LAKingsinsider's Game Preview
|Alexander Frolov is expected to anchor the team's top defensive line and score 30-plus goals.|
Oh, and about those breakaways...
Frolov led the Kings with 32 goals last season, and all eyes will be on him again, not only because he is entering the final year of his contract and can be an unrestricted free agent next summer.
From the first day of training camp, coach Terry Murray put Frolov back on the third line - where he spent a significant part of last season - alongside center Michal Handzus and winger Wayne Simmonds.
That line's primary responsibility will be as "stoppers," typically matched up against opponents' top forwards, but if the line does its job properly, it will open up offensive opportunities, and Frolov will also get substantial time on the power play.
So, Murray didn't pull any punches when asked about his expectations for Frolov this season.
"They're pretty high," Murray said. "We had this meeting (Friday) actually, Fro and I, as far as roles and expectations. I look at his numbers that he put up last year, and I certainly expect him to get to that (level) again. Playing on the line with Handzus and Simmonds, I think, is a real good thing for him.
"It's a lot of ice time. They're going to match up against the better lines of the opposition. If you check the right way, you're going to have the puck on your stick a lot, you're going to get attacks going and offensive opportunities. You put that in with his power-play (minutes), and how many breakaways did he have last year? About 15? He scored on one of them, so if he gets that figured out, he's going to be a pretty good production player for us."
Murray's last comment was a subtle dig at Frolov's inability to finish prime scoring chances last season. Consistency has long been an issue in his game, but Frolov did put away 32 goals last season, three short of his career high. He also scored a career-best 12 power-play goals.
FROLOV ILL, BUT WILL PLAY
Murray said, after Saturday's morning skate, that Frolov has been suffering from stomach-flu symptoms for the past few days but would play tonight in the season opener against Phoenix at STAPLES Center.
Perhaps no player has more to prove this season than Teddy Purcell, who was a borderline NHL forward last season but now has been put in a prime situation on the Kings' second line.
Purcell, who will play left wing alongside center Jarret Stoll and right wing Dustin Brown, came under criticism last year from coaches and management for consistency and toughness issues, two areas that Purcell said he is mindful of entering this season.
"I've just got to be consistent and use my speed to my advantage and make sure I'm always moving my feet," Purcell said. "(Brown and Stoll) are two guys that like to shoot the puck a lot, so I'm going to be trying to look for those guys, but at the same time they make great plays too, so I have to be ready to shoot the puck. I'm not going to try to do anything too fancy. I'll just try to get the puck to the net and create some offense.
"I think I've come a long way with just moving my feet and giving myself a better chance to win the battles and getting in there a little more. At the same time, there's still a ways to go, and I still have to keep proving that I can do that on a consistent basis."
It's been a rough offseason for the Phoenix Coyotes, who are in the middle of a messy ownership dispute and, less than 10 days ago, hired former Kings assistant Dave Tippett to replace Wayne Gretzky as coach.
Most league pundits predict the Coyotes to finish last in the Pacific Division, if not the entire Western Conference, but Murray's eyes widened at the suggestion that Phoenix's turmoil might benefit the Kings.
"No, it doesn't play to our advantage at all," Murray said. "It's the other way. To me, when I look at what has gone on over the offseason with that team, basically there are zero expectations from everything I've read around the hockey world."