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Kings seek to repeat in lockout-shortened hockey season

LOS ANGELES: The Los Angeles Kings, who have had ample time to recover from any Stanley Cup hangover, will launch the lockout shortened NHL season Saturday by raising their first championship banner.
Los Angeles will hand out their rings and raise the banner at Staples Center arena prior to their game against the Chicago Blackhawks, which is one of 13 contests to open the 2012-13 season.
The Kings are trying to become the first team to capture back-to-back titles since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998, and they hope to do it with a roster that is almost fully intact from last year.
“I know the two times I went to the finals with Pittsburgh,” said defenseman Rob Scuderi, who appeared in back-to-back finals with the Penguins. “(When you start the next season) you kind of feel like you never left.
“For us, with the extra rest and the fact that we bring back the same team, the same coaching staff and the same philosophies, hopefully that will be an advantage for us.” The four-month old lockout ended this month after the owners and players signed a memorandum of understanding outlining the major issues agreed on for their new collective bargaining agreement.
The deal salvaged a shortened season of 48 games per team.
The Kings won the league championship last year despite being the No. 8 playoff seed, but they will be hard pressed to repeat.
Los Angeles open against the Blackhawks without star center Anze Kopitar, who strained a knee playing in Sweden during the lockout. It also remains to be see how playoff MVP goalie Jonathan Quick reacts after undergoing off season back surgery.
American Quick literally carried the team on his back for much of last season, especially when the Kings had trouble scoring goals. Los Angeles managed to make it to the playoffs despite finishing 29th in league scoring.
The New Jersey Devils open defense of their Eastern Conference crown on Saturday on the road against the New York Islanders.
The Vancouver Canucks are among the favorites in the Western Conference. Cory Schneider has overtaken playoff disappointment Roberto Luongo as their No. 1 netminder. The Canucks are trying to trade Luongo in a deal that would certainly land them some solid players.
Both Philadelphia and Toronto are said to be interested in Luongo.
The Detroit Red Wings underwent some major offseason changes, losing veteran stalwarts Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom to retirement.
However, general manager Ken Holland has had great success grooming young players in the minor leagues.
The Minnesota Wild went on a spending spree after last season, shelling out $196 million to get all-star forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter.
The move should improve their powerplay but Parise and Suter aren’t going to be able to turn the franchise around by themselves.
The Nashville Predators lost Suter to the Wild but they still have arguably the best defenseman in the league in Shea Weber. Pekka Rinne is a solid goaltender and locking up Weber with a $110 million contract for 14 years was a smart move and gives their defense a solid base to build from.
Other notable players that changed teams in the extended off season include Rick Nash moving from Columbus to the New York Rangers and Jaromir Jagr from Philadelphia to Dallas. Veteran Teemu Selanne returned to the Ducks for likely his final NHL season.
The backlash from disgruntled hockey fans hasn’t materialized to the extent that some anticipated. There have been surprisingly large crowds turning out just to watch teams train. The St. Louis Blues worked out in front of 5,700 fans last Sunday.
And tickets for the Kings sold-out opener were being offered for as high as $1,500 on StubHub for a seat in the lower section.
The season ends with 13 games on April 27 and the Stanley Cup playoffs will begin three days later.