EL SEGUNDO, CA — While many have pointed to a lack of goal scoring as an area of major concern for the Los Angeles Kings, head coach Darryl Sutter knows better.
In fact, Sutter isn’t even talking about his team’s offensive attack. Instead, he is primarily focused on defense and goaltending, given the fact that veteran blue liners Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell are out of the lineup, and now, Alec Martinez will be out for at least one week.
“It was just an innocent play [on] his second shift,” Sutter said, describing the play in which Martinez was injured. “[It was] nothing, just a real, easy play. He just got banged.”
“He’s had [the injury] before,” Sutter added. “It gets better. We’ve all had [that injury]. He won’t be very long. He wants to travel with us [when the Kings leave on their next road trip, which begins on Sunday in Chicago], but he won’t.”
Standing in for those missing-in-action defensemen are younger players with far less experience, and as you might guess, that has been one factor in the Kings’ poor 4-5-2 start to the season.
The 24-year-old, 6-5, 217-pound native of Strathmore, Alberta, is a defensive defenseman who has a bit of a physical edge to his game. He is not known as an offensive defenseman but he can move the puck, which will be a key to his success.
“[His] ability to move pucks…he was pretty consistent in both games [at Detroit and St. Louis],” said Sutter. “I think that’s a strength of his game, and he has to be really consistent with it. He’s a big, mobile guy, so he’s going to be on the puck a lot. Being able to make the good play is what we want him to do.”
Sutter Continues To Challenge His Defensemen
After Wednesday’s practice, Sutter issued a challenge to defenseman Drew Doughty, in particular, stating that “he has to, clearly, play better in his own zone.”
Later in the same interview, however, Sutter tried to deflect criticism away from Doughty: “Our oldest defenseman is [34-year-old Rob] Scuderi, who’s supposed to be a really good defensive player, and the next oldest is [Davis] Drewiske, who’s 28, and is still learning how to play. The other guys are all kids, so don’t single Drew Doughty out. He’s a young player with a lot to learn. He’s been put in a different situation this year than he has been at any other point in his career.”
Following Thursday’s practice, Sutter continued on the thread of challenging his young defensemen, this time, aiming squarely at rookie blue liner Jake Muzzin, who was a healthy scratch during the Kings’ last two games, at Detroit and at St. Louis.
“We’ll put Muzzin in for sure [against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday at Staples Center],” said Sutter. “We took Muzzin out because he was horse [expletive deleted]—road apples, in Anaheim [on February 2].”
“Most guys [who] play like that in one NHL game, they’re doing time again [heading back to the minors],” added Sutter. “He’s got to get his foot on the right pedal if he wants to play again. He’s going to play tomorrow, and he’d better have it on the right pedal, or somebody else gets the chance.”
“That’s not being harsh, or anything. That’s exactly what it takes to be a defenseman.”
But then, Sutter went back into deflection mode, at least for a few seconds.
“We’re playing four [defensemen] with, basically, zero experience,” he noted. “They should try to beat each other out of the position. Competition is a good thing.”
Defenseman Andrew Campbell, who was selected by the Kings in the third round (74th overall) of the 2008 National Hockey League Entry Draft, was recalled on February 13 (he was already in Los Angeles, and was practicing with the Kings by the time his recall was announced), is available. He will not play on Friday against the Blue Jackets, but Sutter hinted that he could find himself in the lineup in the near future.
“We need a seventh guy here,” said Sutter. “[Campbell] hasn’t played at all [at the NHL level]. I really don’t know. We’ve got four [games] in six [days], so we’ll just see.”
Who’s Got The Hot Hand?
The big question going into Friday’s game is who will get the start in goal against Columbus?
Jonathan Quick is the Kings’ established, number one goaltender, but has not gotten off to a great start this season after off-season back surgery, and he talked about his last start, at Detroit on February 10, when he allowed a point shot by Jonathan Ericsson to beat him through the five-hole for the game-winning goal.
That was a shot Quick saw all the way, only to let the puck trickle between his pads.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” said Quick. “It hurts a little more, seeing how hard the team played in front of me. They worked really hard, and they deserve better. They tied it up, and had an opportunity to play four-on-four in overtime, and possibly a shootout, but then you lose that opportunity.”
“It’s going to sting,” added Quick. “You feel like you let everybody down. At the same time, that’s part of the position. That’s what we signed up for. You’re going to have those ups and downs. You’re going to give up goals that you want back, and you’re going to make saves that, maybe, you shouldn’t have.”
“It’s how you handle it. I think it’s all about the next day. You have to work hard in practice, like I have the past few days. You just look forward to getting out there, and trying to help the team win the next game.”
But will his next game be on Friday? Maybe. In fact, Sutter will not discuss his decision on who might get the start in goal.
“You know the program,” he said. “I don’t say the day before, the day of, or until. It’s just the way I feel. It doesn’t really serve much, publicly. I just don’t feel comfortable doing it…It’s not like we have a rotation. Lots of things happen, right?”
But Sutter’s comments about his goaltenders might provide a big hint.
“We want to be a playoff team,” Sutter emphasized. “We need a goalie to get hot, not be patted on the back. This team rode a hot goalie last year. They didn’t the year before. We’re in the same thing again. We need one to get hot.”
Based on recent performances, Jonathan Bernier is coming off a very strong performance (4-1 win at St. Louis; allowed one goal on 22 shots, good for a .955 save percentage). Although that was just one game, that is better than what Quick has done over his last few starts.
Frozen Royalty’s Prediction: Bernier will get the start on Friday against Columbus.
Frozen Royalty Video via YouTube – Interviews From Los Angeles Kings Practice, February 13, 2013
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Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Darryl Sutter (5:18)
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