LOS ANGELES — Although he has not been here in the Southern California area for long, veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi is already making himself right at home on the Los Angeles Kings’ blue line.
After just a couple of days of training camp, the thirty-year-old Scuderi found himself paired with 22-year-old defenseman Jack Johnson in a 4-3 pre-season win over the Phoenix Coyotes at Staples Center on September 15.
Scuderi was solid defensively, despite deflecting a point shot by Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle past Kings goalie prospect Jonathan Bernier to give the Coyotes a 2-1 lead at the 5:18 mark of the second period.
But Scuderi redeemed himself just past the midway point of the third period when he hit his defensive partner with a lead pass, sending Johnson through center ice. He then split two defenders at the Phoenix blue line and beat Phoenix goalie prospect Al Montoya with a backhand for a highlight-reel, shorthanded goal.
“I think it was my defensive partner, Scuderi, that made a great play, just getting it out in the middle,” said Johnson, who scored two goals and added an assist in the game. “He gave me a chance to go. Without that, it never would’ve happened. [Kings left wing Ryan Smyth] and Scuderi did all the work for me, really.”
Scuderi’s lead pass was especially timely because Johnson was able to take advantage of the fact that the Coyotes had a forward, Kyle Turris, playing right point.
“I saw it was a forward playing defense, so I figured why not take a shot at it? I’m pretty confident at my one-on-one,” said Johnson. “I was able to get around him and get [the shot] up.”
Indeed, Scuderi is already looking like he is focused and well on his way to getting to know his teammates, and a big reason for that was his arrival in Southern California months before training camp opened.
“That was the best part of coming here early,” he said. “Once you get your family settled, it’s easy to focus on hockey. We were able to come out early, get ourselves settled. This part of it is the easy part of it, being around the rink and getting to know my new teammates.”
Scuderi, who won the Stanley Cup last season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, brings veteran and championship experience to a dressing room with a lot of young players. But he plans on leading by example more than through words.
“I don’t plan to be anything different from what I’ve been the last few years,” Scuderi noted. “I’m more of a quiet guy but when it comes to the game, I do the same things, game in and game out. If guys can feed off that or look to that as an example, that’s great. But either way, I just have to do what I can do to help my team win.”
The 6-0, 218-pound native of Syosset, New York said that out of all the teams that were interested in signing him as an unrestricted free agent during the off-season, the Kings were the best option, and not so much because of the money offered.
“Given the teams that were offering, I thought this group has the best chance to turn it around,” Scuderi explained. “Some of the other teams that were offering were in pretty good spots, but I thought maybe the team peaked or maybe was on a downturn for the next few years.”
“This group has the best chance to turn it around quick,” he elaborated. “If you look at the talent and the ages of the kids here, hopefully, we’re not too far away. You never know when the season starts, and you hope we get off to a good start.”
Back to Johnson’s goal…
Kings head coach Terry Murray was also impressed by Johnson’s spectacular goal.
“That was a pretty spectacular goal, exhibition game or not,” said Murray. “You still have to go out and do it, and in a four-on-three penalty-kill situation on top of that. It was a great effort. He took it into his own hands to do something spectacular.”
But Murray saw a lot more in that play than just about everyone else in the building.
“It’s a great sign to see a young player come out and play with that kind of take-charge attitude, that’s what I liked about it,” Murray explained. “He’s a good player, he’s got good talent, but he had the attitude that is very important for a young player to move forward and become an important player on your team and a good player in the league.”
“He took a step forward in that area tonight,” Murray elaborated. “We all understand the scenario of an exhibition game, the environment that we’re in here. The players he was playing against were young guys, but the attitude was most important and I love the fact that he’s making a big effort to step up and make the move to be a top defenseman.”
While Johnson’s breathtaking goal was scored while the Kings were shorthanded, his first goal came on a blast from the point while the Kings were on the power play.
And in this game, their power play looked nothing like their anemic power play of last season.
To the surprise of virtually everyone, the Kings moved the puck quickly with crisp, accurate passes. They almost always had a man in front of the Phoenix net and they shot the puck a lot more than anyone has been used to after watching this team the past few seasons.
Indeed, the Kings power play, at least in this one game, was vastly improved.
“We just wanted to zip it around a little bit and shoot whenever we got a chance and we did,” said Johnson. “The power play was doing well. Hopefully, that’ll carry on into the big games. This is just a taste of what we need to get done. Obviously, the games just get harder from here.”
“It’s just confidence,” added Johnson. “Everyone’s getting to know each other more. You can have great players out there, but with no confidence, nothing’s going to get done.”
“Last year, we couldn’t figure it out. We definitely had the personnel out there [on the power play]. But this year I think it’s just confidence, zipping it around and shooting whenever we can. We’re not looking for anything extra.”
Another stand-out in the game at Staples Center was right wing Teddy Purcell, who scored a power play goal and added an assist. But it was not his scoring that stood out.
Rather surprisingly, it was his strong physical play that opened the eyes of many.
Yes, you read that correctly and no, you do not need to get your eyes checked. Indeed, the name “Purcell” and “strong physical play” can finally be written in the same sentence, at least for the time being.
In fact, when this reporter asked Murray about Purcell, noting that he got his nose dirty along the boards and in the corners throughout the game and won more than his share of the physical battles, including rubbing out a few Coyotes players along the boards, Murray grinned widely and asked:
“You were watching him a little bit, were’ya?”
It was impossible not to, given that Purcell looked like a totally different player from what he was last season.
“That’s the best game I’ve seen him play for me,” Murray beamed. “It was that play that I’ve asked him about last year about the dots-to-boards play. Being strong, battling hard, heavy sticks, pucks that have to get out just inside of your own blue line, pucks that have to get in through the neutral zone.”
“We know what he can do with the puck on his stick in offensive zone play,” Murray added. “He’s a very skilled guy. He can make plays. But all this other stuff—he took hits to make plays, he bumped into guys and he did the heavy going that you have to do in order to be a good player on a team.”
When told that Murray thought this was the best game Purcell has played for him, Purcell sounded like he just might be figuring it all out.
“That’s good,” said Purcell. “That’s what training camp is for. It’s an evaluation process for everyone. There’s only a certain number of guys who have jobs locked up on this team, so it’s a cat-and-mouse fight for everyone.”
“I’m glad I impressed him, but that’s only one game out of seven [exhibition games],” added Purcell. “The big thing with me and the coaching staff is to be consistent and show that I can do that on a nightly basis, not just in flashes.”
“It’s exciting that [Murray is] happy with that performance, but like I said, that’s just one out of the way.”
Strong physical play will create more offensive opportunities that Purcell can capitalize on.
“The coaching staff and management knows that I’m a pretty offensive guy who can make plays, but they want to add that other part to my game to give me an opportunity to make those plays.”
“[Murray’s] big thing is to be hard on the boards, win those loose puck battles, get it deep and don’t give up on pucks. I tried to make a conscious effort on that tonight. Fortunately, most of those went my way.”
Like his teammates, Purcell worked hard during the off-season on his strength and conditioning.
“I put on a little bit of weight, but more importantly, I got a lot stronger,” he explained. “With that comes confidence, [I can] use [my] body as a tool.”
If Purcell has indeed figured out that this is how he needs to play to be effective at the NHL level, it will be a significant boost for the Kings this season and beyond.
Frozen Royalty by Gann Matsuda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Frozen Royalty – Licensing and Copyright Information.