Coach Darryl Sutter leads Kings in their first practice of the season. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
The seven-month hockey holding pattern lifted and the Kings were free, free at last, to start that thing known as a title defense.
Liftoff was Sunday morning with the opening session of an abbreviated training camp at El Segundo, and everything going forward will be taking place on an accelerated basis.
"If it takes 48 games to get to our stride, that's all it will be, 48 games," Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said.
He did get off a good line about the first day. "Tough on old guys, putting your skates back on," Sutter said. "Like breaking in new cowboy boots."
The first of the 48-game lockout-shortened season is Saturday at noon against Chicago at Staples Center. And the Kings are operating under the assumption they will be without center Anze Kopitar or defenseman Willie Mitchell, who are both suffering from knee injuries.
They have not resumed skating, and Kopitar said he hopes to be doing so in a few days, once he is fitted with a knee brace. Kopitar and Mitchell weren't the only ones missing on the ice, as enforcer and player representative Kevin Westgarth was traded early Sunday.
An influential figure in the just-completed collective bargaining agreement talks, Westgarth was sent to Carolina in exchange for forward Anthony Stewart and two future draft picks, a fourth-rounder this year and a sixth-round pick in 2014.
Stewart, a former first-round pick (by Florida), will be joining the Kings, not going to their minor league team in Manchester, N.H. He had 20 points in 77 games last season.
Westgarth's off-season home is in Raleigh, N.C., but the Kings were sorry to see him move on. Goalie Jonathan Quick has known him since they were roommates coming up through the ranks in Manchester. Dustin Penner paid tribute to Westgarth's commitment in the labor negotiations and pointed out he had spent three hours at an event for season-ticket holders Saturday night.
"There's no better guys than guys you've won with," Sutter said. "Ever. It doesn't matter. But it is about opportunity, also, and fit."
In one sense, it was like the first day of school for the Kings as some returned from far-flung locations.
"There's that inner confidence in the room," Penner said. "But we know we're going to be targeted by every team that comes in or every building we walk into.
"…It felt like home. I think everybody settled in. Everybody is excited, attentive, ready to go. It just felt right."
Kopitar was playing for second-division Mora in Sweden during the lockout with his younger brother Gasper and the Ducks' Bobby Ryan when he injured his knee Jan. 5. The prognosis was that he would be out from two to three weeks from when the injury occurred.
"I just got tangled up with somebody," Kopitar said. "Couldn't really avoid the check and it got me, I guess, in a vulnerable spot, if you can call it that way….I guess I felt a little bit of a burning pain and knew something was up.
"It's progressing, obviously, but I can't put any timeline on when my first game is going to be. It's not fun. You want to be on the ice with the guys, especially since it's been seven months not seeing them."
The prolonged lockout gave Quick the chance to recover from off-season back surgery. He had been without pain the last couple of months but said he could not have played until being cleared last week.
Every player from the Kings' Stanley Cup playoff run has returned. Westgarth played in 25 games last season but did not appear in the playoffs.
Familiarity should benefit the Kings in the sprint to April 27, the final day of the regular season.