NEW PLAYERS 6
NEW RULES NO FACTOR
BETTER THAN '03-04? YES
Other than two brief stints with the Rangers, in which he played a total of five games, Jason LaBarbera has spent the last five seasons in the minors. So when the 25-year-old goaltender arrived in Los Angeles for training camp after signing with the Kings as a free agent, he needed time to acquaint himself with his teammates. Says LaBarbera, "I knew the bigger names, but there was plenty of 'Heyyyy, buddy' and 'What's your name again?'"
LaBarbera, slated to be the backup, isn't the only new--and relatively green--goalie on the Kings. No. 1 backstop Mathieu Garon, 27, made just 43 appearances in the last four seasons, playing behind José Théodore in Montreal, but is expected to start 50 to 60 games. Though Garon had a 2.12 goals-against average for the AHL's Manchester (N.H.) Monarchs during the lockout, he knows he's not an NHL All-Star. "I'm not like [Martin] Brodeur or [Marty] Turco," he says. "I'm not that good."
Luckily for Garon, the new rule limiting how much goalies can handle the puck outside the crease will lessen the gap between him and the league's elite. Garon, who is not a strong puckhandler, played under the same restrictions in the AHL. "I know pretty much everything about [the rule]," says Garon.
Despite Garon's inexperience, the Kings feel he will be a significant upgrade over former starter Roman Cechmanek, a notoriously streaky netminder who was 26th in wins in 2003-04. "People are going to question the goaltending," says G.M. Dave Taylor. "But [Garon and LaBarbera] are ready for the opportunity. We think the combination has a lot of talent, and they can carry our team."
Whoever is in net on a given night will have plenty of help from veteran defensemen Aaron Miller and Mattias Norstrom, the team captain. Says LaBarbera, "The defensive corps here is pretty solid. They know what they're doing back there." They'd better, with two new faces behind them. --Y.Y.
Alexander Frolov and Mike Cammalleri, both 23, will step up offensively; Mathieu Garon doesn't give up bad goals.
• ALL CAPS denotes new player