PRACTICE UPDATE: Dustin Brown talks about the improvement he sees from the Los Angeles Kings over their last four games, and he talks about their power play woes. Forwards Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner are also featured.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — After five games in the abbreviated 2013 National Hockey League season, the Los Angeles Kings are now 2-2-1, having won their last two games against the Phoenix Coyotes on January 26, and the Vancouver Canucks on January 28.
Although a .500 record over five games is nothing to write home about, the Kings have shown signs of improvement in each of their last four games.
“I think our best game was our last game,” said team captain Dustin Brown. “From start to finish, we gave up a lot less Grade A scoring chances against what was probably the best offensive team we’ve played, besides Chicago.”
“The more games we play, the better, and the more comfortable we feel in our system,” added Brown. “You come back from the off-season, especially with no training camp, the first couple of games, you’re thinking about what you’re supposed to be doing. Now it’s just instinctive, with our systems, and how we forecheck.”
“Our forecheck is getting better. I think that’s why we’re starting to get a few more Grade A scoring chances ourselves. Our neutral zone play…the spacing—that’s where a lot of our bigger improvements are [compared] to the first couple of games. We’ve got to stay on that. I think, the last couple of games, our forecheck, and neutral zone [play] have been significantly better. That’s a by-product of not having to think about it. Guys know what they’re doing instinctively.”
With the improved forecheck comes more scoring chances.
“We liked [the offense] better against Vancouver, and quite frankly, in all three games on the road,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “It’s not always about scoring the goal. Obviously, we have some guys who have to score goals. But we’ve got guys, five games in, and they’re 0-for-5 [in terms of goal scoring].”
“[Left wing Kyle] Clifford, [center Anze] Kopitar, [forward Jeff] Carter and [left wing] Jordan Nolan are the guys showing consistent scoring opportunities, which means they’re going to score, and they have,” added Sutter. “The guys who haven’t shown consistent opportunities, they have to start getting more if they’re going to score.”
Then there’s the power play, which has generated just one goal on 27 chances with the man advantage, not to mention three opportunities with a two-man advantage, two of them for the full two minutes.
The Kings failed to score on any of those five-on-three power plays.
“Our power play is the biggest thing,” Brown stressed. “That’s always been a struggle area for us, but we’re working on it. I think we’ve gone to line combinations instead of mixed units.”
But what ails the power play?
“I think we just need to start getting the puck to the net,” said Brown. “It doesn’t have to be a big shot. It could be a wrist shot. Just get it to the net, and get guys there. We’re passing it around, we’re moving it around pretty good, but we’re not getting enough action around the net.”
Arguably, the Kings’ most noticeable forward through five games has been Jeff Carter, who has scored three goals during that span.
Carter is certainly bucking the league-wide trend that has players who were mostly idle during the lockout lagging behind those who played competitive, meaningful hockey during while the embarrassing squabble between NHL and the players union wore on and on.
Indeed, Carter is flying on the ice, despite the fact that he chose not to play during the lockout. Instead, he was in Southern California, skating and working out with players from the Kings and Anaheim Ducks.
“I’ve had a long couple of years with injuries,” said Carter. “I thought it would be a good time to let things heal, and get in the gym and get stronger. I feel good now, so I think I made the right decision.”
“[Off-season training] was good,” added Carter. “We started out just skating—maybe eight to ten guys here [from the Kings]. We joined up with [Teemu Selanne and other Ducks players]. We were able to do a lot of full-ice stuff. I knew a lot of those guys from playing with them, so it was a lot of fun.”
Carter’s play seems to indicate that the NHL players who trained here in Southern California worked hard at it during the lockout.
“The group that we had here, we did a real good job of pushing each other,” Carter noted. “We were in the gym, three or four days a week, and we were skating three or four days a week.”
“When you have a group of ten, twelve, 15 guys, or whatever it was, makes it a lot easier,” Carter added. “The motivation level is a little higher. If you’re home with another guy [in that same area] or by yourself, it’s tough to get going.”
“I wanted to get off to a good start…I thought I’d gotten myself ready to begin whenever it started up. I feel good out there, and hopefully, I can keep it going.”
Carter returned to the Los Angeles area from his native London, Ontario in early September, and even though he was focused on his training, as the old saying goes, all work and no play makes Jack…errr…Jeff a dull boy, right?
“We surfed a few times,” said Carter. “We tried to keep busy. There were a few of us here. We went to a lot of sporting events—football games, [Los Angeles] Galaxy, baseball games, went to the World Series, stuff like that, little weekend trips.”
Wait…did Carter mention surfing?
“We just went down to Hermosa,” he smirked. “[We] borrowed some boards. Had no idea what I was doing, but we tried.”
Penner Still Waiting
Veteran left wing Dustin Penner has been a healthy scratch for the last three games, and there was no indication on January 30 that changes might be coming that will get him back in the lineup.
“I really don’t have a timeline,” said Sutter. “I’ll watch how he practices, see his pace in what we’re trying to execute, and then work at getting him in. It’s no different than what we did with [left wing Simon] Gagne.”
“We break it down by position,” added Sutter. “There’s a one-through-five [rating] on how they’re performing at every position. Some guys are moving up, and some guys are moving down. That’s the way it works. We’ve got two guys at every position playing well, and we need five guys at every position. Until we [have five guys], we don’t have a chance to win every game. We have a chance to play well, and not win.”
For his part, Penner is working hard in practice, even staying on the ice for extra work after practice ends.
Penner said that despite his situation, he is enjoying the extra work, and is not upset about being on the outside looking in.
“I’m enjoying [the extra work in practice],” he said. “I have a new outlook on life. I’m in a good place, professionally, mentally, and emotionally. It’s a lot easier to take this now than it was last year.”
“It’s not something I’m seeking counseling about,” Penner said, with a grin. “It’s part of the profession, the business we’re in. It’s a win first, team first organization. I’m waiting like a dog in a car, waiting to be let out.”
Penner also indicated that he and Sutter have spoken frequently about his situation, and what he needs to do to change it in a positive manner.
“There’s been [daily] communication,” Penner noted.
But then came another Penner-ism.
“It’s not like we’re avoiding each other in the halls,” Penner joked.
“I really don’t like to talk about [the situation with Penner] because all it becomes is that you want me to criticize somebody, right, instead of talking about someone who’s playing well,” said Sutter. “Talking about somebody who’s not playing well? I couldn’t care less.”
Back to Penner…hen asked to elaborate on his new outlook on life, he quipped, “In my upcoming book, I will.”
Defenseman Willie Mitchell, who is recovering from off-season knee surgery, did not skate again on Wednesday, but did workout in the gym.
“He’s still trying to keep [things] ramped up, doing as much off-ice as we can now to get his fitness to where it can be,” said Sutter. “Hopefully, he can jump back into practice again, but there’s been zero setback.”
There is still no word on when he might return to the lineup.
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Dustin Brown (2:58)
Jarret Stoll (1:31)
Simon Gagne (2:26)
Jeff Carter (5:39)
Darryl Sutter (8:25)
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