Blackhawks' Sheldon Brookbank checks Kings forward Kyle Clifford… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
On opening day of the shortened 48-game NHL season, the visiting Chicago Blackhawks spoiled the Kings' party. It was banner-raising day, a last chance to remember the magical playoff run of last June.
The Blackhawks showed up, won the game, 5-2, and have been winning ever since.
Chicago is the last remaining NHL team undefeated in regulation (11-0-3), which means now the Kings can return the favor Sunday.
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter has deep Blackhawks roots, having played his entire 406-game NHL career in Chicago and then breaking into the coaching ranks with them.
"We got them off on the right foot. We take a lot of credit for their success," said Sutter, at his sarcastic best Saturday. "They're an awesome team. Two years removed winning a championship with that same nucleus and they're all healthy.... They're where they are for a good reason. It's not hard to figure out."
The Blackhawks have lost three times in shootouts, most recently to the Ducks on Tuesday.
"They're not invincible," said Sutter. "Somebody is going to beat 'em.... We'd like to try again. They're not on a different planet than us."
The Kings' three-game trip comes on the heels of their 2-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday that highlighted some modest recent improvements. Defensively, they were sound, limiting the Blue Jackets to just 13 shots, eight in the first two periods combined.
Goaltender Jonathan Bernier, making back-to-back starts for the first time in the Sutter era, earned the victory, which left the Kings with a dilemma. Stick with the hot hand in goal, or go back to No. 1, Jonathan Quick, who is off to a relatively slow start this season following off-season back surgery?
Questions, questions, questions and the one thing about Sutter is he hates questions about his goaltending rotation.
"We've got to get 'em both sharp," he said. "Schedule is going to tell us we need both guys soon."
One of the byproducts of Bernier's back-to-back starts is that it afforded Quick more time to work on his game in practice.
"He [Quick] had a really good week," Sutter said. "Quite honest, a lot of his issues [are] from our coaching staff not doing a good enough job with him, starting with me. When you have limited practice time, you need more quality [time] with your goaltenders. I should pay more attention to it during practice."
Sutter has been particularly unhappy with the performances in two games this season, the season opener and the loss at Anaheim on Feb. 2.
"One guy wasn't mentally ready to come off the bench and one guy wasn't mentally ready to start the game," Sutter said. "Hopefully they've made some progress in that the last week or so."
Bernier, for his part, is enjoying the action. Long ago, he was considered the Kings' goaltender of the future, only to be passed on the developmental ladder by Quick. For however long it lasts, getting a chance to show he can play — and win — in the NHL, is the opportunity he craves. The last time he started three consecutive games was when Bernier was with the Kings' minor league affiliate in Manchester, N.H.
"It's fun. That's why we play the game, to play as much as possible," Bernier said. "I definitely enjoy being back in. Last year, Quickie was just unbelievable. I think that's why Darryl went with him the whole way. He deserved it. Sometimes he needs to give a break to No. 1, and it just happened that way that I played back to back."
When: 12:30 PST.
Where: United Center.
On the Air: TV: NBC. Radio: 1150.
Etc.: The Blackhawks' Patrick Kane is No. 2 in overall NHL scoring and off to the fastest start of his career. Backup goalie Ray Emery will get the start against the Kings because No. 1 Corey Crawford is out with an upper-body injury.