The Kings' minds must have been floating in the rafters with their Stanley Cup banner when the puck was dropped at Staples Center to launch their title defense, so removed was their game from the precise, defense-minded performances they routinely pulled off while bulldozing through the playoffs last spring.

The only clean passes they completed Saturday occurred when they relayed the Cup from hand to hand during a pregame ceremony, the last time players would cradle the precious silver trophy before it went back up for grabs. At least no one dropped the boxes containing the diamond-encrusted championship rings each player received.

Before the game was 22 minutes old they had yielded more goals to the Chicago Blackhawks than they had allowed in any of the 20 games during their remarkable playoff run, quieting a standing-room-only crowd that had waited 45 years to celebrate a Cup triumph and was forced to wait a few months longer to see the banner raised because of a tedious labor dispute that delayed and shortened the season.