Once again, everything went downhill after the Stanley Cup Champions banner was raised. And as tempted as I am to simply tell you about the banner raising ceremony and nothing else... Well, the Los Angeles Kings celebrated last year's triumph and then got thoroughly outplayed by the San Jose Sharks.
San Jose came into this game with all the questions. Would Antti Niemi hold on to his starting spot in goal? Who's this Chris Tierney kid and why is he centering the third line instead of Joe Pavelski? Who will wear the captain's or assistant captain's letters? (Thorton/Marleau/Pavelski got A's.) Is John Scott physically capable of skating? (Who knows, he was scratched.) Three hours later, it was the Kings with all the questions. When is Jake Muzzin coming back? Is Jonathan Quick just trying to get his puck gaffes out of the way when they don't really matter? Is this the same old Mike Richards? Why is the Staples Center ice so terrible?
The first period was fairly even, though there were signs of things to come as the Sharks got off to an excellent start. San Jose had seven of the first eight shots on goal, and Jonathan Quick was on his toes right out of the gate. Quick would end up facing 15 shots in the first, and the only one that got by him was a bad-angle shot from Tommy Wingels that snuck in. Really nice shot, but not one that Quick will think he couldn't have gotten. A fight between Kyle Clifford and Mike Brown didn't really settle anything, and even when LA found their legs in the latter stages of the first, penalties to Jarret Stoll and Drew Doughty meant the Kings couldn't hold onto offensive possession for very long.
(That Doughty penalty was boarding on Tomas Hertl. Whoops.)
The Kings took one more penalty starting off the second period, as Kyle Clifford's leg took the legs of Tommy Wingels out from under him. Both players were pissed, as Wingels thought it was a dirty play and Clifford thought it was a dive. Clifford had the better argument, but it was still a tripping minor, and Patrick Marleau deftly tipped a Brent Burns shot high over Quick. And even though everyone was really excited to make their Sharks-going-up-3-to-0 jokes, it was pretty apparent that one more goal for San Jose probably spelled doom. LA had a couple chances; Niemi made a really good stop on Jeff Carter's wraparound attempt, and a partial breakaway for Marian Gaborik also didn't pan out.
The next goal went to San Jose, though, and it fell squarely on the improvised top pair. With Muzzin out, Brayden McNabb was paired with Drew Doughty, and both of them neglected their defensive responsibilities on Wingels' second goal of the night. When Brent Burns flipped the puck out of his own zone, he went up the middle of the ice. McNabb was caught too far up ice, and Doughty was flat-footed and didn't get moving until it was too late. Wingels made a quality move to beat Quick, and #ItWas3to0. Fourteen seconds later, it was 4; Quick lost the puck behind his net, Matt Nieto tapped it in, and Staples was silent for the rest of the game.
LA controlled the third period, but it still never felt like they were playing all that well. Passes weren't connecting, every breakout fizzled out, and the Sharks did a bang-up job of getting into shooting lanes. The Kings were unable to take advantage of a horrendous showing by the San Jose fourth line (Adam Burish had a 6% Corsi at even strength, and that is not a typo), and the Tierney-centered third line was productive enough to handle the other apparently uneven matchup. LA's bid for a consolation goal in the final minutes typified their evening; LA had a bunch of bouncing pucks in front of Niemi but could never seem to get a good whack at them, and a late 5-on-3 gift-wrapped by Mike Brown went for naught. The final remained 4-0, as Antti Niemi's bid to hold off Alex Stalock started off perfectly.
An ugly start to the season, and not many individual bright spots. The Stoll-centered fourth line looked energetic, Regehr-Voynov had an encouragingly steady performance, and despite McNabb's failure on the third goal and his inability to get shots through to the net, he did all right for his Kings debut. Otherwise, the offense never really got started, and the Kings paid for it when they lapsed at the other end.
At least the banner looks nice.