After a month of a demanding training camp and an exhibition season during which the team barnstormed the country, the Kings will at last settle down to business. Or more correctly, the business side of hockey.
The Kings opened camp with 81 players and went into Saturday night's final exhibition with a roster of 33. Those numbers will change upon the completion of Monday's NHL waiver draft.
King Coach Tom Webster is not revealing who the team will protect in the draft--each team may protect 18 skaters and two goal tenders--but certain players Saturday night were aware that if they wanted a job with the Kings, they still had to impress the coaches.
And the Kings were impressive, beating the New York Islanders, 6-2, before 11,653 at the Forum.
Webster has adopted the age-old coach's view that competition is healthy for any team at any time of season.
"It's not just now, it's the whole year," Webster said. "That was something we went through this year at training camp; we wanted to get depth in the organization so we don't have to look at any roster moves at all. Players were fighting for their jobs. I think it was encouraging what we saw. The players played. One of the most competitive camps we've had."
An area Webster and King GM Rogie Vachon probably will scrutinize is the King defense, a perennial concern. A handful of defensemen were hampered by injuries, adding to the problem, but as of Saturday night the situation had improved. Tom Laidlaw's back injury has improved with the aid of cortisone injections and the veteran defenseman has begun skating. Bob Halkidis is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery and is expected to be able to scrimmage by the middle of October. Perhaps the best news of all for the Kings was Steve Duchesne's return to the lineup Saturday night after a groin injury.
The bright spot on defense is Rob Blake, a rookie who played a few games for the Kings last season after playing at Bowling Green. Webster reserves his highest praise for Blake.
"Outstanding. I think we should be talking about him as a candidate for rookie of the year," Webster said.
A young, mobile defenseman with such talent is the sort of player the Kings yearn for. They would also like to see a greater commitment to defense from the entire team--as they have for a decade.