Saturday, January 29, 2011

Kopitar vs. Ovechkin at Super Skills Event

In a few short hours the second wave of this year's NHL All Star Weekend will get underway with the popular Super Skills Competition.

Team captains Nicklas Lidstrom and Eric Staal met with Brendan Shanahan, NHL Vice President of Hockey and Business Development, earlier this morning to determine which of their players would participate in each event.

Last night, the Kings' Anze Kopitar was selected by Lidstrom in the 15th round (30th overall) of the All Star Fantasy Draft. He now knows which events his team captain has assigned him to...

First, he'll be part of a three-man unit (also comprised of Florida's Evgeny Dadonov and Vancouver's Henrik Sedin) taking part in the Breakaway Challenge.

Fans at home will be allowed to vote on the winner of this event - something that will certainly be needed for Kopitar's group, as they're taking on Alexander Ovechkin (the two-time defending champion of this event), Corey Perry and PK Suban.

Friday, January 28, 2011

NHL All Star Game Mock Draft with Anze Kopitar

In a little less than an hour hockey fans everywhere will be treated to something truly unique.

This year's NHL All Star teams will be selected by Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit Red Wings) and Eric Staal (Carolina Hurricanes) in a live television draft.

The pre-event storylines are abundant - will the Sedin twins be slit up? Will teammates, like Pittsburgh's Kris Letang and Marc Andre Fleury, end up on separate sides? Will Staal take fellow Hurricanes Cam Ward and Jeff Skinner? Will Lidstrom draft a heavy-Western Conference team?

It's a situation where the questions are near endless.

Yet, for the Kings' Anze Kopitar, the process will relatively stress free.  He doesn't have another guys from LA with him - so no separation anxiety here or possible hits from Jack Johnson to concern himself with. It's only been a few weeks since Slovenia even had a second player in the NHL (Jan Mursak of the red Wings). Thus, he won't be worrying about national pride when lacing up the skates this weekend either.

Perhaps the only thing on his mind right now is will he be the last player selected? A shame that nobody wanted as a kid, nor even sounds appealing to a professional athlete making millions of dollars. Regardless of circumstance, that's embarrassing.

NHL All Star Game Mock Draft with Matt Greene

Kings defenseman was Matt Greene was the 44th overall pick back at the 2002 NHL Draft. So, he knows all about waiting around to be selected.

Right now, he's probably half way to Pioneertown (story here). However, before he left we did a mock draft for this weekend's NHL All Star Game.

Like the mock drafted posted earlier today with Drew Doughty, we only took one goalie, two defensemen and three forwards from the pool of available players (excluding Anze Kopitar, due to them being teammates).

Perhaps displaying a bit of the brain power he put to use at the University of North Dakota, Greene carefully thought about each selection and provided commentary along the way.

When selecting his first forward he said "I'll take Stamkos. He scores a lot."

Then, he started talking strategy, after noting that he already has a center he added "I'll go with Giroux at wing."

NHL All Star Game Mock Draft with Drew Doughty

All Star Games in every sport have become boring.

We all know it.

If the game is in your city, it's a great experience - as it was here in Los Angeles in 2002...a weekend filled with legends of the game everywhere, the fan fest, a skills competition, etc.

However, the game itself isn't much to get pumped for unless you're there live. Even the honor of being selected to play doesn't seem to mean what it once did, with more and more athletes finding reasons to have a mini-vacation instead of attending the event with their peers.

Major League Baseball attempted to give theirs a little umph a few years ago by affixing a meaningful prize to the winning league - home field advantage in the playoffs. Sounds great on the surface, but it's hard for fans to invest emotionally in July for an outcome that may or may not mean something to their team three months later. Not to mention the nonsensical correlation between a team gaining such a critical advantage for a championship series by an All Star team victory.

This year the NHL takes its turn at trying to spice things up a bit and I love what they've done.

The game will probably be the same, perhaps only slightly better.

However, there is much more intrigue leading up to tonight than in any All Star Game of recent memory.

At 5pm PST the All Star Draft will get underway on live TV. If you haven't heard, gone is the Western Conference vs. Eastern Conference format. Instead, each team has been assigned a captain (Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings and Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes) and three assistants. All other players have been put in a general pool and one by one they'll be selected to their teams, just like kids on a school yard or frozen pond.

With that in mind, I sat down with a few Kings players to do a mock draft before they all went their separate ways this weekend.  First up, defenseman Drew Doughty.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What the Others Are Doing

After last night's 3-2 shootout victory over the visiting San Jose Sharks, the Kings will be enjoying some much needed time off for the next four days.

Well, everybody except Anze Kopitar - he's heading to the NHL All Star Game in Raleigh, NC.

What are the others doing? Take a look...

Jack Johnson - I'm going home. I'm really excited about being able to go home for a few days to refresh, recharge, see some buddies and sleep in my own bed.

Drew Doughty - Nothing too special. I'd like to go home, but worrying about getting back here on time with all the snowstorms and stuff like that, it's kinda risky to go home. So, I'm just going to stick around here (LA) and maybe do some things around the area that I haven't done before.

Terry Murray - Weekend To Do List

In the end, the Kings were able to finish the month of January on a high note.

After a dismal 2-6 homestand a few weeks ago, they've now won three in a row - two against division opponents.

The road ahead won't be any easier. They'll be spending the next four weeks away from Staples Center, playing ten games.

So, while most of the hockey world will be focused on the NHL All-Star Game in Raleigh, NC over the next few days, coach Terry Murray is looking forward to using the time in ways that can improve the Kings.

He admits that after last season's Olympic break the team came out flat and he thinks they "have to give this one a good focus to come back out the same way we're playing right now" - something we talked more specifically about in the exchange below...

MM: Assuming you'll be reviewing offense, defense, the power play and many other aspects of the overall game - is there one particular area you're most excited to spend some extra time on?

TM: Yeah, I want to try to build some more speed through the middle of the ice. I think at times we get a little stagnant, a little stale with a stationary look - where we're one-touching the puck quick deep off a quick counter. It's deep to get a forecheck going, but now we have to build our speed to recover that puck. Sometimes it's too late. So, I'd like to continue to push that part of it. In fact, what we've been doing the last few days in practice is to generate more foot speed and more movement from all three forwards, rather than one or two. That's a focus we'll continue on pushing as we get out of the break and back into practice and playing games.

MM: To push speed up the middle - does that mean you might think about moving Andrei Loktionov back to center, where he was playing with Manchester?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Doughty, Smyth, Kopitar - Feeling Trapped?

Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar and Ryan Smyth have very different plans for this weekend. More on that tomorrow though. For now, they have a game to play against the San Jose Sharks.

Throughout the season you hear about trap games, ones where a team might be caught sleeping. Is tonight one of those games, coming just before the All Star break that begins tomorrow?

The three Kings weigh in on the issue below and offered up some additional thoughts on the match-up at Staples Center.

But, first, coach Terry Murray's thoughts on the possible trap ahead...

Murray: Yeah, there's guys looking, I'm sure. They've been looking ahead. They've already made plans and some guys are going to get out of town. But, it's just part of the human nature. You just cannot let it get distracting for you. You have to plan, you have to live your life, you have a lot of things going on out there. That's something you can't stop. But, we all know (this is) the last game before the break and the importance of the game - to keep things rolling and do things right. It will be a fun challenge.

POLL: Best Gretzky Game with LA Kings

The name Wayne Gretzky means many things to many people.

For most, it simply means hockey.

He retired on April 18, 1999 with 61 NHL records. Since then, only one - most career assists in the All-Star Game - has been broken.

The move that brought him to Los Angeles will probably forever be the biggest trade in sports history. Gretzky played 539 regular season and another 60 playoff games for the Los Angeles Kings. Of course, there were many memorable moments.

In honor of Wayne's 50th birthday today we have a quick poll question - Which of his nearly 600 Kings games was most memorable?

The leading candidates...

October 6, 1988 vs. Detroit - in his first game as a King, Gretzky scores a goal on his first shot

October 15, 1989 - in a game that only Hollywood script writers could come up with, Gretzky returns to Edmonton and scores his 1,851st point in the final minute of the game, setting the all-time NHL record for most points (video)

Game Six 1993 Campbell Conference Finals - prior to the game columnist Bob McKenzie noted that Gretzky was playing like he had a piano on his back throughout the series with Toronto. The Great One then went out and proved you don't call out a legend like that, scoring the game winner in overtime for the Kings. He also high sticked Doug Gilmour a few minutes earlier in a play that Leaf fans will forever claim should have been a penalty (full story here).

Game Seven 1993 Campbell Conference Finals - one of the greatest games in one of the greatest playoff series in NHL history. Gretzky scores a hat-trick, with the third goal coming on a play where he circled behind the net and backhanded it off the skate of Leafs defenseman Dave Ellet. Kings win the game and go on to play for the Stanley Cup (video highlights here).

December 28, 1993 vs. Vancouver Canucks - Gretzky bats a goal out of mid air, like a baseball player (video)

March 23, 1994 vs Vancouver Canucks - Gretzky scores goal 802, passing his childhood hero, Gordie Howe, for the most goals ever scored (tribute video shown at Forum)

February 26, 1996 vs. Winnipeg Jets - his final game as a King came at the end of a road trip through Canada. When the team landed back home at LAX, a press conference was called and the announcement was made, #99 had been traded to the St. Louis Blues.

Poll closes tomorrow at 11:30am PST.

The Mayor

Kings Junior Prospects Square Off, plus Schenn

Over the last few years there has been a steady stream of encouraging news coming from the Kings prospects playing in junior hockey. They've had players win medals for their national teams at the World Junior Championships - including gold, silver and bronze this year - as well as made waves in the CHL.

Right now, they're sitting pretty with the leading goal scorers in the WHL (Linden Vey) and OHL (Tyler Toffoli), two of the three circuits making up the Canadian junior league.

A few weeks ago their top two prospects in the OHL, Toffoli and Russian sensation Maxim Kitsyn, faced off (recap here).

Last night it was time for two of their WHL prospects to do the same - plus Brayden Schenn had a memorable game.

Vey (4th round, 2009) and his Medicine Hat Tigers traveled to Regina to take on Jordan Weal (3rd rd, 2010) and the Pats. Weal finished last season with the third most points in the WHL, trailing only fellow Kings prospect Brandon Kozun and Jordan Eberle.

He's having another strong season and added a goal and two assists (and was a plus-2) in this game. However, the Tigers won 4-3. Vey increased his totals with another goal and assist as well. That gives him a league-best 81 points (32g, 49a) in 45 games.

Meanwhile, it wouldn't be a WHL report without some news on Schenn...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

RECAP: Willie Mitchell on NHL Home Ice Radio

Los Angeles Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell joined the guys on NHL Home Ice radio earlier this afternoon.  Although they asked a little about the win last night and his injury woes in 2010, the bulk of the interview was spent talking up rookie Kyle Clifford.  Here's a quick recap...

* How important was it to win again at Staples Center after the recent eight game home stand where the team went 2-6? I think we could all feel it coming. Over the few games before I think we were starting to play good hockey again, just not getting the results. So, it's nice to get rewarded. For the mental aspect, it was big.

* (on Clifford) He reminds me of Rick Rypien when he was breaking in with the Vancouver Canucks. Nobody really knew he was and I'd see him beat up guys left and right. Finally, word started to get out. Cliffy is much the same way, but actually even younger. He's a good hockey player too. He's done the physical stuff and that's probably a big reason why he stayed up in the NHL at such a young age. His game is going to continue to evolve though. He's a really good player and he'll be a good player for us for a long time.

Monday, January 24, 2011

STAT CHECK: Boston Bruins at LA Kings

Here are your five fun facts on tonight's match up between the visiting Boston Bruins and host Los Angeles Kings...

* Even with two long losing spans this season, the Kings are only six points off their point total from last season through 48 games. SIX. Last year they had 57 points, compared to 51 this season.

* The Kings have won 15 games at home, the Bruins 15 games on the road. Although it's rare for NHL teams to be better on the road, Boston is finding a way to do it - having gone 12-9-3 at TD Garden and 15-5-4 away.

* Both teams are undefeated in regulation when leading after two periods (LA 14-0-0, BOS 19-0-1). If the game is tied after two periods, LA has a slight edge (8-7-0 vs 3-5-2). The Kings are also better in OT (5-1 vs. 2-7) and the shootout (4-0 vs. 1-5). However, in the most important stat, total points, Boston leads 61 to 51. Interestingly, on January 1st the two teams were tied with 45 points. The 10 point difference is all from the last few weeks.

* The Kings have won four straight over the Bruins, going back to March 19, 2009. All four games have been tied after three periods. And amazingly, the last three have been decided via shootout.

The Mayor

...And Now You're Caught Up (1/24/2011)

Still living in the euphoria of the Kings victory over the Coyotes on Saturday night?

Well, it's time to check back in with the hockey world and get up to speed. Here are the ten Kings-related stories you need to know coming out of the weekend...

* The Kings play the Bruins tonight. Nearly one year ago they visited Staples Center for an afternoon tilt that went all the way to a shootout. Quick stopped everything and the Kings won. Marco Sturm missed that game for the Bruins and he'll miss tonight's game for the Kings.

* Sticking with the Boston-area theme, the Kings are marketing the game as Beanpot Night. If you're not familiar with the annual Boston-area event, it's one of the top college hockey tournaments and features Boston, Boston College, Harvard and Northeastern. For a closer look at BU vs. BC (including notes on the many Kings who have played on both sides of the best rivalry in college hockey), click here.

* Goaltender Jonathan Quick, who set several team records last season, was back to creating history again on Saturday. It was his 20th win of the season, making him only the third goalie in franchise history to reach the mark three years in a row. Full story here.

Update on Scott Parse - The Other Left Wing

Amidst the Kings' season long search for scoring left wingers, there is one name that many people may have forgotten...Scott Parse.

After all, he only played in five games before being placed on long term IR. And he was limited to 59 games last year while being shuttled back and forth several times between LA and Manchester (AHL).

So, he's not exactly a household name just yet.

Even so, optimistic Kings fans had high hopes entering the season - especially after GM Dean Lombardi said "Scott Parse is near the top three on the team in terms of skill" during his State of the Franchise session at the annual HockeyFest event in September.

So, what's up with Parse now?

Well, he elected not to perform DIY hip surgery, as written about here. Instead, it was performed by Dr. Byrd - one of the leading specialists for sports-related hip injuries.

More importantly, he's been back training with the team recently.  So, I caught up with him for an update...

MM: Let's start with the obvious - it's been about two months since the surgery, how are you feeling?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Shane Doan Would Pick Kopitar at NHL All-Star Draft

Anze Kopitar received some recent praise from one of the most respected captains in the league...

Friday afternoon Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes was a guest on The PowerPlay (NHL Radio show) and they were talking about the fact that the Coyotes didn't have any players selected to attend this year's NHL All-Star Game.

Which, if you're looking for a positive, means Doan doesn't have to worry about potentially being the last player selected in this Friday's All-Star Draft (note: the NHL is using a new format this year, where two captains actually hand pick their teams in a televised special airing live this coming Friday).

On the other hand, the hosts wanted to know - hypothetically, if Doan was one of the captains picking the teams , who would be some of the players he'd pick earlier than people might expect?

He responded with "I think Kopitar is an incredible player. I think he'd be a guy that would go high. He's so talented. I like Jonathan Toews and Danny Briere too. Obviously, everybody is going to be picking them high as well. But, Anze Kopitar is as good as there is when it comes to young guys in the league. If his team was doing a little better, he'd be getting the attention he deserves."

In reality, the All-Star Game captains will be Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit Red Wings) and Eric Staal (Carolina Hurricanes).

And yes, it will be interesting to see who selects Kopitar...and when.

[UPDATE: Wonder who Kopitar would pick? Click here to see the talented center take on The Mayor in a mock draft]

The Mayor


Recap of Dean Lombardi on NHL Live

Hrudey Has High Praise for Quick on NHL Live

For Quick and the Kings, 37 Is the New All Star Target

Jack Johnson Plans the Super Bowl

When a team is mired in a slump like the Kings have been this month, at some point it's refreshing to turn the conversation away from hockey.

With that in mind, how about a little football talk? After all, there are a pair of pretty big games going on later today.

And sure, Canadians love their hockey. But, Americans love their football. So, who better to weigh in on this weekend's NFL Playoffs than a pretty patriotic guy like defenseman Jack Johnson?

Probably a lot of people actually. Still, let's see what he had to say...

MM: Any thoughts on the football games?

JJ: I'm pulling for the Packers. They have some players on the team that I really like and enjoy watching. So, I'm hoping I get to watch them for another game.

MM:  And over on the AFC side, anything on New York at Pittsburgh?

JJ:  If I was a betting man, I'd probably say Pittsburgh. But, you never know with the Jets. I'm a big fan of Rex Ryan. So, I hope he does well. But, I think Pittsburgh is pretty tough to beat.

There you have it.

Johnson predicts you'll be seeing a Packers-Steelers Super Bowl.

The Mayor