How did Cup champions fare in their opener?

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How did Cup champions fare in their opener?

From Comcast SportsNetLOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Chicago Blackhawks raised their own Stanley Cup championship banner just two seasons ago, so their core players already know it's tough to go back to work after a pregame party.When the Los Angeles Kings were finished raising their banner and receiving their rings Saturday, the Blackhawks reminded the champs that what happened last year won't help the Kings in this shortened NHL season.Marian Hossa had two goals and an assist, Corey Crawford made 19 saves, and Chicago crashed the Kings' Stanley Cup celebration with a 5-2 victory.Captain Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane each had a goal and an assist for the Blackhawks, who jumped to a 3-0 lead on Michael Frolik's goal less than 15 minutes in.With superior speed and skill, Chicago ruined the festivities shortly after the Kings hung their first championship banner in the Staples Center rafters."We wanted to have a good start, and whether they were going to be on their game or not didn't really matter to us," said Toews, the Conn Smythe Trophy-winning hero of Chicago's 2010 title run."We tried not to focus on what was going on out there before the game. We were in (the locker room), just getting ready and doing our thing. We had a great first period, and when you come out in the first 20 minutes like that, you want to keep it going, and that's what we did."With every player who touched the ice in last season's playoffs returning to defend the title, the Kings received their championship rings during a stirring pregame ceremony that included each player passing the Cup around the boards. The Blackhawks didn't watch it, but they seemed fired up from the opening faceoff."The season after you win the Cup, everyone is going to play their best game against the Cup champion, because that's the game where you want to prove yourselves and make a statement," said Kane, whose 5-on-3 goal started the rout. "So I think that's what we were kind of feeling today."Rob Scuderi and Jordan Nolan scored and Jonathan Quick stopped 17 shots for the Kings, who are definitely done celebrating last season's achievements as the first eighth-seeded playoff team to win the Stanley Cup.Quick gave up five goals just once last season while making his first All-Star team, but he wasn't much better than his teammates in his first game since winning the Conn Smythe Trophy and getting a 10-year, 58 million contract extension."You have to get used to getting knocked down and getting back up," Quick said. "As the ceremony was going on, most of our guys were thinking about the game, but obviously you're going to take a moment, and it's a special moment for the team and fans."While the Kings learned they've got work to do, the Blackhawks showed why they've got a shot at repeating their 2010 championship run. Kane seemed particularly sharp after spending the lockout playing in Switzerland.Hossa was the Blackhawks' leading scorer last season, but he left his final game on a stretcher after a hit by Phoenix's Raffi Torres, who got a 25-game suspension. The lockout was a benefit to Hossa's recovery, and the 11-time 25-goal scorer is off to another big start."I haven't played in a long time because of the concussion, so I tried to keep it simple, especially at the beginning," Hossa said. "Nothing too fancy. They gave me short shifts and I tried to get into it. Obviously my timing is not there yet, but it's going to come with the more games we play. My head is clear, otherwise I wouldn't be playing if there were still some issues."Los Angeles began the season without two key players: Leading scorer Anze Kopitar, who hurt his knee while playing in Sweden, and defenseman Willie Mitchell, who had knee surgery.Both players wore their uniforms and skates while participating in the pregame ceremony, but the Kings' good pregame feelings got erased about two minutes in when Matt Greene and Trevor Lewis went to the penalty box 43 seconds apart. Los Angeles killed most of the 5-on-3, but Kane scored with 8 seconds left in the advantage.Hossa, who set up Kane's goal, then got credit for a score when his centering pass hit Drew Doughty's skate and ricocheted past Quick. Just 74 seconds after that, Frolik put a pall over the celebratory crowd with the Blackhawks' third goal on eight shots.When Toews, who spent the week ailing with a cold, alertly scored 1:16 into the second period, a few scattered boos came down from the sellout crowd. The Kings' defense appeared to miss Mitchell, while Kopitar's absence has forced coach Darryl Sutter to shuffle the lines that worked so splendidly in last season's playoffs."I think most people expected to be a little rusty, and both teams were," said Scuderi, who scored midway through the second period. "We made a few mistakes, but we're not taking it as an excuse."NOTES:Scuderi matched his entire goal total from 82 games last season. ... Chicago scratched veteran RW Jamal Mayers and new D Michal Roszival. ... Los Angeles scratched new RW Anthony Stewart after acquiring him from Carolina earlier in the week.

Report: Dexter Fowler closing in on deal with Cardinals

Report: Dexter Fowler closing in on deal with Cardinals

Dexter Fowler won't be making a surprise return to the Cubs next season.

Fowler is closing in on a deal to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals, according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale.

The Cubs signed outfielder Jon Jay last week to a one-year deal, pretty much sealing Fowler's future with the Cubs.

In two seasons in Chicago, Fowler batted .261/.367/.427 with 30 home runs and 94 RBI, and a World Series ring.

Blackhawks improve faceoffs in Jonathan Toews’ absence

Blackhawks improve faceoffs in Jonathan Toews’ absence

Yanic Perreault came onto the ice as the Blackhawks wrapped up practice on Thursday.

It’s been a relatively common sight the last few seasons. Most of the time, Perreault has helped out when a particular player is struggling from the faceoff dot. That was true with Artem Anisimov earlier this season. But with Jonathan Toews sidelined the Blackhawks have been even more focused on improving upon and winning faceoffs. Thanks to the extra diligence, they’ve done that.

The Blackhawks’ overall faceoff performance has steadily improved. They’ll see how it goes again on Friday night when they face the New York Rangers, their eighth consecutive game without Toews.

“We’re working almost every practice and trying to get better on faceoffs,” Anisimov said on Thursday. “If we win the faceoff, we start with the puck and it’s pretty good. You can go to the offensive zone or win in the offensive zone you start with the puck and you have the opportunity to shoot the puck all day and get chances. It’s a big part of the game.”

Enter Perreault, who was a great faceoff man during his NHL career. The Blackhawks players say Perreault offers a wealth of information in each session.

“It’s different every day. The whole science behind it, he’s been great since he was brought in,” Marcus Kruger said. “He always has something new he wants us to work on, whether it’s just timing or body-positioning or something like that. It’s a lot of different stuff and we work on new stuff every day.”

Rasmussen agreed.

“It’s a lot of things you can work on,” he said. “You try to work on being in a low position so you get stronger. [There are] a lot of small things on how you can go against other guys that do it certain way, and you have to find your own way, too.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Their first game without Toews, against the Anaheim Ducks, was dismal. Part of that is the Ducks having some tremendous face-off guys. But Toews is the Blackhawks’ best at the dot – he’s won 60.3 percent of the time this season – so that first game without him was rough.

Here’s how things have progressed for the Blackhawks, with faceoffs won and lost and percentage, in Toews’ absence.

Opponent Wins-Losses Percent
Ducks 18-49 27 percent
Kings 21-37 36 percent
Panthers 39-35 53 percent
Devils 22-27 45 percent
Flyers 22-31 42 percent
Jets 31-27 53 percent
Coyotes 30-28 52 percent

So yes, there’s been improvement.

“I think we hold our own,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Yan works well with our center men, they take pride in trying to be the best they can and now they’re taking some important faceoffs and some they probably haven’t taken in the past, whether they’re defensive or special-teams faceoffs. They’ve all won some important faceoffs for us at key times, too.”

The Blackhawks have done their best filling the void left by Toews, especially on faceoffs. There’s been a lot of work put into it, especially with Perreault following practices. But the results have been there.

“We know we’d like to start with the puck, and we had a couple of tough games when Jonny went down initially,” Quenneville said. “But it’s been much better since.”