LOS ANGELES — In the days prior to their season opener at Staples Center on Saturday, to a man, the Los Angeles Kings talked about “flipping a switch” after the on-ice ceremony in which they would receive their 2012 Stanley Cup Championship rings, and raise the Stanley Cup banner to the rafters.
Somewhat predictably, that switch remained in the “off” position for the vast majority of the game that followed, and the visiting Chicago Blackhawks took full advantage, handing the Kings a 5-2 defeat in front of a standing room only crowd of 18,545 fans.
During the pre-game festivities, the Kings received their rings, carried the Stanley Cup around the ice, and raised the banner to the rafters in what had to be an emotional ceremony that was televised nationally.
Fortunately for the Kings, NBC switched to regional coverage after the ceremony, sparing much of the country from seeing the Kings’ poor effort.
“We’re ready to close that chapter [winning the Stanley Cup last season] and start a new one,” said winger and team captain Dustin Brown. “But we weren’t nearly as sharp as we wanted to be.”
“No, [we weren’t able to flip the switch], I think that’s pretty obvious,” said defenseman Rob Scuderi, who scored a goal—a rarity for him—to get the Kings on the board at the 18:37 mark of the second period.
Indeed, by the time Scuderi scored, it was too little, too late for the Kings, who were already looking way, way up at a 4-0 deficit before the goal.
“It’s a new year,” said defenseman Matt Greene. “Obviously, the rules are a little bit different, but I took a penalty early on, and they got a five-on-three goal. I got a bad read to give them their third goal. You hope that’s not [going to be] characteristic, but you dig yourself a hole, and it’s tough to come back on a good team like that, down 3-0 after the first period.”
Scuderi pointed to the Kings’ mental game, or lack thereof, as the biggest issue.
“Physically, I can understand most guys not being ready because they haven’t been playing overseas,” he noted. “But I think mentally is where we were hurting the most.”
“You’re going to make some physical mistakes in the first seven or eight games,” he added. “That’s just the way it is. We’ve been doing men’s league skates for the first three months, so I expect physical mistakes. But we have to be prepared mentally to play the game, and to, at least, give yourself a chance.”
“If you’re in the right position, which is a mental thing, you give yourself a chance to win a physical battle. We didn’t do that very well.”
On the other side of the red line, the Blackhawks executed well, and they exploited the repeated blunders by the Kings.
“I felt we got spread out a lot, and besides that, I thought Chicago made short, simple plays that made the game very easy, [while] we tried to make really long plays, maybe things you wouldn’t even try in the middle of the season,” said Scuderi.
Several extra months of rust built up during the four-month National Hockey League lockout also plays into the equation. But every team will be affected by that, placing greater emphasis on attention to detail, and focus—the mental part of the game.
“We were looking forward to playing,” said Scuderi. “Physically, I felt rusty, but by the end of the game, I felt much better. I think it was more the mental side of it, trying to get yourself into the right mode, into the right position, and into the right frame of mind.”
“We’ve only been in team practices for six days,” added Scuderi. “You’re just getting used to the speed again in the first couple of days. It takes a little while to get it back, and then, we hop right into a regular season game. There’s going to be mistakes, and that’s fine. We just have to limit the mental ones.”
Head coach Darryl Sutter indicated that his top players did not perform well against the Blackhawks.
“[Our] fourth line was pretty normal,” he said. “[Center Colin] Fraser was pretty physical, and [that line] scored a couple of goals on the forecheck (winger Jordan Nolan scored the Kings’ second goal). The third line, [center Jarret] Stoll’s line, did a pretty good job against their top guys.”
“[But] then, without [center Anze] Kopitar (knee), your first and second lines are pretty much the same, and both had tough [days],” he added. “That’s not normal. Our top players can all be a heck of a lot better.”
Sutter led off his comments to the media by claiming that the emotional impact of the banner raising ceremony did not cause a letdown by his team.
“I don’t think there was a [let down due to the banner raising ceremony],” said Sutter. “When they scored that five-on-three goal, there were two penalties called, right? Then there was the deflection—it hit [Kings defenseman] Drew [Doughty] on the second goal. We just couldn’t get any momentum after that.”
But then Sutter contradicted himself to a large degree, saying that what happened in this game was similar to his team’s performance in Game 4 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final against the New Jersey Devils.
After that game, Kings players admitted to getting caught up in the hype, expecting to complete a four-game sweep of the Devils. As a result, they lost their focus, and played their worst game of the Stanley Cup Final, and arguably, the entire post-season.
“I kind of looked at it as similar to before we played Game 4 last year,” Sutter noted. “You [need to] focus on what you do yourself more than what everybody else wants you to do.”
Perhaps Scuderi summed it up best.
“We have to get out of pond hockey mode, and into NHL mode.”
Following the game, during the changeover from the setup for Kings games to that used for Los Angeles Clippers games, Staples Center crews moved the Stanley Cup Championship banner to its permanent place, to the right of the flags (see photo).
Kings Reach Out To Sandy Hook Victims
During the pre-game banner raising ceremony, one of the families victimized by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was a guest of the Kings, and joined in on the festivities.
Jimmy and Nelba Greene, along with their eight-year-old son Isaiah Marquez-Greene, helped former Kings greats Marcel Dionne and Rogie Vachon (who both received Stanley Cup rings from the Kings) in presenting the Stanley Cup banner to the players before they raised it to the rafters
The Greene’s six-year-old daughter, Ana Marquez-Greene, was one of the Sandy Hook victims.
Immediately following the game, Jimmy and Isaiah, a youth hockey player, were invited into the Kings dressing room to meet the players, get their autographs, and pose for photographs.
The significance of their presence in the dressing room did not go unnoticed by the players and coaches.
“I talked to Brown before the game—make sure, win or lose, that the family got into the [dressing] room [immediately following the game],” said Sutter. “You know, that’s way bigger, way more important than anything that went on today on the ice. That’s pretty special to be able to include them in all of this.”
During the post-game media scrum interview, Sutter seemed rather annoyed with one question posted by a member of the media.
“You guys have a special goalie who kept you in a lot of games last year. Obviously, he’d like to play every game. Is there anything you guys can do differently to take some…”
At that point, Sutter cut the reporter off, mid-question.
“Ask the question. Ask the question first, OK? You said that we have a special goalie, and that we want to play him every game. OK. What’s the question? I thought you were writing a book there.”
The reporter continued, “Is there anything you can do differently to take some of the pressure off [of Quick]?”
Sutter replied, “Top goalies are going to play a lot. It’s a short season, it’s like playoff games. He didn’t have a very good [day], just like a lot of top players.”
But then he gave the reporter a bit of advice, in his own, inimitable style.
“Don’t get too philosophical about it.”
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Rob Scuderi (2:27)
Matt Greene (1:04)
Darryl Sutter (7:10)
Los Angeles Kings 2012 Stanley Cup Banner Raising/Ring Ceremony
Los Angeles Kings 2012 Stanley Cup Championship Banner Raising Mashup
Used with permission.
Game Highlights from KingsVision at LAKings.com
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