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Season preview: Los Angeles Kings

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Season preview: Los Angeles Kings

To get you ready for the 2015-16 season, we will be previewing all 30 NHL in 30 days, division by division. Check the bottom of the page for a schedule of each preview.

Today’s team: Los Angeles Kings

2014-15 record: 40-27-15, 4th in the Pacific

How they finished: Did not make the playoffs

Coach: Darryl Sutter (5th season)

Notable additions: LW Milan Lucic, G Jhonas Enroth

Notable subtractions: D Robyn Regehr, C Mike Richards, D Andrej Sekera, C Jarrett Stoll, RW Justin Williams

RELATED: Caps likely to rotate at third line center this season

Schedule against the Capitals: Tues. Feb. 15 at Washington, Wed. March 9 at Los Angeles

Outlook: Just about everyone penciled the Kings into the playoffs last season so it was a shock when they were not able to dig themselves out of the hole they had dug in the standings and actually missed the playoffs.

Suddenly a team that has won two Stanley Cups in four seasons has some questions surrounding them.

The Kings return all five of their leading scorers from last season and added Milan Lucic, but they still lost a fair amount of offensive contributors. This was an average offensive team last year and the addition of Lucic by itself feels like it is not enough to make this team dangerous again.

Jonathan Quick returns and remains one of the league's top netminders, but what about the defense in front of him? Robyn Regehr and Andrej Sekera are both gone and Slava Voynov's situation is still unresolved in terms of the NHL. Those are tough shoes to fill.

The Kings still have over $6 million of cap space which could suggest they may be hoping Voynov can return next season ($4.162 cap hit). Otherwise it's hard to have much faith in the defense they return this fall.

There is also some turmoil in Los Angeles. The team unceremoniously terminated Mike Richards' contract for "a material breach of the requirements of his standard player's contract," Jarrett Stoll was arrested in April for possession of cocaine and ecstasy and of course the Voynov domestic abuse incident. There are also reports that some Kings players are growing tired of head coach Darryl Sutter.

This is not a team that is going to start from scratch, they had the best Corsi-for percentage in the NHL last season, but there are enough problems on and off the ice to suggest the dominant Kings who have won two of the last four Stanley Cups are gone.

Expectations: The defense has undeniably regressed, the offense will remain average and the players are not happy with their coach. You can't count the Kings out completely given what they have accomplished over the past few years and their possession numbers suggest last season was more of an anomaly than anything else, but the cracks are starting to form.

Los Angeles is on the decline and look to be a middle of the pack team this season. They will be in the hunt for a playoff spot and if they get in, who knows what they can do?

MORE CAPS: NHL 16 adds new feature that should excite Caps fans

See more team previews:

Pacific Division 
Anaheim Ducks 
Arizona Coyotes 
Calgary Flames
Edmonton Oilers
San Jose Sharks 8/6 
Vancouver Canucks 8/7

Central Division 
Chicago Blackhawks 8/8 
Colorado Avalanche 8/9 
Dallas Stars 8/10 
Minnesota Wild 8/11
St. Louis Blues 8/13 
Winnipeg Jets 8/14

Atlantic Division 
Boston Bruins 8/15 
Buffalo Sabres 8/16 
Detroit Red Wings 8/17 
Florida Panthers 8/18 
Montreal Canadiens 8/19 
Ottawa Senators 8/20< 
Tampa Bay Lightning 8/21 
Toronto Maple Leafs 8/22

Metropolitan Division 
Carolina Hurricanes 8/23 
Columbus Blue Jackets 8/24 
New Jersey Devils 8/25 
New York Islanders 8/26 
New York Rangers 8/27 
Philadelphia Flyers 8/28 
Pittsburgh Penguins 8/29 
Washington Capitals 8/30

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The goal that no one wanted: Alex Ovechkin gives up hat trick to set up T.J. Oshie

The goal that no one wanted: Alex Ovechkin gives up hat trick to set up T.J. Oshie

Alex Ovechkin had two goals, the puck on his stick and an empty-net yawning. The Caps held a 4-2 lead on Monday against the Vancouver Canucks late in the third period and the win looked all but secured. The only thing still up for grabs was the exclamation point empty-net goal.

Ovechkin took the puck in the defensive zone and weaved his way through the neutral zone. Once he hit center ice, there was only one player between him and the net. The hat trick looked all but certain…until he passed the puck away.

He easily could have taken the puck himself and fired it into the empty yet, but instead he chose to pass it off to T.J. Oshie on the wing.

Oshie delayed, but with the trailing Vancouver players skating into the passing lane, there was no way for Oshie to try to pass it back to Ovechkin and he very reluctantly shot the puck into the net.

When the players returned to the bench, the disappointment on Oshie’s face was clear to see. He wanted Ovechkin to get the hat trick, but Ovechkin wasn’t having it.

After the game, head coach Todd Reirden praised Ovechkin for his leadership.

“He could have easily got in the red and tried to score himself and it wasn’t even a thought,” Reirden said. “He passed right to Osh and Osh couldn’t go back to him and that’s the way it worked out. It doesn’t bother him one bit and I think that’s where you see a different player than maybe you saw three or four years ago that is not focused on individual stuff. He’s doing the right thing and he feels if you do the right thing for long enough, you’re going to get rewarded.

“We were benefactors of that last season with being able to win out at the end. He’s really got a lot of buy-in right now for doing the right thing. I think his leadership is really in the last probably year, year and a half has really gone to a new level.”
 
Reirden saw leadership on the play. Oshie saw disappointment.
 
Ovechkin offered his own explanation for giving up the shot as he said, “Save it for next time.”

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Nicklas Backstrom passes 600 career assists with a three-point night vs. Canucks

Nicklas Backstrom passes 600 career assists with a three-point night vs. Canucks

Nicklas Backstrom can so often be overlooked thanks to his superstar teammates. But on a night in which Alex Ovechkin scored two goals and four points and John Carlson had a goal and three points, Backstrom was the man of the hour on Monday in Vancouver.

With his three assists on the night, Backstrom tallied assists No. 599, 600 and 601 of his career. He is just the 87th player in the history of the NHL to reach the 600-assist mark.

“It means that I’ve been playing in this league a long time I think now,” Backstrom told NBC Sports Washington’s Alan May after the game. “It's a nice milestone, of course, but we’re not going to stop here. We’re just going to keep going.”

Very fittingly, Backstrom’s 600th assist came on a power play goal to Ovechkin. Per NHL Stats, 235 of Backstrom’s 601 assists have been to Ovechkin. T.J. Oshie comes in at a very, very distant second as Backstrom has set up the veteran winger 49 times.

Ovechkin and Backstrom’s careers will be forever linked given the success they have had together in Washington. While that has caused many to overlook the soft-spoken Swede, it is foolish to continue to underrate him and his ability.

Backstrom is an absolute superstar who just so happens to play on the same team as one of the best players in the world and one of the biggest personalities in the sport.

But make no mistake, Backstrom is an elite talent in his own right.

Backstrom is now the first player from the 2006 draft class to reach 600 assists. The next closest is Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux with 471.

The level of success Backstrom has managed to find while in the league has been surprising even to him.

“I wasn’t really sure what I expected out of myself,” he said. “I was just trying to enjoy it. Luckily this organization believed in me and played me a lot after a couple games there and then it just took off. It’s been going fast, but I’ve had so much fun.”

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