similar boost when Ken Hitchcock took over as their head coach.
The Blues had a consistent season and were viewed as a possible Stanley Cup contender because of their sensational goaltending and hard-edged physical play.
If that sounds familiar, it should. That's the same style the Kings used last year.
The St. Louis Blues will be worthy challengers in 2012-13.
San Jose Sharks
Joe Thornton is still driving for that elusive Stanley Cup.
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The window of opportunity may not be open for the San Jose Sharks that much longer.
However, it has not closed yet.
Led by Joe Thornton, the Sharks still have a talented and deep team. If they can ever put their past playoff disappointments behind them, they could give the Kings all they could handle.
San Jose has never made it out of the Western Conference playoffs and their fans are growing tired of waiting. However, if they were to meet the Kings in a playoff series, they would be a formidable opponent.
Anaheim may not take kindly to their rivals winning the Stanley Cup.
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The Ducks have had to hear about the Kings winning the Stanley Cup all summer.
It is not pleasant news to them and hearing about Stanley Cup parties and celebrations gets under the skin after a while.
The Ducks were not a playoff team last year and they have plenty of their own issues. One of them is figuring out what they are going to do with Bobby Ryan (source: Los Angeles Times).
However, no matter how the rest of the offseason plays out, they will be ready to play every time they meet the Stanley Cup champions next season. That best effort will include plenty of physical play that may take quite a bit out of the defending champions.
A meeting with Brad Richards and the Rangers may be too much for the Kings to handle.
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If the Kings can overcome all the obstacles they will face next season, a return to the Stanley Cup Finals is a distinct possibility.
However, just getting there won't be enough. If they do square off against a tough Eastern Conference team, it may be too much for them.
Going into the season, the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers all would appear to have the kind of weapons on hand that could prevent the Kings from repeating their championship.
The Rangers have a great leader in Brad Richards, fantastic goaltending with Henrik Lundqvist and an aggressive shot-blocking defense. The Bruins have size, strength, toughness and clutch goal scoring talent. The Penguins have a healthy Sidney Crosby and defending scoring champion and Hart Trophy-winner Evgeni Malkin. The Flyers have overpowering scoring depth.
Any one of those teams could find a way to defeat the Kings in a seven-game series.
Not saying they will, but it would take a sensational effort to repeat the 2012 championship.