A contract dispute during training camp left many wondering if the Los Angeles Kings could win without defenseman Drew Doughty. An injury to the former Norris Trophy candidate will give the team a glimpse into what might have been.
The Kings will celebrate their Staples Center opener this evening against the St. Louis Blues, but will have to do so without Doughty and possibly winger Dustin Penner as they try to secure a second straight victory.
The second overall pick of the 2008 draft, Doughty was a holdout for all of the Kings' training camp and most of the preseason as a restricted free agent after his initial three-year entry-level contract expired. However, the two sides eventually agreed on an eight-year, $56 million deal.
Doughty, though, was forced to exit Saturday's 3-2 overtime win at Philadelphia early due to an upper-body injury after taking a hard hit on his first shift of the game from the Flyers' Zac Rinaldo. Doughty was placed on injured reserve with the unspecified injury, though the team says it is not a concussion.
To make matters worse, Penner suffered a knee bruise during a fight with Rinaldo after coming to the aid of his teammate and was unable to finish practice on Monday. He is questionable for tonight.
"There's nothing I can tell you right now," Kings head coach Terry Murray told his team's website on Monday of Penner. "There's no report from our doctor (right now). It's what I said in Philadelphia. It's a contusion on his knee. When he had the fight, he fell. That's what it is. He went to get it checked out by the doctor and see if there's anything further on that.
"The plan was full practice. There was nothing, before the practice, to lead me to believe there was going to be anything different than that. Obviously it's bothering him. He's been reassured by the doctor in Philadelphia and the training staff here, but something is on his mind so we sent him to our team doctor."
Murray did say on Monday that he felt the hit by Rinaldo was clean and the enemy forward was not disciplined. Slava Voynov is expected to make his NHL debut in Doughty's place tonight.
The loss of its top blueliner did bitter the taste of Saturday's win, which came in Mike Richards' return to Philadelphia. Richards had spent his entire career with the Flyers and was the team's captain before getting dealt to the Kings this offseason. He did exact some revenge by assisting on Jack Johnson's overtime winner, sending a slap pass to the defenseman down low for a redirection.
"We have a lot of ex-Flyers, we have a lot of familiarity here," said Johnson, who scored his second overtime winner of the season. "I know this is especially sweet for Mike. We did everything we could to get a win for him."
Los Angeles is returning home for the first time since the preseason after opening the year with a pair of games in Europe before road contests out east in New Jersey and Philadelphia. It will certainly miss Doughty tonight given that the franchise has lost its last seven meetings with the Blues.
St. Louis has also won its last four trips to Los Angeles and will try to avoid a second loss in a row this evening following a 4-2 setback in Anaheim on Sunday.
"I think we played a good 40 minutes. Then in the third period, we killed the penalty and they scored right away on a lucky bounce for their guy. It seemed like they took over and they scored two more goals. It was too late for us to start playing again and we just have to learn from it," Halak said.
The Kings are one of five teams that Halak has never lost to, going 5-0-0 with a 1.20 goals-against average in the matchup.
While Steen has a point in all five games this year, notching three goals and two assists, he has been unable to get St. Louis' power play going. The Blues went 0-for-4 versus the Ducks and are just 1-for-20 on the man advantage this season.
The loss of Andy McDonald certainly hasn't helped. The center suffered a concussion last Thursday in Dallas and has missed the past two games. He was placed on injured reserve Monday and also missed two months a season ago with a concussion.
St. Louis is 1-2 so far on its four-game road trip and after hosting Carolina on Friday will hit the road for another four in a row.