The Los Angeles Kings greeted their fans with open arms and gave a collective shout, "We're Home!"
It didn't take long to see that this team is different than last year's.
This team can dominate a game from start to finish, without having to worry about a soft-goal or shaky defensive play. This team is so different in fact that there is a certain optimism not felt around the team since the days of Wayne Gretzky. This team is different.
Last night's game saw one line completely take over the game. In particular, Simon Gagne played an incredibly strong game. Few players in the league have the skill and vision to match Gagne's. It just so happens that his career has been plagued by injury. Now, in a comfortable situation, playing with top players, on a top team, Gagne appears to be in a zone. He is playing with confidence and vision not seen on Kopitar's wing since his draft year in 2005.
Justin Williams also chipped in with two assists continuing his strong play. It's really great to watch Williams play when healthy, as he is one of the hardest working players in the league.
Dustin Penner could learn a lesson or two from him.
Mike Richards picked up as assist last night giving him four points on the season in the five games. While his stats aren't through the roof, they are completely respectable and near what should have been expected by one of the true great leaders of the game.
What's more impressive is his face-off percentage. After struggling to start the season, Richards has played back-to-back games with a face-off winning percentage above 58. He has done so much to solidify the Kings down the center of the ice.
Chalk up another solid performance from Jack Johnson as well. The enigmatic defenseman assisted on Dustin Brown's first of the season, giving him four points on the season. The offense created by Johnson has really helped to soften the blow left by Doughty's absence. The biggest surprise has to be Johnson's defensive play. His +3 rating is really good for a player who has struggled on the defensive side of the puck.
Fans, I caution you not to get too excited about last night's game. While I certainly share in the joy that was brought to the Staples Center last night, we must remain aware that this is a long season. That being said, I think that this season is different. This Kings team has a certain atmosphere around it that brings a sense of optimism to the team.
However, if Terry Murray and his coaching staff get the power play going, give Jon Quick plenty of rest, and manage game decisions effectively, this team has the potential to challenge for a high seeded birth in the playoffs.
But, based on watching what we've seen thus far, is there any reason to believe that the Kings can't finish first in the Pacific Division?
Count this analyst as saying no.
This team is solid, strong, deep and very disciplined. With hard working players all focused on the same goal, I think this could be a magical year in Los Angeles.
Let's hope that this great play can continue when the Kings take on the Phoenix Coyotes in Glendale at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday. It should be a good tilt in which the Kings could take advantage of some weaker goaltending. Enjoy the game folks.
Follow me on Twitter: @michaelstuart93