The Kings opened their season against the NHL’s second newest-franchise and will continue it Thursday when they will host its most recent entry, the Seattle Kraken.
The Kings, who emphasized a stronger start to this campaign than last year when they lost five of their first seven games, didn’t exactly fire out of the starting blocks. They meandered through most of 60 minutes against the Vegas Golden Knights, allowing 51 shots to just 30 of their own. Despite goalie Jonathan Quick’s superlative performance in net, the Kings’ errors mounted in the form of unneeded infractions, labored breakouts, giveaways, poor decisions and other self-inflicted misfortune.
“We’ll correct that for sure. You can chalk it up to a first game and all of that, but the bottom line is that we just can’t afford to lose a game like that, especially with the amount of mistakes that we made,” Kings captain Anze Kopitar said.
Coach Todd McLellan was harsh in assessing his team’s game management, suggesting that some offensive-zone and neutral-zone penalties from the preseason seeped into Game 1 of the regular season, among other issues.
“We’ve preached and preached about it, but sometimes you’ve got to get hit pretty hard with a two-by-four and maybe this was it,” he said.
Winger Gabriel Vilardi paced the Kings offensively with a goal and an assist. He entered training camp as perhaps the second-most likely right winger for the second-line role while Viktor Arvidsson recovered from back surgery. He emerged as the primary option, but Arvidsson, whom McLellan praised for being energetic and undaunted in his return, was ready weeks earlier than expected.
Nevertheless, Vilardi wedged his way into the fray, skating on the third line as well as the second power-play unit and forcing Brendan Lemieux out of the lineup.
“What he’s done is he’s come in and won ice time and he’s earned the opportunity to be in key situations and he continued to play,” McLellan said. “I thought he was one of our better players again.”
Defenseman Brandt Clarke did not make his debut in the opener, but given some of the disconnect between forwards and defense in that game, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see a lineup change or two in the next one.
The Kraken could provide a soft landing spot for the Kings. Unlike Vegas, whose maiden voyage carried them all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, the Kraken had a more typical inaugural season, finishing in last place and selling off pieces at the trade deadline.
But the organization and General Manager Ron Francis did not rest on their laurels, luring winger Andre Burakovsky from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche in free agency. They also brought in veteran defenseman Justin Schultz.
Perhaps the most intriguing figures in the Seattle room are two teenage rookies, 19-year-old Matty Beniers and 18-year-old Shane Wright. Beniers was selected second overall in 2021, six spots ahead of Clarke, and Wright slipped from the consensus top pick to No. 4 overall this past summer.
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Francis, a Hall of Fame center and Stanley Cup champion, has tabbed the two neophytes as the one-two punch for the Kraken for years to come. Beniers is the more offensively gifted player, as he showed by accumulating nine points in 10 NHL games during an audition of sorts last season following the end of the NCAA campaign. Wright projects to be more of a complete pivot, in the mold of Kopitar or the Boston Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron.
Seattle at Kings
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Crypto.com Arena
TV/Radio: Bally Sports West/IHeartRadio (English), Tu Liga 1330 (Spanish)