LOS ANGELES — Losers of six of their last seven games heading into their January 13 contest at Staples Center in Los Angeles against the St. Louis Blues, the Los Angeles Kings have blown a huge opportunity.
Indeed, the Kings could have built a nice cushion for themselves in the hyper competitive Western Conference standings before playing ten straight games on the road in February while Staples Center hosts the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards and the events surrounding the 60th NBA All-Star Game, among other events.
“It’s so important to win all these at home because we go out on the road for pretty much the whole month of February, so these are really important for us,” defenseman Drew Doughty said following a 5-2 loss to the Nashville Predators on January 6.
“Home games are important, and we have a good record at home,” said right wing and team captain Dustin Brown. “These last games, we’ve kind of let go. There’s no rhyme or reason. We’ve got to be better. That’s the bottom line. It comes back to that work.”
Getting off to fast starts, only to see the effort and intensity drop way off after that has been the issue throughout the home stand.
Head coach Terry Murray noted that an attitude adjustment and an emotional commitment are needed.
“You guys saw the game where we came out in the second period, after a pretty good start in the first, and got away, totally, from everything that was going the right way,” he noted. “Turning pucks over the in the neutral zone, not getting [pucks deep], not skating the right way, and our pursuit of the puck, whenever it did get in, was not there with enough support to recover pucks, and they kept coming at us.”
“Emotionally, we just let up on the gas pedal again in the second period.”
“Something needs to be changed with our attitude, because that’s all it is, an attitude—playing the game right,” said Brown. “We’re halfway through the year. This is a big home stand for us. The playoffs are at stake [right now].”
As Brown noted, the playoffs are at stake after a dreadful 1-6-0 record to this point in January. But having blown the opportunity to give themselves a cushion in the standings ahead of their brutal February schedule, the playoffs are no longer simply at stake. Rather, even though there still forty games left to be played, the Kings’ season is more likely in serious jeopardy.
“[The season] is definitely at stake,” Brown stressed. “It’s not out of reach. There’s still a lot of hockey to be played. We need to figure out what we need to do here to turn it around. This home stand was really important, but we’ve definitely let the opportunity slip by.”
Veteran defenseman Matt Greene said that each member of the team needs to look in the mirror as a step towards righting the ship.
“Attention to detail [is a problem],” he said. “Guys have got to buy in and play our system. Guys have to play confident, no matter what the score is. If we’re up by five or down by five, we’ve got to play the same game. Everybody has to know exactly what they’re doing or our system isn’t going to work and we’re not going to win.”
“It’s all about individuals right now,” he added. “It’s about guys looking at themselves, getting their own game going and buying into playing the team game. That’s the only way we’re going to have success. It’s the reason we had success last year, and the times we had success last year, it’s been on the team, it hasn’t been on one guy or one line. It’s been everybody working together and doing the right things together that’s going to get us on track.”
Another problem appears to be a lack of accountability among the players, as murmurs about that could be heard in the dressing room following the Kings’ 3-2 loss to the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs on January 10.
Murray has seen this before with other teams, and tried to put it into the proper perspective.
“You can talk about this stuff [such as a lack of accountability], but the veteran hockey clubs in the league, the veteran teams I’ve been on, I know exactly what [is meant whenever that is said],” Murray explained. “But when you’ve got a young hockey club like this, it’s part of the process of dealing with that and learning how to become accountable, and how to hold a player accountable.”
“That’s not an easy thing to do,” Murray added. “If you’re standing in there as a player and you’ve got 19 teammates, and you’re going to challenge somebody for something that happened, or for not doing something the right way, you’d better know what you’re talking about and you’d better be able to go out there and do it yourself.”
“That only comes from true experience and a good, veteran hockey club, because you can push yourself away from your team as a young guy if you just stand up and start to say things that are not correct. It’s a fine line, and I don’t think we are quite there with that veteran group in there yet to be able to step up and have that personality to [say] the right thing.”
No matter how you slice it, the Kings sure have a lot of problems for a team that is still expected, not only to make the playoffs, but to do some damage once there. That begs the question:
Could their season be in greater jeopardy than anyone realizes?
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