The Los Angeles Kings 2010-2011 roster is set.

Smyth-Kopitar-Brown

Richardson-Stoll-Williams

Ponikarovsky-Handzus-Simmonds

Clifford-Schenn-Westgarth

(Lewis, Loktionov)

Doughty-Mitchell

Johnson-Scuderi

Drewiske-Muzzin

(Harrold)

Quick

Bernier

There you have it, your opening night Los Angeles Kings team, for now.  We know this will change at some point, possibly in a week, maybe in a month, likely night to night.

This army has Generals in Kopitar and Doughty.  It has Sergeants in Handzus, Smyth, Mitchell and Scuderi.  Quick and Bernier provide ballistic shielding.  Armor piercing bullets and missiles Brown, Simmonds, Ponikarovsky and Johnson for timely penetration.  Richardson and Lewis provide reconnaissance.  Williams and Stoll, aerial and ground support.  Muzzin and Loktionov/Schenn fly under radars as stealth bombers.  Necessary but reliable cannon fodder in Harrold and Drewiske.   Clifford and Westgarth the resident criminals that every good army requires per Commander Dean Lombardi.

We know our Kings.

But that is not enough.  There has to be more.  There are 82 battles to wage.  Each game, a blitzkrieg.  This is war.

Know thy enemy.

It is time to take a look around the league, at those other bothersome squads who stand in our path to the post season.  Every last one garish enough to believe they deserve each point the same as the Kings.

The nerve.

Like an empire radiating ever outward in the conquest for territory, we begin with our immediate neighbors who must be promptly dispatched.

Clashing heads with the Crown 6 times each will be those in the Pacific Division, the one we intend to dominate.  The Phoenix Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks have the most blood with which to glisten our swords.

The Dallas Stars: Only steers and queers come from Texas, and you don’t look much like a steer to me.

Nowadays you can pay to have a star named after you.  It costs about $30 bucks to “buy a star”.  Consequently, that’s about all I hear it costs to buy a whole team of Stars, of the Dallas variety.

Though they meander in financial disarray, in the tradition of showing no mercy we first look at the team that spent most of last season directly under the Kings’ thumb.  The Kings record versus the Dallas Stars in 2009-2010 was 5-1-0 (their record v. us was 1-3-2).  The Kings scored 20 goals in 6 games against the Stars and allowed only 13 against in that same time.  Though the Texas Turnovers shed the blight that has been Marty Turco, all they gained over the Kings was having one less regular taunt thrown their way.  The Kings lost nothing as “Tuuuuuuur-co” is now the requisite jeer whenever the Chicago Blackhawks come to town.

This year the Stars look largely the same, minus a rapidly declining Mike Modano.  If Kari Lehtonen can’t remain healthy for the Stars, which is pretty likely considering he has never remained healthy for anyone, then the Stars are looking at a top 10 draft pick in 2011, possibly even a top 5.  Sure there are young threats like Benn, Neal and Eriksson, and two quality centers in Richards and Riberio, but the Stars lack top quality defensemen and when Andrew Raycroft inevitably has to take over the #1 job, offensive flash is not going to mean much.

The Kings should easily win 4 games against Dallas, if not all 6.

The Phoenix Coyotes: Don’t shoot the messenger but by all means kick the dog.

Last season the Kings matched up well against the Coyotes.  While we tend to think the Desert Dogs are one of those teams that has “our number”, the Kings actually won last year’s season series going 3-2-1, with each team scoring 20 goals in the 6 skirmishes.  This preseason, the Coyotes beat the Kings 3-1.  They are, and always have been a very fast team that relies on speed through the neutral zone in front of spectacular goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov, who seems to thrive on the large amount of work he gets covering up the high amount scoring chances Dave Tippett’s system allows.  The ‘Yotes lost center Matthew Lombardi and Zbynek Michalek, while adding Ray Whitney and Eric Belanger.  Whitney may be able to boost the Coyotes’ offense, but with no adequate replacement on defense for Michalek, one is hard pressed to believe Phoenix will improve this year.  Nevertheless, neither the Kings or Dogs are likely to dominate this season series.  Shane Doan remains one of the leagues best King killers, and continued progression from Wojtek Wolski and Martin Hanzal can easily make the Coyotes a formidable opponent.  The Kings should be happy to walk away with 3 wins.

The San Jose Sharks:  All or nothing.

At some point in history one of two things will happen.  Either the Sharks will win the cup, or everyone will stop caring about them altogether.

This offseason the reigning Western Conference champion in regular season points lost long time goalie Evgeni Nabakov, as well as future hall-of-fame cur (look it up in the dictionary for a good laugh) Rob Blake.  They only added players from outside the organization in net, picking up Antero Niittymaki (one of the most entertaining names in the NHL to say in a high pitched voice), and Cup winner Antti Niemi.   The Sharks hope this tandem can help avoid the post season collapses for which Nabakov (now in the KHL) has been known.

The Sharks will likely once again be at the top of the conference in points, but, this season, have their first big challenger in several years.  Having won the Pacific Division for three straight years, the Kings are position to cut the wasteful champs down to size and into second place where they belong.

Last season the Kings went 3-2-1 against the Sharks, scoring 20 goals and allowing 19 (which includes goals added by virtue of shootout wins).  This year, the Kings should match and improve upon that record.  4 wins should be the goal.

The Anaheim Ducks: Barely worth the energy.

When I say barely worth the energy, I mean it.  Unfortunately, you know this team too well.  The question is, do the Ducks know that Andy Sutton + Tony Lydman + Paul Mara does not equal half of one Scott Niedermayer?  Maybe if Cam Fowler knew how to play defense the equation would be closer to resolution.  As it stands, the Ducks suck, and I say that not as a rival fan, but as an objective hockey observer.  Anyone who says otherwise is just being nice.  For every game the Ducks win against the Kings, a demon pukes on an angel’s wings.

That’s all I care to say about the team who wishes their name included “Los Angeles.”

These four teams occupy 30% (24 of 82 games) of the land the Kings must conquer.  The rest of the Western Conference make up another 49% (40 of 82 games) of points for the taking.

Quickly now, as the enemies become more numerous, the time for slaying becomes more precious.  No time to stop and smell the roses.

Detroit Red Wings, Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks: Vying for control.

These three teams represent the most hostile threats to anyone looking to dominate the Western Conference.  The Red Wings are always an elite team, and having an uncanny ability to pull the most out of their skaters might actually make Modano a relevant player again.  That is a scary prospect.  So long as the Wings stay healthy this year, they will be a force.  The Kings should count their lucky stars to split this season series.

The Vancouver Canucks are easily the most improved team in the Western Conference.  While their blueline lacks superstar talent, it is stacked as deeply as any in the league.  Adding Keith Ballard and Dan Hamuis gives the Canucks a punishing group of blueliners, capable of quickly moving pucks, putting them in the net and giving opposing forwards wounds to lick.  Up front they lost none of their top talent, though Alex Burrows will start the season on the injured reserve, but added important depth in Manny Malhotra and Raffi Torres.  The Canucks are primed and ready to take the Sharks place as Western Conference champions, but will need Roberto Luongo to de-flop his fishness in the post-season if the first 82 games they play are going to mean anything.  This is one season series the Kings can easily lose.

The Chicago Blackhawks like to think they can repeat their Stanley Cup performance.  After all, they still have their elite talent in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Marian Hossa.  However they lost several impact players like Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg and many others, most notably Antti Neimi.  The Blackhawks will once again be a powerhouse in the West although they did add Marty Turco and for that they have my pity.  The Kings can win this season series, but will be happy to walk away with a split.

The rest of the West.

This category is comprised of the Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Columbus Bluejackets and Minnesota Wild.  Out of these teams the Predators present the Kings’ biggest challenge.  The Kings have long struggled to solve the pesky and gritty game that coach Barry Trotz employs.  Though they lost Jason Arnott, picking up Matthew Lombardi, Sergei Kostitsyn and expected improvement from the young and powerful Colin Wilson make the Predators a formidable opponent.  The Kings only managed 1 win in 4 games against the team from Dixie Land last year and if they double that win total in 2010-2011, this Kings’ fan will be pleased.

The Colorado Avalanche seem like a team on the rise.  Bobby has a phrase for statements like that.  Pfft.  Matt Duchene may be the real deal, but I am not convinced that Craig Anderson is, nor do I think Kyle Quincey is capable of being the #1 defensemen on a team worth worrying about.

The rest of those teams are what the Kings should be viewing as cannon fodder.  The points that should be easy, provided they do not rest of their laurels.  While every game needs to be taken seriously, and every point should be wanted equally, some points should be downright guaranteed.  Those points which the Blues, Wild, Bluejackets, Flames and Oilers hold must be used by the Kings to sharpen their teeth and cache built up for the inevitable (though infrequent) losses against the elite teams.  This sounds harsh, but remember this is war and not the kind where you take prisoners.  When an opponent crosses your path, they must be dispatched without remorse.

Invaders from the East.

For the most part, and comparatively speaking, the East is a sham of a conference.  If the NHL playoff teams were decided by points alone and not broken up into the East and the West, then in 2010 there would only have been 6 teams from the East in the post season.  Regardless, the Kings must play 18 games against those hovering close to the Atlantic Ocean.  They play every team at least once, and take on the New York Islanders, Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers twice each.

I’m not about to talk about each of the 15 Eastern Conference teams, but I will say that of the 36 points available from the East, the Kings should take between 26-30.  Last year the Kings were 14-4-0 versus the East, and with the Kings improvement that record should remain intact.

The Battle Plan.

Last year Terry Murray employed a strict defense-first system that saw the Kings finish as the 9th best team in the NHL in terms of goals against per game average.  Their 2.57 GA/G was also good for 6th best in West.   In 5-on-5 scoring, the Kings allowed only 135 goals, which put them 4th in the NHL.  New Jersey and San Jose allowed only 1 less goal and Phoenix allowed a league best 131.  Consider now that the Kings added Willie Mitchell to the defense, having only lost Sean O’Donnell and Randy Jones, and swap in Erik Ersberg for Jonathan Bernier.  These two factors mean that the Kings’ goal this season is not only to be among the best, but the best defensive team in the NHL.

Scoring is another issue.

While the Kings can boast the 9th best goals for per game average from last season, they only managed 19th in terms of 5-on-5 scoring.  That is not good enough, and this is the big question for the Kings heading into the season.  Alexei Ponikarovsky may replace Alex Frolov, but Scott Parse and Wayne Simmonds will be leaned upon heavily to add to the goal total.  Anze Kopitar must essentially be the best center in the West this year.  Dustin Brown must score more than 24 and Jarrett Stoll, Justin Williams and Ryan Smyth need to be better and healthier than the 2009-2010 campaign.

The hopeful health of the veterans and the natural progression of the youngsters will account for a large part of the scoring equation, but the true X factor here is Terry Murray’s new system.

We have seen this new system in the pre-season, and we have liked it.  Pinching defenseman, quick transitions, carrying the puck over the offensive blueline and crashing two forwards down-low are all things we will see this year that were scarce under the defense-first system.  So far it appears that the team is ready for this change.  The ability of Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty to employ this strategy without sacrificing too much defense is key.  Sure Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi are there to back up the young guns, but this strategy must be used properly and not abused.  Should the Kings’ two stars on defense take the focus on offense myopically, Los Angeles could find themselves struggling to keep the puck out of their own zone.  However this is where the goaltending becomes such an exciting factor.  The two-headed Jonathan dragon provides a fortress that Quick could not maintain all by his lonesome.    So long as the D is there to clear rebounds, Bernier and Quick are fully accountable to take care of shots off the rush that are sure to come from inevitable miscues by pinching defenseman.

So what does all this nonsense mean for the Kings 2010-2011 season?

I’m going with a top 3 seed, 110 points.

What do you think?