Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Struggling Kings' Flirtation with Cup Is Only a Memory

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Struggling Kings' Flirtation with Cup Is Only a Memory

Article excerpt

They can skate, but they can't hide.

Welcome to the rapidly deteriorating Los Angeles Kings' season, a disappointing first-quarter effort that has begun to erode their fond memories of June's Stanley Cup final against the Montreal Canadiens.

And if that sounds a bit strange, it's because:

Wayne Gretzky has carried the momentum from last season's playoffs into this season and leads the National Hockey League in scoring with 49 points in 24 games. He was on a 36-goal, 164-point pace after the first quarter, which would be his best season since scoring 168 points in 1988-89.

Goaltender Kelly Hrudey has started strong, keeping the team afloat despite customarily having to face 30 or more shots on goal. In two games, he faced 52.

That means that the often familiar targets - Gretzky and goaltending - aren't the reasons the Kings, at 9-13-2 have dropped four games below .500, and have the second-worst road record in the league, 2-10-1.

If the season ended today, the Kings would miss the playoffs. They are 10th in the Western Conference, two points ahead of the expansion Anaheim Mighty Ducks and nine in front of the hapless Edmonton Oilers.

You can trace the team's problems to last summer.

Before their playoff run, the Kings finished only four games above .500 in the regular season and management made no major improvements over the summer. So, the road to mediocrity was plotted long before the first puck was dropped in October.

In fact, the few changes made have backfired. The Kings lost their most inspirational and physical defenseman, Marty McSorley, a player who was the epitome of coach Barry Melrose's system. Instead, they concentrated on signing center Jimmy Carson to a three-year, $3.3 million contract. Carson, who has three goals in 18 games, is not a prototypical Melrose player and has difficulty fitting into the up-tempo, gritty system.

The Kings got Shawn McEachern for McSorley. Melrose immediately said that McEachern might score 40 goals some day, but this season he is on a 12-goal, 40-point pace, which is well off his totals of 28 goals and 61 points in Pittsburgh last season.

For now, there is no replacement for center Corey Millen, who was traded in June to the New Jersey Devils for a fifth-round draft choice. …

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