EL SEGUNDO, CA — Despite returning from their five-game Grammy road trip with a losing 2-3-0 record, the mood was rather upbeat in the Los Angeles Kings’ dressing room following practice at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California, on February 13.
The reason? Even though they were just 1-1 in the final two games of that road trip, the Kings played their best hockey of the season, which could give them the badly-needed push needed to propel them into the Western Conference playoff race.
“I thought, in the Detroit game [on February 10, a 3-2 loss], we actually played better [than at St. Louis on February 11, a 4-1 win],” said veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi. “We deserved those two points. Sometimes, that doesn’t happen, but it was a huge step in the right direction for our group of guys, trying to play the right way, given our game, playing with some desperation, and some passion.”
“We weren’t very good in Anaheim, played well in Columbus [and] deserved to win,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “In Nashville, we couldn’t generate anything against them because they’re a real good defensive team. We didn’t get much. We played really well in Detroit, and deserved better. We didn’t get the goaltending. We played really well [at St. Louis].”
“Those two games in a row, considering they were back-to-back, was a step in the right direction,” Scuderi noted. “As a group, we’ve started to play better recently. Hopefully, that’s a sign of things to come.”
Kings players indicated that it should not come as a surprise that it took eleven games to achieve that level of play.
“I think it’s a mixture of—I know it’s an excuse, [but] it’s getting some rust off, playing some games, and getting back into game shape,” Scuderi emphasized. “I know [that] I felt way better the last two games, and I think that, in a shortened season, there’s going to be some swings. We’ve seen it already with some teams that started hot.”
“We didn’t really have a training camp, so we had a little bit of rust,” said left wing Kyle Clifford. “I think, as a group, things are starting to come together.”
Backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier got the start in goal at St. Louis—it was his first start since March 31, 2012, at Minnesota (a 4-3 shootout loss).
“It was a long time since I started in an NHL game,” he indicated. “It was good to be back in, and especially to get the win, not only for myself, but for the team to get the two points, it was huge.”
“I thought we played unbelievable in Detroit, and worked really hard. We deserved those two points,” he added. “We came out in St. Louis, did the same thing, and got the result that we wanted.”
Like Clifford, Bernier believes that the Kings are starting to jell.
“It’s all about clicking together,” said Bernier. “If you look at the season last year, I don’t think we were sharp as we wanted [to be for] the whole season, and maybe we weren’t working as hard. But when the playoffs came, we stepped it up a notch, and it seemed like we jelled together.”
“That’s what we need to do, even if its the exact same group,” added Bernier. “It’s a different year, a different mindset. Especially after winning [the Stanley Cup], you think it’s going to be easy, but actually, it’s going to be tougher, because other teams want to show that they can play against the Stanley Cup winner.”
Who’s In Goal?
After practice on February 13, Sutter indicated that he has not decided who would get the start on Friday against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Staples Center.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” he said. “Bernier’s coming off a strong game, and we need Jonathan [Quick] to be—it’s not like I’m saying anything special—we need him to play a lot better than he has.”
“Our goals against, our save percentage—when you [calculate] all that stuff, it’s not where it has to be,” he added.
In that strong game that Sutter referred to, Bernier allowed one goal on 22 shots, good for a .955 save percentage—he was very, very solid.
“For my game, if I’m controlling rebounds, I’m controlling the game,” said Bernier. “If I’m on top of my game, I can dictate where the puck is going to go on that rebound. That’s when I know I’m really feeling good, and being patient on shots, reacting [well] on shots—not going down for no reason.”
If Sutter’s pattern holds, he will go back to Quick, who remains his number one goaltender. Regardless, Bernier will remain prepared, something that is not easy to do for a backup goalie, especially when coming on in relief during a game.
“It’s never easy,” Bernier noted. “[But] we’re professionals. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready at any time. I don’t think my game was really sharp in Anaheim, but that’s the way it went. Fortunately, everything went well in St. Louis.”
Sutter Calls Out Doughty…Sort Of
When a reporter pointed out that star defenseman Drew Doughty had a -10 plus/minus rating so far this season while inquiring about his sub-par defensive play, Sutter had a rather mixed reaction.
“He has to, clearly, play better in his own zone,” Sutter stressed. “That’s not really a surprise. When your team has given up only three or four more goals, in terms of for and against, and you have two or three players who are on [the ice for a significantly greater number of goals against], that’s not a team issue.”
“Our oldest defenseman is [34-year-old] 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,” Sutter added. “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.”
Sutter indicated that the coaching staff is responsible for helping them get the job done.
“There’s a way you have to play,” said Sutter. “We’ve got a really young defense. We’ve got to try to work with them [on] how we want them to play. It’s not easy.”
That said, Sutter also stated, in his own inimitable way, that the team needs the young defensemen to step up.
“We need those guys to play well,” Sutter emphasized. “There’s not a helicopter dropping in four more defensemen that I see.”
“These guys have been given an opportunity. Whether they can fulfill the prophecy or not, we’re finding out.”
Defenseman Alec Martinez, who suffered an upper body injury at St. Louis on February 11, was placed on injured reserve, retroactive to February 11. Taking his place on the roster will be defenseman Andrew Campbell was recalled from the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League.
“He’ll be [out] at least a week,” Sutter said about Martinez. “It was a very simple play [when Martinez was injured], going down the wall, across from the bench. Bang! That’s it.”
Sutter added that Martinez’ injury is not considered to be long-term.
“He’s had [the injury] before,” Sutter noted. “Guys play with that during the playoffs, but we want him to be healed.”
As for veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell, who continues to recover, rather mysteriously, from off-season knee surgery, Sutter had the following to say…
“The only thing I can tell you is that historically, he’s a player who has missed significant periods of time during his career, and it appears that he’s historically doing that again.”
Late Wednesday night, Mitchell posted the following on Twitter:
Thxs everyone for the get well wishes. Doing everything and anything I can to get back in the lineup to help my @LAKings teammates. #miss-it—
Willie Mitchell (@Willie_Mitch33) February 14, 2013
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):
Kyle Clifford (1:11)
Darryl Sutter (7:09)
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