When the Los Angeles Kings visit Capital Centre tonight for a 7:30 date with the Washington Capitals, area hockey fans will be watching the National Hockey League's No. 1 team, best player and three leading scorers. nIf Jerry Buss had come along with the Kings, the NHL's most optimistic owner would be here, too.
"We can win the Stanley Cup," Buss declared last week after his Kings had whipped the Capitals, 4-2, in Los Angeles. "We had a good team before and with the kids added to it, we have a much better team. You'd better get on the bandwagon now. You've always been cautious about us before and you've always been right, but not now."
The kids Buss referred to were the King's first three high draft choices in recent years: defenseman Larry Murphy, winger Jim Fox and center Greg Terrion. All were chosen in the June entry draft as the Kings abandoned their old, futile tactic trading draft choces for veterans.
Terrion scored two goals, assisted on one by Fox, and Murphy netted the clincher as the Kings wiped out a 2-1 Washington lead in the third period.
Those three players, of course. are not the above-mentioned top three scorers. They are Charlie Simmer, 14 goals and 27 points; Marcel Dionne, seven and 23, and Dave Taylor, eight and 22. Nobody else in the NHL has reached the 20-point plateau yet.
The Triple Crown line scored a ton last year, too, with Dionne taking the Art Ross Trophy on the strength of 53 goals and 137 points. But Los Angeles gave up 313 goals. Washington yielded oly 293 -- and finished a dreadful 30-36-14.
This campaign the Kings are 9-1-1 and the NHL's highest scoring team. More significantly, goalies Mario Lessard and Ron Grahame rank fourth with a 2.91 goals-against mark. They have been solid, but much of the credit must go to Murphy and two veteran defensemen acquired late last season, Jerry Korab and Dave Lewis.
While the Kings have prospered on the ice, they have been less successful at the Forum box office, averaging only 9,142 ticket purchasers, compared with Washington's 11,570. Buss is not deterred by the lack of interest.
"We are working on a long-range plan and it calls for us, by the 1983-84 season, to be grossing more than the Montreal Canadians," Buss said.
Part of that plan is based on getting the NHL to make some changes. For starters, Buss would like to see the regular season reduced from 80 games to 76, with the first round of the playoffs becoming best of seven, rather than the present best of five.
"We've got to get away from baseball," Buss said. "When I bought the Kings, I had seen only about 25 hockey games and I'm not trying to BS anybody. But I have a number of suggestions to make at the next league meeting (Dec. 8-10 at Palm Beach, Fla.) and the schedule is one of them. The money is in the playoffs, not a game in early October."
Buss also would like to see more excitement and he thinks enforcement of the current rules would be a simple way to do so. He particularly thinks the penalty shot should be called more frequently.
"The penalty shot is the greatest thing in sports," Buss said. "I've only seen one of them, but the excitement was incredible. I think you can compare a penalty shot to a bullfight. One on one, with so much at stake. We need more of them."
Buss thinks his Kings are the most exciting team in hockey and few would dispute him, particularly where Dionne is concerned.
"Who would you want, Dionne or (Guy) Lafleur?" Buss asked. "Maybe last year you'd say Lafleur, but now I don't think anyone would argue against Dionne."
Since Buss is paying Dionne $600,000 a year, he is prejudiced. But Lafleur's knee problems have reduced both his efficiency and Montreal's play. lIf Dionne can stay healthy and continue to set up Taylor and Simmer for goals, the Kings may well wind up with the Stanley Cup, assuming of course they can survive the brutal travel necessitated by the present Cup format of 2-2-1-1-1 rather than the World Series' 2-3-2 scheduling.
Dionne right now is the best player in hockey. Whether he is more valuable to his team than goalie Mike Liut of St. Louis or any of several others is a matter of conjecture.
So it was distressing to see Dionne quoted by a Los Angeles writer on the subject of Wayne Gretzky's choice as MVP last year that "a lot of people in Canada and some hockey writers have told me . . . I only lost a close race because a couple of writers who were determined to have a winner from a Canadian club and an expansion team left me off their ballots entirely."
The Los Angeles writer further commented that "no one who knows this sport could do that (leave Dionne off the ballot) honestly."
When it was pointed out that an honest man could have listed Liut, Lafleur and Gretzky on his ballot without admitting prejudice or stupidity, the writer confessed that he thought the MVP ballot contained 10 names, as in baseball rather than hockey's three.
But if it was controversial, how about Buss' latest idea? The Kings own Detroit's No. 1 draft pick this year, as a result of the Dale McCourt settlement. Buss' current inclination is to offer it back to the Red Wings -- for McCourt.