TRAINING CAMP OPENS: The Los Angeles Kings are officially back on the ice, and they are gearing up for the new, but very much abbreviated season in a training camp that will go by in a flash of one week. Includes comments from Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Jake Muzzin, Tyler Toffoli, Darryl Sutter and more. Also includes raw audio interviews.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — With the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) now ratified by the National Hockey League owners and by the players, and with the Memorandum of Understanding signed by both parties around 9:00 PM PST on January 12, the NHL is finally back…officially.
With that, NHL training camps opened on Sunday morning, and the Los Angeles Kings opened their camp with a fairly large crowd of fans, and a considerably larger-than-usual media throng, in attendance.
But with just one week before the abbreviated regular season begins, training camp was, essentially, a regular practice, with a few twists mixed in.
“[With the short training] camp, we’re just sticking to the basics, and really paying attention to detail,” said defenseman Drew Doughty. “We want to make sure we’re making those tape-to-tape passes, and get our systems back in our head.”
Teams have just one week, and no pre-season games, to get themselves ready for the new, 48-game season that begins on Saturday, January 19.
That season will be a blur as it flies by, packing a plethora of games into a relatively short time.
“It’ll be different,” said center Anze Kopitar. “You can’t take any nights off. It’s going to be a sprint. If we’re talking about a normal [season], it’s 82 games. It’s a marathon, and you’ve got to pace yourself. This is the exact opposite.”
A sprint is right.
“If it takes 48 games to get to our stride, then that’s all it’ll be—48 games,” head coach Darryl Sutter stressed.
Depth and health will be huge keys for NHL teams in a compressed schedule.
“What will be consistent [across the league]—all you have to do is look at the schedule,” said Sutter. “When we look at our March schedule, I don’t think I’ve played that many games in a month (17) ever. That just tells you the importance of being able to utilize everybody, how we use everybody, and the importance of your top players.”
“We start today without Kopitar and [defenseman Willie] Mitchell, [who are both out with knee injuries],” added Sutter. “If were playing tomorrow, obviously, they [wouldn’t be] playing. Injuries will impact this season tremendously, for every team. Teams that can stay away from injuries are going to stand a better chance than teams that [cannot]. Simple. There’s not enough gap between the teams to be able to lose guys for periods of time.”
“[It will be important to be] able to use a lot of players, and trust a lot of players.”
But there is one exception to that rule for Sutter…in goal, where Jonathan Quick will, once again, play the vast majority of games, if Sutter has his way.
“Number one goalies in this league are hard to come by, and they’re the best players on the team,” he said. “That’s the reason the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup last year, and I’m assuming they’ll play 90 to 100 percent of the games.”
One other challenge for the Kings, which is a problem every teams wants, is that as the defending Stanley Cup Champions, everyone will be gunning for them.
“Teams know what they’re going to get [when they play] us, and we know what we’re going to get,” Kopitar emphasized. “Everybody’s going to try to beat us.”
“I guess that’s the privilege of being the champ—everybody’s trying to knock you off.”
Kopitar On The Mend
Kopitar has been seen around the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California (Kings practice facility) over the past few days, walking without a limp. Nevertheless, he is still expected to be out of the lineup for two weeks.
He talked about the injury with reporters after practice.
“It happened during a game [while he played in Sweden towards the end of the NHL lockout],” said Kopitar. “I got tangled up with somebody, and I couldn’t avoid the check. He got me in a vulnerable spot, and just tweaked my [right] knee a little bit.”
“I felt a little bit of a burning pain, so I knew something was up,” added Kopitar. “I [went] to the bench, and the pain went away, so I thought everything would be OK. I gave it a try, one more time, but my knew felt funny, so I just shut it down after that.”
For now, Kopitar is focusing on rehabilitation work.
“I’m doing rehab,” he noted. “I’m doing a full, intense rehab that I can do with no pain.”
Kopitar is not skating yet, but could be in a few days.
“[Not being able to play is] not fun,” he explained. “You want to be on the ice, you want to be with the guys, especially since it’s been seven months [without] seeing them, and not being able to hang out and skate with them.”
“It’s just a matter of getting the brace for the knee,” he elaborated. “Hopefully, in the next few days, I can try it out, and see how I feel. It’s progressing, but I can’t put any timeline on when my first game will be. It’s a little unfortunate, but I’m pretty confident that I’ll be back out there pretty soon.”
Until Kopitar returns to the lineup, Jeff Carter will center the top line.
“Jeff Carter came in as a center, and he’s looked at as one of the top centers in the league,” said Sutter. “We’re lucky that he can play two positions, and he will.”
The Lean, Mean Defensive Machine?
Doughty showed up at the Kings practice facility on January 11 looking lean and fit, despite rumors that he might have slacked off on his training during the lockout.
Indeed, he showed up weighing 205 pounds, just two pounds heavier than the 203 pounds he weighed when he ended his contract holdout last season and reported to the Kings.
“I was just doing my [usual] thing,” Doughty said about his off-season/lockout training regimen. “I usually play at 210. I wasn’t really working to lose weight. It just happened with eating healthy, and skating with the [London] Knights [of the Ontario Hockey League] back home.”
“I started working out about one month after [the Kings won the Stanley Cup], getting into the gym,” Doughty added. “I probably started skating about 1 1/2 months after. I would go to the gym in the morning, and later on, I would skate with the London Knights. Four or five NHL guys were skating with them, and it was great. We got to dress in the room with them, and hang out with the boys. It kind of felt like I was part of the team, even though I wasn’t playing in games.”
Like a lot of NHL players, Doughty took advantage of the fact that the NHL was still off the ice during the holidays.
“I took some time off over Christmas, just because it was the first time I was home for Christmas since I was 15 years old,” he noted. “I was able to spend Christmas with my family for the first time in forever, so I took a couple of weeks off there. Besides that, I was skating three times a week, and I was in the gym four times [per week].”
“I feel good out there,” he added. “I can’t wait to get started. I’m going to see if I like the weight I’m going to be playing at, if not, then maybe I’ll put a few pounds on again.”
Hickey On Waivers? Huh?
On January 13, the Kings placed forwards Marc-André Cliche and Richard Clune, along with defensemen Andrew Campbell and Thomas Hickey on waivers.
There has been some confusion and rather wild speculation about these roster moves, especially with Hickey on the waiver wire, a prospect who was selected in the first round (fourth overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
In reality, the whole thing is quite simple.
All four players must clear waivers so that they can be assigned to the Monarchs. Keep in mind that without a CBA in effect back in September and October, every player was in limbo. But those players who were on an AHL team’s “clear day” roster towards the end of last season (they would be eligible to play in the AHL playoffs last season) were allowed to play for their AHL teams to start this season.
But now that the NHL has a CBA in place, these players must now clear waivers, even though they were already playing for the Monarchs. In other words, this is a routine housekeeping move and a technicality, rather than an indication that the Kings are giving up on Hickey.
Muzzin, Toffoli Return…For Now
With Kopitar and Mitchell out of the lineup for awhile, the Kings have brought back defensemen Andrew Bodnarchuk and Jake Muzzin, along with forward Tyler Toffoli. Each began the season with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League (Kings’ primary minor league affiliate).
“It’s exciting for everyone to get back here, and get going, and it’s exciting for me to get to be a part of it,” said Muzzin, 23.
With the Monarchs this season, the 6-3. 217-pound native of Woodstock, Ontario scored two goals and added nine assists for eleven points, a +3 plus/minus rating, and 24 penalty minutes in 29 games.
“I was continuing to work on getting better, and on my consistency,” he noted. “I feel like I’ve gotten better. I feel good right now, and I have confidence. I’m pretty excited to be here.”
With the Kings having made adjustments to their system, playing more aggressively on the puck, the Monarchs adopted the same system, starting this season.
For Muzzin, there was definitely a bit of a learning curve.
“Personally, it was a bit of an adjustment, to be confident in your gaps, and in having support there,” he explained. “When you’re not confident that you have someone supporting you, your gaps aren’t as good, and you don’t want to step up because you’re scared that you’re going to be beaten, or that there’s going to be a missed coverage behind you. Just having that confidence, and that trust in your teammates to support you if you’re closing on a guy is really big.”
“As a defenseman, you have to be a little bit more aggressive than normal [in the system],” he elaborated. “We have to have a little bit more of a tighter gap, and close quicker. You have to get up the ice quicker, [unlike] some systems, where you’re allowed to slowly move up the ice, or [allow] a [wider] gap in the defensive zone. You have to be a little tighter, and a little cleaner, but when you’re playing that way, it’s a lot of fun.”
Up front, Toffoli has quickly emerged as the top forward prospect in the Kings’ system, scoring 18 goals and contributing eleven assist for 29 points, a +13 rating and twelve penalty minutes in 35 games with the Monarchs this season.
But it is not just scoring that Toffoli has been turning heads at Manchester with. Indeed, his defensive game, and his play without the puck has improved, due in large part to better conditioning and strength.
“I’ve been trying to work on my game every day in Manchester, trying to get better,” said Toffoli. “Hopefully, when we start getting more intense, I can stay here. I hope I can leave an impression, and that I can stay for a long time.”
“I’ve been working really hard in Manchester, and I feel my game is really good,” added Toffoli. “I’m going to work hard every day, and try to keep things simple. I just want to show’em everything I can do.”
Westgarth Out, Stewart In
On January 13, the Kings sent right wing Kevin Westgarth to the Carolina Hurricanes, in exchange for forward Anthony Stewart, a fourth round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, and a sixth round pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
The 6-3, 230-pound native of La Salle, Quebec scored six goals and added five assists for eleven points in 77 games last season.
He was a first round pick (25th overall) by Florida in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
Sutter spoke to Westgarth before he left for Carolina.
“I had a good talk with him, and it’s good for Westy,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s his, or his family’s, but they have a home there.”
“There’s no better guys than guys you’ve won with, ever,” he added. “But it’s also about opportunity and fit, so I’m happy for Westy. I’m glad it wasn’t something that [dragged on for awhile]. It’s awesome.”
To Wear, Or Not To Wear?
After the Kings receive their Stanley Cup rings on opening day (January 19, noon PST against Chicago), will Sutter wear his?
When asked, he replied, “I’ve got little hands, I can’t see myself [wearing it].”
Then, in an obvious reference to the family farm back home in Viking, Alberta…
“I’ll get it caught in a fence, or something—a saddle horn, grease…”
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Drew Doughty (4:38)
Anze Kopitar (4:38)
Jake Muzzin (3:43)
Tyler Toffoli (2:48)
- LA Kings Training Camp Update: Kopitar Ahead Of Schedule?
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- LA Kings Training Camp Update: Goaltender Jonathan Bernier Won’t Sulk Despite Trade Request
- LA Kings Training Camp Update – Day 2: Kopitar Tests His Knee, Stewart Arrives From Carolina
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