Kings' Hockey Fest: Kopitar 'pretty confident' of making playoffs
Anze Kopitar (pictured above last season) wouldn't go as far as to guarantee that the Kings will make the playoffs, but the talented Slovenian center said today that the signing of defenseman Rob Scuderi and acquisition of winger Ryan Smyth gave him optimism that the team will crash the postseason party for the first time since 2002.
"We have a lot of good talent on this team," said Kopitar, who spent three weeks training in Los Angeles this summer after General Manager Dean Lombardi said he needed to get into better shape.
"We have a lot of great guys and I'm pretty confident we're going to make that step and make the playoffs this year."
Fans at the Kings' Hockey Fest, taking place this weekend, won't settle for anything less. In meeting fans Friday and today, Kopitar has heard one consistent message.
"They're all telling us that we've got to go in the playoffs. That's what I think is expected around here," said Kopitar, who led the Kings in scoring last season with 27 goals and 66 points, down from 77 points the previous season.
"We've been building the team for three years now. They've been coming to games and not they're really happy with the results we gave them back.
"This is definitely a year for us to break through, to show everybody -- not just our fans but around the league -- that we can play hockey and be a playoff team."
Toward that end, winger Teddy Purcell has added enough muscle to bring his weight to 200 pounds, 30 more than when he signed with the team. He was also part of the group that came to town in July to work out together, and he said the bonds forged then should be important during the season.
"We're pretty cohesive and become lot better friends off the ice, and that's just going to make you want to work harder and battle for the guy next to you," Purcell said. "It's a different atmosphere coming into this season."
As for whether his new weight will slow him down, Purcell wasn't sure. "I'll have to ask you guys if I look slow out there," he told reporters, knowing that they -- and fans -- will certainly let him know if the bulk has hurt him or helped him win tussles in the corners.
The "NHL Experts" panel was well-received, though Jim Fox, the Kings' TV analyst, insisted he and fellow panelists Ray Ferraro and Kelly Hrudey were really "just a bunch of old guys who like to talk about hockey." Hrudey drew vigorous applause for criticizing the over-the-top agitating of Sean Avery, and Ferraro kept things lively by contending that the NHL had relaxed its officiating standards during the playoffs in a way that hurt the Detroit Red Wings.
Fox, asked by an audience member about the potential of young Kings winger Wayne Simmonds, projected Simmonds as a very useful and effective third-line player.
"I don't think he's going to be a top-six skill guy who scores 30-plus goals," Fox said. "But he can be a guy on the third line who chips in with 18 and can skate as well as anyone and hit as hard as anyone. And we know he's willing to drop the gloves.
"He will be on a team for 15 years because he's a guy teammates absolutely trust."
More later, as the Hockey Fest continues.
Photo credit: Alex Gallardo / Los Angeles Times