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Lest We Forget: Justin Auger Was Solid In His NHL/LA Kings Debut

Los Angeles Kings right wing Justin Auger
Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net
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EL SEGUNDO, CA — Last Wednesday, when the Los Angeles Kings handed the Montreal Canadiens a 4-1 loss, the stars of the show were forwards Adrian Kempe, who recorded the first hat trick of his National Hockey League career, and Michael Cammalleri, who scored two goals and added two assists for four points after being a healthy scratch in the team’s previous two outings.

To be sure, Kempe and Cammalleri were surrounded by a throne of reporters after the game, and they were pretty much all reporters asked head coach John Stevens about during his post-game press conference.

Completely lost in the excitement was the fact that yet another young player, right wing Justin Auger, who was selected by the Kings in the fourth round (123rd overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft, became the fourth this season to make his NHL debut with the Kings.

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What’s Fueling The Flying Start By LA Kings Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown?

Los Angeles Kings center and captain Anze Kopitar
Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net
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EL SEGUNDO, CA — The Los Angeles Kings are only three games into the 2017-18 National Hockey League season, but with Anze Kopitar scoring three goals and adding three assists for six points, with a +6 plus/minus rating in those games, he is already way ahead of the curve.

Indeed, last season, although the entire team struggled, Kopitar scored just twelve goals. He didn’t score his third goal of the 2016-17 season until December 13, 2016, against the Buffalo Sabres (a 6-3 loss), 23 games into the season.

“I’m happy with my start, and the way things are going right now, but not a whole lot has changed,” said Kopitar. “I had a good off-season. I feel good, and there’s definitely one of those [luck] things going, where you see a couple go in, especially [my] second one in San Jose [a 4-1 win on October 7], when it bounces off the guy’s stick and goes in. That makes you feel good, feel the puck a little bit better, and see the ice a little bit better. You just try to ride the wave as long as you can.”

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LA Kings D Jake Muzzin’s Got Something Good Cooking in The Early Going

Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin (right), shown here with forward
Trevor Lewis,during a recent practice session.
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Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net

EL SEGUNDO, CA — Last season, a lot went wrong for the Los Angeles Kings, who failed to make the playoffs, resulting in President/General Manager Dean Lombardi and head coach Darryl Sutter being relieved of their duties last April.

Defenseman Jake Muzzin certainly wasn’t alone among players who struggled last season—there was plenty of that to go around. But his struggles were among the most notable, and his -21 plus/minus rating, the worst on the team, didn’t help his cause.

Much has been made about his commitment this past summer to his strength and conditioning work, along with evaluating his poor season, and looking at what he needed to do, or not do, as the case may be, to improve for this season.

When asked what he learned from last season, Muzzin quipped, “that you don’t want to be -21.”

Seriously speaking…

“Last year was frustrating, for me, and for the team,” said the 28-year-old, 6-3, 213-pound native of Woodstock, Ontario. “We didn’t succeed, and the numbers show that. But when you try to do too much out there, you just keep digging yourself into a hole, and we kind of fell into that as a team, not just individually. It all ties together.”

“The thing is that I was trying to do too much,” added Muzzin. “You get away from what you have to do really well. When you’re trying to do too many things, you’re not doing anything well at all. That’s a recipe for failure.”

“You learn to just do your job, focus on what you can do to contribute, and help the team win. Everything goes from there.”

As he did with every player, newly-hired head coach John Stevens made it a point to speak with every player this past summer. When he spoke with Muzzin, it was mostly about rediscovering his ability to be a solid defender, first and foremost.

“[We talked about] getting back to what made me a successful player, what made me a top defender in the league—re-establishing that, and what I have to do be that, and we went from there,” said Muzzin. “I have to be a strong defender first, there’s no question.”

That begs the question: What does Muzzin need to do to be a strong defender?

“Sealing guys on the wall, stopping plays, being accountable, being a guy [who plays] well every night to give us a chance to win,” he noted. “Having said that, there’s lots that goes into it, but those are the major points.”

“We’re starting from there, and we’re letting the offense come from being a great defender, and being a leader on the team,” he added.

Although the Kings have played just two of their 82-game regular season schedule—things can go in any direction—so far, Muzzin has looked dramatically better than he did last season.

Oh…and then there’s that plus/minus thing. So far, Muzzin has an even plus/minus rating—he’s already ahead of the curve.

“I feel good out there,” he said. “I got some confidence going in the pre-season, and I’m still rolling with it. It’s definitely nice to contribute early, and help out. Those are all positives to build on.”

“We’re only two games in, but it’s positive and encouraging to see our team play like this, and for myself, to contribute,” he added.

On October 7, in a dominating 4-1 win at San Jose, Muzzin played what was, arguably, his best game, by far, in recent memory.

“It was a good game,” he noted. “I played a lot (28:15 time on ice). You’re into the game, and you’re just playing. You have no time to think or gather your thoughts, and that’s fun. That’s what you were seeing. I’m encouraged by that, and I want it to continue.”

“I’m a little more confident,” he added. “There’s a little more freedom to make plays, and just play, as opposed to think about making mistakes or not making mistakes. That’s reflected in my play. I’m more emotionally engaged in games, and wanting to win. I’m not saying that I didn’t want to win last year, or the year before. It’s just more so now, and it’s coming out in my play.”

But Muzzin has been an improved player right from the get-go when the pre-season began, and his better defensive play has led to contributions on the other end of the ice, as well.

“My offense comes from being in the right position, and playing solid defense,” he observed. “Offense just comes [from that]. There are natural instincts that come into play that allow you to be in position to jump into plays, and it comes from experience, too. You may have had an unsuccessful year, but you learn a lot from that. If you’re not learning, what are you doing, right? You can learn from failure, too. It’s a bit of everything coming together.”

A big reason things have come together for Muzzin and the Kings is because Stevens and his coaching staff have loosened the reins a bit, as Muzzin noted, giving the players the ability to be more creative.

“They’ve given us the freedom to do what you want to do, and trusting you to make the right play, and that’s not just for me,” said Muzzin. “I think you see that in a lot of guys in the chances we’ve had, and the plays guys are making.”

“You haven’t seen those plays in a couple of years, and it’s exciting,” added Muzzin. “I get excited when I see a guy go out of his comfort zone to make a play, and it works. He gains confidence from that, and you gain trust from that. That’s a recipe for success.”

As alluded to earlier, the Kings are just two games into the regular season, so it’s way too early to reach any reliable conclusions about them yet. That said, so far, whatever Muzzin and the Kings have put into that recipe looks like it just might be awfully tasty.


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LA Kings Alex Iafallo: Not Your Typical NHL Debut Story

Los Angeles Kings forward Alex Iafallo
Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net
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EL SEGUNDO AND LOS ANGELES, CA — For any hockey writer covering a young player making his National Hockey League debut, chances are astronomical that he or she is secretly hoping that the player in question will, at least, record an assist, if not score a goal, that his team will win, and that his family, especially his parents, were able to be there to witness it all, first-hand. After all, those factors generally make for a better story.

But for Los Angeles Kings rookie forward Alex Iafallo, he didn’t need to figure in the scoring on October 5, when he made his NHL debut against the Philadelphia Flyers at Staples Center in Los Angeles, a 2-0 win for the Kings.

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Kopitar. Stevens Talk Offense, Defense Ahead of LA Kings 2017-18 Season Opener

Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar
Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net
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EL SEGUNDO, CA — The fact that the Los Angeles Kings averaged 2.85 goals per game in seven pre-season games does not mean very much, given different lineups and the fact that those games don’t count in the standings. That said, that number is a considerable improvement over the Kings 2016-17 numbers—they averaged a meager 2.43 goals per game last season. To be sure, their offense was anemic, and that’s putting it mildly.

But in the 2017-18 pre-season, the Kings emphasis on increased goal scoring and getting pucks and bodies to the front of the opponent’s net has been very much apparent. But even though the number of goals scored per game during the pre-season won’t mean much unless it turns out to be a harbinger of things to come in the regular season, what is significant is that the majority of the goals were scored either because of traffic in front of the net, or because shots came from dangerous areas of the ice, including right around the net.

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