LOS ANGELES — In case you weren’t aware, the 2007-08 National Hockey League season is still going on. But that has been very easy to forget in the Los Angeles area with the Los Angeles Kings sitting on the sidelines all week.
Indeed, the Kings have been reduced to being spectators this week, having been given the week off by the NHL’s scheduling gurus.
“I don’t know why we have six days off,” said Kings goaltender Jason LaBarbera. “It’s a weird blip in the schedule.”
“You usually don’t get a week during the season like this,” said Kings winger Michael Cammalleri. “I don’t know if any of us have experienced this before. I guess the closest thing was during the Olympic break a couple of years ago.”
After winning five out of their last seven games and six out of their last nine, sitting idle for a week is not something the players wanted.
“I know that I don’t like having a week off,” winger Dustin Brown told Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times. “I like playing games. For me, I get into the groove of practice, game, practice, game, and I feel better that way. I’d rather play as many games as possible.”
“I’d rather keep playing,” said LaBarbera. “You know when you get a week off the schedule is going to pick up. Six days off is not ideal, especially when most of your team is healthy. But we’ll take advantage of it while we can. We’ve got to cram as much stuff in as we can in these six days and try to get ready for Saturday.”
On Tuesday, they had another day off, but spent the time in a rather unique team-building exercise patterned after CBS’s “The Amazing Race.”
But after that, it was back to work.
“We’ll practice real hard, keep it really intense in practice,” said Cammalleri. “We’ll work hard, try and work on our bodies, get stronger and better and come in fresh next Saturday.”
Although there is a concern about losing whatever momentum they had after being off for a week, Kings head coach Marc Crawford expects his team to pick up right where they left off.
“I think it’s actually going to be beneficial to our group,” said Crawford. “Some of the older players are going to get a couple of days off. We’re going to do a little team-building for the group and we going to have some great practices later in the week.”
“It’s a divisional month for us,” added Crawford. “For all these games it shouldn’t be any problem for out team to get up for any of these games against our closest rivals.”
Speaking Of Months…
Crawford’s comment about November being a “divisional month” was dead on, as the Kings face Pacific Division rivals in every game this month (eleven games), placing a huge significance on each one.
Clearly, what happens in November will not decide the fate of the 2007-08 Kings. However, a strong performance will provide a big upward push in the playoff standings at the end of the season. Likewise, a poor performance would be a huge drag, pulling them lower and perhaps be the difference between qualifying for the post-season and missing the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year.
Although no one outside of the Kings believes that they are a contender for the Pacific Division title, until they went on their hiatus, the Kings were bouncing back and forth between first and second place—a rather lofty level for a team that has not been close to that level in recent years.
With the rest of the division in action this week, the Kings have dropped to fourth place as of this writing, but they are just one point out of the division lead, illustrating even more just how important a strong November performance will be. But going into this “divisional month,” the Kings are playing better hockey than they have in recent memory.
“We’re playing a lot better at this time than at this time last year,” Crawford explained. “I think our guys are feeling good about themselves.”
“We recognize that we’ve got to be about improvement,” Crawford elaborated. “Every day we come to the rink, our goal is to make a subtle improvement, whether it’s one percent or five or six percent, every little bit is going to help us. We expect that as we keep going along this season, as it usually happens with a young team, your team does get better and they handle the challenges better.”
Crawford said that his team has definitely improved since the season began.
“When we look at the second game of the season against Anaheim—they played so well in that second game,” Crawford after his team lost to San Jose on November 3. “We didn’t play very well in that second game in London. Tonight, it was the same type of game. We’re playing a back-to-back against San Jose. Although it was subtle improvement, we were better. We were more competitive in this game against a great team. They got real strong performances from their elite players. We know have to strive to be better.”
“We are getting better, even though this was a hard game for our fans to see that. But every time we’ve faced one of these challenges [this season] we’ve improved a little bit. We have to keep striving for improvement.”
First Line Still Learning
For a hockey player, is it possible to be too skilled?
Perhaps that is the question for the Kings’ top line, which features Brown and Cammalleri on the wings, centered by Anze Kopitar.
After starting the season on fire, their production has tailed off a bit, and one could make a case for the Kings’ second line of Alexander Frolov, Ladislav Nagy and Patrick O’Sullivan being more effective in recent games.
The reason: Kopitar’s line appears to be relying too much on their skill, and is not always making the correct decisions in the defensive and neutral zones.
“You’ve got to make sure you take care of your own zone,” said Crawford. “If you do that, you’re going to have the puck in the neutral zone and you’re going to be able to come up together. It’s always better when you attack in numbers.”
“You show your maturity when you recognize that’s the way it’s got to be,” added Crawford. “You’re not going to score on every shift. You have to recognize that on some shifts, you have to play well in your own end. Some shifts you’re going to have to dump it in and on other shifts it’ll open up. We’re still in the facet of our team where our guys are still learning that as they continue to go along.”
One Tough Customer
Left wing Raitis Ivanans, who serves as the Kings’ resident tough guy, showed just how tough he was on November 2, when the Kings won the first game of their home-and-home series with the Sharks.
In the first period, Ivanans was struck in the face by a slap shot off the stick of Kings defenseman Rob Blake.
Reports stated that Ivanans did not go down. Instead, he dropped his gloves and stick and skated to the Kings’ bench.
“He’s obviously a very tough kid to be able to handle that,” said Crawford. “That would’ve knocked out just about anyone.”
Ivanans did not return to the game, suffering a broken cheekbone and a gash under his right eye.
“He’s not going to need surgery but his face and his head are very sore,” Crawford explained. “We will see, as the week goes along—they’re telling us that he may be able to skate this week. That’s obviously great news. We’re not putting him on injured reserve yet. That’s also a sign that we’re hoping he’ll be able to play. He’ll have to wear a mask for sure.”
Ivanans has not skated yet as of this writing, and has suffered from headaches. He is scheduled to skate Friday or Saturday, but if he cannot practice on Friday, he is not expected to play on Saturday when the Kings host the Dallas Stars.
Struggling For Relevance
Going back to the Kings being in the midst of a week-long hiatus, one has to wonder what genius is responsible? After all, the Kings been totally out of just about most people’s minds for almost ten days.
The question is…why? After all, It’s not like anyone figured the Kings would need a vacation during the season.
Noting that Disney Channel star and cash cow Miley Cyrus (better known as Hannah Montana) performed two sold-out concerts at Staples Center this week (the popular music group Maroon 5 also performed in concert at Staples Center on November 8), one has to wonder if the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), who owns the Kings, had anything to do with it.
Looking closer at the situation, once we hit November 10 on the calender, the Kings will have been out of sight and mostly out of mind for not just a week, but for ten long days.
Indeed, the Kings’ last two games were not televised locally, which means that they have not had any television time since Halloween night, when they dropped a 4-1 decision to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Staples Center.
To make matters worse, FSN West dropped the November 2 game at San Jose from their television schedule, replacing it with another game later in the season.
This left most fans in the dark here in Southern California for two big games against the Sharks, a division rival.
As a result, when the Kings were at San Jose on November 2, virtually no one in the Los Angeles area was paying any attention. The same could also be said for the next night. The only difference was that a sell-out crowd of 18,118 fans saw the game at Staples Center.
But no one else did, since that game was not televised anywhere. And even worse, what did FSN West air in place of the game on November 2? Nothing of consequence—no other live action or special program aired on FSN West during that time slot.
Based on that fact, one can only assume that ratings for Kings telecasts on FSN West are so low that they would rather televise virtually anything else.
For a team that is struggling for relevance in the Los Angeles sports market, that cannot be a good thing.
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