Kings expect to have their hands full against Canucks
My three-game/three-day/three-city trip, which started in Edmonton for the Kings' game Tuesday and continued to Calgary for the Ducks' game Wednesday, will end on a spring-like day in Vancouver with the Kings facing the Canucks at Rogers Arena.
The Canucks assured themselves of the top seed in the West, but the Kings can at least delay Vancouver's clinching of the President's Trophy for the overall point title.
For the Canucks to claim the top seed in the league Thursday, the Philadelphia Flyers will have to lose at home to Atlanta and the Canucks would have to defeat the Kings. If not Thursday, it's sure to happen soon.
"They're a much better hockey team this year. A much more mature hockey team I think, in how they're playing," Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell said of the Canucks, his team for four seasons before he moved south of the border last summer.
"Great team, doing well. We're going to have our work cut out for us tonight."
Mitchell said he believes that the Canucks are capable of handling the pressure that comes with being the No. 1 seed.
"Absolutely. As a team they're probably really excited about that," he said. "I know if we were there we'd be really excited about that, winning the President's Trophy, which is a matter of time for them. It gives you confidence as a team, gives you that little bit of swagger that you need to have.
"I think the difference you're seeing is a little bit of more controlled swagger with their team. When I was here the last two years, we felt as a team then that we'd have a chance to go all the way, and the shortcomings then was more the mental part of the game, the penalties and extracurricular stuff.
"But I think the players who may be involved in that have certainly matured a little bit and understand that it's more about the prize at the end. That's why I think they're the best team in the NHL right now. They've been playing like that for a while. That's why they're a tough team to beat and we look forward to matching ourselves up against a great team like that."
This should be the first serious test of the Kings' resources and depth without injured forwards Justin Williams (dislocated shoulder) and Anze Kopitar (ankle surgery). In their first two games without one or both of their top scorers, they faced the league's two worst teams, Colorado and Edmonton, and managed to grind out enough offense and get strong enough defensive efforts to win both.
Jonathan Quick is scheduled to start in goal, the only change in the lineup that grabbed a 2-0 victory at Edmonton on Tuesday. That also means center Jarret Stoll will again wear the alternate captain's "A" that Kopitar wore before he tore ligaments in his right ankle last weekend.
Coach Terry Murray had said he might rotate the "A" but decided to stick with Stoll for now and not change a winning lineup.
"Superstitious maybe," Murray said. "I don’t want to get into passing it around to take the importance away from it. I think the players who wear the 'A's' and the captaincy are really important players to your hockey club. They're important leaders, and there's significance to it.
"So I'll leave it with Stoll here today and then decide in the next couple of days here what I'll do with it. But again, I want to make it important and leave it to the mindset of everybody in the locker room that it is important.”
Stoll said he considered the responsibility an honor.
"I take a lot of pride in leadership, leading by example," he said. "We've got a lot of young guys on the team, so that means making sure they see the right example and hopefully follow.
"It was great to have it, and hopefully I can keep it."
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-- Helene Elliott in Vancouver, Canada
Photo: Trevor Lewis, right, battles Edmonton's Jordan Eberle during Tuesday's game. Credit: John Ulan / Associated Press / The Canadian Press