Ducks begin Stanley Cup defense vs. Kings in England

Sep 29, 2007 - 11:09 AM By PA SportsTicker

Less than four months after winning their first Stanley Cup championship, the Anaheim Ducks will begin defending it on the other side of the pond.

The Ducks, who became the first California-based team to win the Cup, take on the Los Angeles Kings in the opener of the National Hockey League's 90th season at the O2 Arena in London on Saturday.

The contest is the first of the two-game Premiere Series, marking the first time the NHL will play a regular-season contest in Europe. In the past, the league has held one-game events in Japan in 1997, 1998 and 2000.

The teams conclude the Premiere Series on Sunday.

Several key Ducks who hoisted the Cup after their Game Five victory over the Ottawa Senators on June 6 will be absent from the lineup Saturday. Conn Smythe Trophy winner Scott Niedermayer and 2006-07 leading scorer Teemu Selanne both are contemplating retirement but have yet to make a decision.

Defenseman Mathieu Schneider, who was signed as a free agent in July to help fill the void left by Niedermayer's absence, also will not play due to a fractured ankle suffered in a preseason game. And Dustin Penner, who scored 29 goals as a rookie last season, has moved on to Edmonton via free agency.

Former Hart and Norris Trophy winner Chris Pronger will be on the ice, however. Brought in prior to 2006-07 as what general manager Brian Burke perceived as the missing piece to the championship puzzle, Pronger was named captain of the Ducks on Friday, filling the role previously held by Niedermayer.

The Kings, who finished one point ahead of the Phoenix Coyotes to avoid the basement in the Western Conference last season, enter 2007-08 with a considerably new look.

General manager Dean Lombardi was aggressive on the free-agent market over the summer, signing Ladislav Nagy, Kyle Calder, Michal Handzus and defensemen Tom Preissing and Brad Stuart. However, Los Angeles' goaltending remains a question mark.

The Kings employed five netminders last season, including the recently retired Sean Burke, but still finished 27th in the league with a 3.33 goals-against average.

Backup Mathieu Garon joined Edmonton as a free agent and Dan Cloutier was banished to the minor leagues during training camp, leaving the duties to Jason LaBarbera, Jean-Sebastien Aubin and rookie Jonathan Bernier, the 11th overall pick in the 2006 draft. LaBarbera, who shared the starting job with Garon in 2005-06, did not play for the Kings last season for fear he would not clear waivers if brought up from the American Hockey League.

Los Angeles' offense is led by Michael Cammalleri (team-high 80 points last season), Alexander Frolov and Anze Kopitar, the first Slovenian-born player in the NHL who recorded 20 goals and 61 points as a rookie in 2006-07.

Along with newcomers Preissing and Stuart, the defense will feature newly annointed captain Rob Blake and Jack Johnson, the third overall pick by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2005 who got his introduction to the league during a five-game stint at the end of last season.

The Ducks are among eight teams that participate in the first games of the 2007-08 season played in North America on Wednesday. Anaheim visits Detroit in a rematch of the Western Conference finals, while the Eastern Conference champion Senators begin the campaign on the road against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Also on Wednesday, the Hurricanes host the Montreal Canadiens and the Dallas Stars travel to play the Colorado Avalanche.

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