Preview: Ducks at Kings
Nearly a decade has passed since the NHL crowned back-to-back Stanley Cup champions. The Anaheim Ducks' hopes of ending that streak have taken a number of hits even before the team has gotten on the ice.
The league's 90th season kicks off Saturday when the Ducks meet the Los Angeles Kings at the O2 Arena in London in the 2007 Premiere Series, a two-game set that concludes Sunday.
Anaheim is trying to become the first repeat champion since Detroit in 1997 and '98, but the Ducks look like a much different team than the one that defeated Ottawa in five games to become the first Cup winner from California.
Scott Niedermayer, the team captain and Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP, said in June he was mulling retirement and the 34-year-old defenseman was suspended for failing to report to training camp. Veteran forward Teemu Selanne, who scored a team-high 48 goals in the final year of his contract, remains a free agent.
Injuries and defections have also hurt Anaheim. Goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere will not play in London while he recovers from surgery on a sports hernia - the same injury that has sidelined forward Samuel Pahlsson. Former Red Wing Mathieu Schneider, signed as insurance against Niedermayer's possible retirement, broke his left ankle during the Ducks' preseason opener.
Giguere may not play until Anaheim's home opener Oct. 10, while Pahlsson and Schneider are expected to return later in the month.
"We didn't have very many injuries last year at the start of the year, and we were able to kind of play with pretty much the same lineup through the first probably 25, 30 games, and we were able to rattle off a pretty good start to the season," Anaheim's Chris Pronger said. "I think that's going to be imperative for us again to get off to that good start and get some wins under our belt and kind of get that chemistry and that flow that we had going last year."
Anaheim, though, also lost rising star Dustin Penner after failing to match the five-year, $21.25 million offer sheet given to him by Edmonton in July. Penner was second on the team with 29 goals.
Giguere will be replaced by Ilya Bryzgalov and rookie Jonas Hiller, who spent the past four years in Switzerland and made 40 saves Sunday in Anaheim's 5-0 win over Vancouver in its preseason finale.
Los Angeles also features a new look as it hopes to reach the postseason for the first time since 2001-02. In their first season under coach Marc Crawford, the Kings finished with 68 points - one more than last-place Phoenix in the Pacific Division.
Los Angeles will lean heavily on Michael Cammalleri, Alexander Frolov and Anze Kopitar for offense. The trio had 89 of the Kings' 227 goals last season, and Kopitar finished third among rookies with 61 points.
The Kings bolstered their offense by adding veterans Ladislav Nagy and Michal Handzus. Nagy had a career-high 43 assists and 55 points in 80 games last season with Phoenix and Dallas. Handzus recorded eight points in his first eight games with Chicago before a torn ACL ended his season.
On defense, the Kings picked up Brad Stuart from Calgary and Tom Preissing from Ottawa, but neither player is expected to generate more buzz than Jack Johnson.
The third overall selection by Carolina in the 2005 draft, Johnson was dealt to the Kings last year for Eric Belanger and Tim Gleason - a trade that could turn out to be quite lopsided if Johnson lives up to the promise he showed last season at Michigan, where he had 10 multipoint games and set career highs with 16 goals and 23 assists.
Though he didn't register a point in five games with the Kings late last season, Johnson said he hopes to live up to being a Calder Trophy candidate.
"There's going to be an establishing period, pretty much the entire year," he told the Kings' official Web site. "You're there to try to establish yourself and prove to everyone else you belong here, but I'm going to be doing that all year, trying to prove to everybody that I belong here."
Johnson should benefit from playing alongside two of the game's best offensive defensemen in Rob Blake and Lubomir Visnovsky. Heading into his 18th NHL season, Blake is the Kings' all-time scoring leader among defensemen with 152 goals and 311 assists. Visnovsky's 125 points over the last two seasons ties him for third most in the league among blueliners.
Los Angeles used five goaltenders last season, including veterans Mathieu Garon, Sean Burke and Dan Cloutier. None of them are with the team this season. For now, the Kings will go with career backup Jason LaBarbera, journeyman Jean-Sebastien Aubin and 2006 first-round draft pick Jonathan Bernier.
Anaheim was 4-2-2 against Los Angeles in 2006-07, but lost the final three meetings.
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Los Angeles vs. Anaheim (Noon EDT). The Kings and Ducks conclude their two-game series in London.
Philadelphia rookie Steve Downie was suspended 20 games by the NHL on Friday for leaving his feet to deliver a deliberate and dangerous hit to the head Ottawa's Dean McAmmond. McAmmond was taken off the ice on a stretcher in the second period of Tuesday's preseason game and is out indefinitely with a concussion. NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell said Downie would be available to play in the Flyers' minor league affiliate in the AHL.
Anaheim and Los Angeles officially begin the 2007-08 regular season when it faces each other in London on Saturday. The last game in London was a preseason meeting between the New York Rangers and Toronto in 1993. The Rangers, led by Mark Messier, went on the lift the Stanley Cup that season.
The NHL violated antitrust laws and is acting like ``an illegal cartel'' by monopolizing control of team promotions, Madison Square Garden claimed in a lawsuit Friday. MSG, which owns the New York Rangers, said it filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan because the NHL would begin fining the organization $100,000 per day starting Friday if the company did not give the league complete control over the Rangers' Web site and other promotions. The league is seeking to control the licensing of teams for all commercial purposes and to stop teams from marketing apparel, merchandise and memorabilia, the suit said.
``The hit was deliberate, dangerous and has no place in our league. He crossed a line in a wholehearted way.'' NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell on the 20-game suspension handed down to Philadelphia rookie Steve Downie for his hit on Ottawa's Dean McAmmond during Tuesday night's preseason game. McAmmond is out indefinitely with a concussion.
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Ducks bring Cup back home to England
LONDON (AP) -The Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks have brought the oldest team trophy in North American sports back home to England.
The Ducks, who practiced at the O2 Arena for the first time Wednesday, will open the NHL season in the British capital on Saturday against the Los Angeles Kings - a game far away from home and one which Ducks coach Randy Carlyle could have done without.
``It's the hand we've been dealt,'' Carlyle said. ``We're never happy with the scheduling.''
The trip may not fit in with Anaheim's plans for a repeat championship, but they are perfect for the NHL, which is trying to further break into the European market.
``There is a hockey tradition here that goes back to Lord Stanley,'' said Ken Yaffe, a senior vice president for NHL International. ``We've got a big British fan base. We've got a big ex-pat fan base.''
Lord Frederick Stanley, a Governor General of Canada in the 19th century, bought the cup from a London silversmith and donated it to Canada's top amateur team in 1892. In 1910, it was given to the champion of a professional competition and remained that way until it became the property of the NHL in 1917.
The Stanley Cup made its first trip to London last year, when it was brought out for a ceremony to unveil a plaque on the building where it was made.
On Wednesday, the Ducks took a double-decker bus tour with the trophy around the city.
The NHL has opened the season outside North America three times, all in Japan. The series in Europe, where many of the league's top players come from, is likely to lead to more games on the continent.
``Obviously we can't play a full slate of games here, but we are a league that has global fan interest,'' Yaffe said.
The hockey fans that do show up for the sold-out games at the 17,500-seat arena won't get to see standout goalie Jean-Sebastian Giguere, forward Samuel Pahlsson and defenseman Mathieu Schneider, who are all injured. However, Giguere and Pahlsson, who had similar sports hernia operations in the offseason, did skate Wednesday.
``I don't know if I'll be ready to play this weekend,'' said Giguere, who left the ice before the majority of his teammates came on. ``I'm feeling pretty good.''
The Kings are getting ready for the games by playing in an exhibition tournament in Austria. They are expected to arrive in London on Thursday.
The O2, which opened this summer, will also host an NBA preseason game Oct. 10 when the Boston Celtics play the Minnesota Timberwolves.
On Oct. 28, the NFL will play a regular season game at the rebuilt Wembley Stadium when the Miami Dolphins face the New York Giants.
But the first test for American sports in London comes Saturday.
``People here are hopefully going to give it a chance,'' Giguere said. ``There's nothing like a live hockey game.''
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Ducks, Kings promise rough opener across the pond
LONDON -- If the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings needed another reason to get physical, playing each other in London may be the perfect excuse.
With the NHL making its regular-season debut Saturday and Sunday in the British capital, fans await a firsthand look of one of the league's trademarks - rink-rattling hits and at least a couple of fights.
The Ducks and Kings are more than happy to oblige.
''We're crosstown rivals, and we really don't like each other,'' Kings coach Marc Crawford said. ''Our games are spirited, and I think that's what fans like. ... And our players, you never have to worry about if they're ready for these games.''
Ducks winger George Parros, who has never been afraid to drop his gloves on the ice, said he wouldn't be surprised to see a brawl at sold-out O2 Arena this weekend.
''Some guys might get excited, and I'm sure they're looking forward to get a rise out of the crowd,'' said Parros, who racked up 102 penalty minutes in 34 games last season. ''I think, it being the first game of the season. There's going to be some high energy, big hits, and things could get interesting.''
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is confident the fans' expectations will be met.
''We're not warranting whether or not there'll be fisticuffs,'' Bettman said. ''But there will be a competition that has all of the intensity and emotion and passion and skill that our game has.''
The NHL is taking its season opener to Europe as part of an effort to expand its overseas market. So instead of opening its Stanley Cup defense at home at The Pond, Anaheim had to travel across the pond for the home-and-home series against Los Angeles.
''It's a little bit hard, but we're trying to make the most of it,'' Ducks captain Chris Pronger said. ''Initially we were all kind of upset to come here, we didn't really want to. ... But it's certainly an honor for us to be over here trying to market the game to a new group of fans who hopefully will become die-hard NHL fans.''
There's more at stake, though, than just being goodwill ambassadors.
Anaheim is looking to remain a force in the Western Conference while also adjusting to playing without top defenseman Scott Niedermeyer, last season's playoff MVP, and Teemu Selanne. Both have yet to decide whether to return or retire.
''Yeah, we'd like to have Scott Niedermeyer back and yeah, we'd love to have Teeme Selanne back, but that's not reality,'' Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. ''We have to play the best game of the year for us, in the first game. ... If you want to rest on your laurels, a lot of people are going to be gunning for you.''
The team is also missing top goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, checking forward Samuel Pahlsson and defenseman Mathieu Schneider because of injuries, as it tries to become the first team to repeat as champion since Detroit in 1997-98.
''It's tough. I mean, how many teams have done it?'' forward Rob Niedermeyer said. ''It's just a hard thing to do. But we're going to try to get off to a good start, and hopefully it'll just come from there.''
The Ducks can take comfort in this: The last NHL game in London was a preseason meeting between the New York Rangers and the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1993. The Rangers, led by Mark Messier, went on the lift the Stanley Cup.
The Kings, meanwhile, have their sights set on a playoff spot after finishing 14th out of 15 teams in the Western Conference.
''The goal for the team is to get off to a great start,'' Crawford said. ''We can't afford to even let one game go by experimenting. We're not in the experimental phase here. Our team is a team that's taken a nice step.''
And while the team is on unfamiliar ground, Crawford said his players were showing their usual signs of getting ready for the season.
''There's a subtle feeling that comes over a team, and you can see it in the players,'' he said. There's a little more focus in their eyes, and there's a little bit more energy in practice right now. I felt that today.''
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Blues defenseman will miss 4-6 weeks
ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Blues defenseman Jay McKee will be out four to six weeks with a fractured right foot that he suffered in Thursday night's preseason game at Minnesota.
It's the latest setback for McKee, who played only 23 games last season in the first year of a four-year, $16 million contract. He was hindered mostly by a hip injury.
Dr. Rick Wright, the Blues' team physician, said the injury will not require surgery.
In 2005-06, McKee led the NHL in blocked shots with the Buffalo Sabres.
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Flyers catch a break with Lupul's sprained wrist
PHILADELPHIA -- Flyers forward Joffrey Lupul has a sprained left wrist and was listed as day to day on Thursday, an improved diagnosis after Philadelphia feared he broke his wrist.
''He had some medicine injected into that wrist this morning, and we're hopeful that with three-to-five days of rest, he'll be better,'' said Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren.
Forwards Scottie Upshall and R.J Umberger also had surgery Thursday. Umberger had screws inserted into the pinkie finger of his left hand and Upshall had surgery on his left wrist.
Upshall could miss up to six weeks; Umberger could miss two weeks.
Upshall and Umberger were both hurt in Philadelphia's 4-2 loss against Ottawa on Tuesday night.
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Boyle expected to miss 4-to-6 weeks following wrist surgery
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle is expected to miss four-to-six weeks after undergoing wrist surgery Sunday.
Boyle got hurt in a freak locker room accident Saturday night after the Lightning's 2-1 preseason loss to Washington. The defenseman was distracted while hanging up his skate. The skate slipped off the hook and hit Boyle in his left wrist, severing three tendons.
Boyle, 31, is coming off an impressive regular season in which he played all 82 games, recording 20 goals and 43 assists.
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Projected Starters - 9.29.07
Jonathan Bernier, Los Angeles Kings - Bernier is the probable starter for Saturday's game against the Ducks. Coach Marc Crawford told the LA Times that he would wait until gameday to decide on his starter.
Ilya Bryzgalov, Anaheim Ducks - Bryzgalov is the probable starter for Saturday's game against the Kings. Jean-Sebastien Giguere is out as he recovers from hernia surgery