Sep 28, 2001
Preseason hockey when it is 100 degrees doesn't always feel quite right. Then again, when it is being played in Las Vegas, it doesn't seem so strange. Where else can you sit next to your favorite players at a blackjack table? Last Saturday, the 22nd, the Kings squared off against the Sharks, at the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas. No, they didn't move the slots and tables aside and displace all the senior citizens from their slots. They have a 12,000-seat arena with a regulation rink they break out when the Kings make their now yearly trek to Vegas.
This year, the Kings have had a particularly difficult time of concentrating on hockey, as Garnet "Ace" Bailey their director of pro scouting, and Mark Bavis a team ammeter scout, were on United Airlines Flight 175, that crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11th. Most players admitted that it is tough concentrating on hockey right now, not just because of losing these two guys, but the overall sadness hanging over the world in the wake of all the killings. Craig Johnson, one of the few Americans on the Kings, said it hit him really hard. "I'm an American, I love my country, and I think about it all the time". Mike Ricci of the Sharks commented "It's scary...it's our job we have to do it, but you still think about all the tragedy, all the people, and hopefully people can get some enjoyment out of hockey...it's nice for us to get away from it." The players seemed ready to concentrate on the game on Saturday night, as life goes on, and the regular season is quickly approaching.
The game was quite entertaining for a preseason affair, which the Kings won 4-3. Both teams didn't dress all the regulars, as some camp invites were given a shot at making a good impression. With 60% Kings fans and 40% Shark fans, lots of noise and enthusiasm from the crowd at the almost sold out arena. Twice during the game, patriotic songs came on, and the crowd cheered louder than at any other point, as flags where waived and people stood up.
Owen Nolan delivered his usual feisty brand of hockey, hitting everything he could. Ian Laperriere did likewise for the Kings. The Kings need to get more physical play out of their scoring guys, Jozef Stumpel and Glen Murray. Both are big, and showed that maybe they will step up the hitting that is often absent from their game. Rather than coast into his checks, Murray forechecked well, especially on Nolan and Ricci. The Kings were without their resident tough guys, Ken Belanger (not that anyone would confuse him with the diminutive Eric Belanger) and rookie Ryan Flinn.
The Sharks' Finnish goalie tandem of Miikka Kiprusoff and Vesa Toskala appear to both be in contention for the backup role behind Evgeni Nabokov, with both getting action. Both Shark goalies were quite sharp, scrambling around to stop various Kings at point blank, as well as on odd numbered rushes. The Kings and Sharks had many scoring chances, with the Kings getting 42 shots on goal. Ricci was all over the place, getting a goal and an assist, as was the "new" Robitaille, Randy, chipping in with a goal and 2 assists. Czeck rookie Jaroslav Bendar delivered some unexpected big hits as well as scoring a goal. The verdict had been out on him, as the first 2 weeks of training camp did not impress much.
These are 2 teams that have been very competitive the last few years, knocking off favorites in the early rounds of the playoffs. Expect them both to fight for the division title all year, with a slight edge going to the Kings if Felix Potvin's rejuvenated career continues. So far in the preseason, he looks sharp. With the Sharks, Teemu Selanne needs to step up and get off the cruise control he had been on in Anaheim, where he lack of production could be excused from playing most of the time with the sniper Kariya. Will Selanne integrate himself into the tighter forechecking Shark's offense? Mike Ricci told me he is excited to play with Selanne, but once that goal scorer's aura dies down, Selanne will need to show he can play two-way hockey and get a bit more physical.
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