It's been a while since the Los Angeles Kings have set the bar that high.
Just making the playoffs won't be enough this season for the Kings and Canucks, who both open up their 2010-11 campaigns this evening at Rogers Arena.
Posting their highest point total (101) last year since the Wayne Gretzky-led Kings notched 102 in 1990-91, Los Angeles arrived to the postseason party for the first time since 2002. The Kings didn't stay long, getting bounced out of the opening round in six games by the Canucks, who went on to get eliminated by the Blackhawks for the second straight season in the next round.
Los Angeles tried to make a splash this offseason by tossing its lure into the Ilya Kovalchuk pond, but the Russian winger took the bait of the Devils instead.
That isn't the worst thing that could have happened to the Kings, who still boast an excellent -- and mostly young -- club that features the likes of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Ryan Smyth, Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson and Jonathan Quick. That core has Los Angeles thinking big again in 2010-11.
"I love the expectations that everybody has for this hockey club," LA head coach Terry Murray told his team's website. "They're legitimate. We took huge strides last year, a nice run to the playoffs, and with that comes more expectation, and we accept that. We're gladly embracing it and we're excited about the season."
The Kings possess some of the top talents in the league in Kopitar and Norris Trophy nominee Doughty. Kopitar posted career highs of 34 goals and 47 assists last year while skating in all 82 games, while Doughty pumped in 16 goals and 59 points during his sophomore campaign. The second-overall pick of the 2008 draft also won a Gold Medal during the 2010 Winter Olympics and teams with Johnson -- the third overall pick of the 2005 draft -- to lead an excellent blue line unit.
Los Angeles also has two of the top goaltending prospects in the league in Quick and Jonathan Bernier. Quick will get the start tonight after going 39-24-7 with a 2.54 goals-against average in 72 games last year, but he is just 1-4-1 with a 2.33 GAA in six lifetime meetings with Vancouver.
The Canucks have handled the Kings recently as they had a five-game series winning streak snapped when the clubs last met in Los Angeles on April 1. Vancouver has still won the last four meetings at Rogers Arena.
While Kopitar is an up-and-coming star, reigning Hart Trophy winner Henrik Sedin is already a major one. The identical twin led the NHL with 112 points last year on 29 goals and 83 assists, while brother Daniel had 29 goals and 85 points despite skating in just 63 contests due to a broken leg suffered four games into the season.
The two will be missing a linemate tonight due to offseason shoulder surgery undergone by Alex Burrows, who had a career-best 35 goals last year.
Hoping to get over the hump, Vancouver brought in physical free agent defenseman Dan Hamhuis, while also trading for blueliner Keith Ballard. Those two will help offset the loss of Sami Salo, who will be out until at least January with a torn Achilles' tendon.
Then there is Luongo, who suffered a bit last year when Vancouver went with an up-tempo style. Vancouver's former captain still won 40 games, but turned in his highest single-season GAA (2.57) during his stint with the club.
Luongo also had just a .895 save percentage while going 6-6 in the playoffs, though he is 10-7-1 with a 2.40 GAA lifetime versus Los Angeles.