VIDEO: Story also includes video interviews with Los Angeles Kings’ Alec Martinez, Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, and head coach Darryl Sutter.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — After a poor effort at Vancouver on March 2, the Los Angeles Kings went back to the drawing board on March 3, trying to fix what went quite wrong against the speedy, skilled Canucks.
“Some of our guys weren’t at the pace we needed them to be last night,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “We just want to reinforce the pace that they have to play at, in terms of moving pucks, getting to pucks, that sort of thing.”
One example of that was the line of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, along with Trevor Lewis and later, Dustin Penner. Sutter noted that the line struggled against the Canucks, as evidenced by Richards and Carter both ending up with a -3 plus/minus rating for the contest.
Despite that, Richards has been on an overall upward trend.
“[Richards has] gotten better in the last seven or eight games,” Sutter indicated. “[His] line struggled last night, but from a point production [standpoint], he’s fine. He struggled early, [but] he’s been better lately.”
The play of Richards and Carter was not the only problem for the Kings against the Canucks. Indeed, the malaise they were suffering from affected the entire team.
“A lot of times, we were getting the puck in our own zone, when we were going back, and they were coming back on the forecheck,” defenseman Drew Doughty explained. “We would get there first, but we weren’t making that first play, and they were creating those turnovers.”
“That’s when they were pouncing on [those] opportunities and burying the puck,” Doughty elaborated. “We’ve got to [clean things up in our own zone] with and without the puck.”
After the game, goaltender Jonathan Quick, in his usual, ultra-self-deprecating nature, took all the blame for the loss. But his teammates saw things a bit differently.
“Quick can’t take the blame,” said Doughty. “Some of those goals were two-on-ones, or shots going high off back door passes.”
To be sure, although Quick was not on his game, defensive breakdowns helped lead to the four goals Quick allowed, not to mention a poor decision up ice by defenseman Slava Voynov (who was also a -3 on the night) that gave the Canucks a two-on-one break for the Sedin twins.
“We definitely don’t blame the game on Quick,” Doughty emphasized. “As defensemen, we need to help him out more, and take away those opportunities. Forwards need to do a better job of not [turning the puck over], and keeping the puck in their zone more than ours.”
Despite their poor performance against the Canucks, there was one bright spot in the game for the Kings, when right wing Justin Williams scored on the power play at 6:12 of the second period.
On the play, after center Anze Kopitar beat the Canucks’ best face-off man, Maxim Lapierre, the Kings moved the puck around on the power play better than they have all season long…and probably well into last the couple of seasons, too.
On the play, defenseman Jake Muzzin got the puck above the top of the slot, where he faked a shot, and then quickly passed to Williams at the top of the left circle, setting up the one-timer for the goal.
“Shooting off the pass helps,” said winger and team captain Dustin Brown. “That’s a result of putting the puck in the wheelhouse for Williams. I thought our movement prior to the goal—we got them moving. That opened up Stick (a new nickname for Williams) for the one-timer.”
“I had pretty good position for Muzzin in front,” added Brown. “It was hard for me to screen, but it was also hard for the goalie to move across, and it found its way in. I thought our puck movement was crisp.”
The Task At Hand: Solving Nashville’s Defense
Despite earning a 3-1-0 record against the Nashville Predators last season and scoring 14 goals in those games (3.50 goals per game), this season has been a completely different story, as the Kings have scored just one goal in their two games against the Predators this season, a 2-1 shootout loss at Staples Center on January 31, and a 3-0 loss at Nashville on February 7.
“They make you work for any offensive production you get,” Sutter stressed. “That team has not changed. Barry Trotz has been the coach from Day One, and if you look at their team, it’s obviously changed, in terms of personnel, over those years. But one thing that doesn’t change is how they play. They’ve got a great goalie again, and as long as they’ve got a great goalie, they’re a tough team to play against, because you don’t get much.”
“If you look at what’s going on, that’s what the best teams are,” Sutter added. “If you don’t give up much, you have a chance to win every night.”
Even with the loss of star defenseman Ryan Suter, who signed with the Minnesota Wild as an unrestricted free agent during the off-season, the Predators are right there with the rest of the pack in the Western Conference.
“They bring in [defenseman] Scott Hannan, a veteran guy, [defenseman Hal] Gill has been hurt—he’s a veteran guy, [defenseman Shea Weber] piles on [the minutes]—more is better [for him],” said Sutter. “They’ve got [goaltender Pekka] Rinne, who is probably [among] the top five [goaltenders]. They’ve moved on in a hurry.”
“When Ryan Suter signed in Minnesota, the first thing Barry talked about [was defenseman] Roman Josi being the next Ryan Suter, and look at the minutes he’s playing and what he’s doing,” added Sutter. “They’re strong down the middle. They’ve got big guys who are good face-off guys. That means [they’re] possession guys. You’ve got to fight for every inch against them.”
The players shared their coaches’ assessment of the Predators.
“They’re a defensive-minded team, and they work hard,” said Doughty. “They don’t really have those crazy, skilled forwards who are superstars, or anything like that. They just have a bunch of great players who work hard.”
“From top to bottom, they all play the same way, regardless of the skill set,” said Brown. “They’ve found a way to be successful for pretty much ten years now with a team that doesn’t have a so-called superstar, except for Rinne and Weber. They find a way to get it done. A lot of it revolves around their system and their work ethic.”
“They still have those staple guys they’ve had for years, but it’s a system they’ve had in place for years, and people come in, buy in, and find a way to get it done,” added Brown. “A lot of their players are really solid, two-way players, and that goes a long way.”
With the Predators in town tonight to face the Kings (7:30 PM PST, Staples Center), how can the Kings break down their defense, like they did last season?
“The key is holding onto pucks and being patient with it,” Brown emphasized. “I think they have a sit-back mentality. They protect the net really well, but we have to find ways to get to the net, and get pucks there, as well as bodies at the same time. In games past, we’ve gotten pucks there without bodies, and bodies there without pucks.”
“With a goaltender like Rinne, you’ve got to get in front of him, and make it hard for him,” Brown added. “From a defensive standpoint, we lost both games [while allowing] less than 15 shots. They’re very opportunistic. We need to be the same.”
“They’re good at defense, their goalie is good,” Doughty noted. “If we don’t get guys in front of him, and let him see all the [shots, pucks] aren’t going to go in. We definitely need to get more traffic in front, and throw as many pucks as we can to the net. They’ve got some good skaters on the back end, but they’ve got some slow guys.”
We All Play For The Man Beside Us
While talking about Quick taking all the blame for the loss at Vancouver, Doughty mentioned that hockey players are generally their own worst critics.
“I don’t think he’s too hard on himself,” Doughty noted. “Everyone is pretty hard on themselves. That’s why we’re professional hockey players. We realize the things we can do, and when we’re not doing them, we’re not happy with ourselves, and we beat ourselves up about it.”
Doughty pointed out that even if a player might have a bad game, or make a glaring mistake, no one in their dressing room is going to point fingers.
“You don’t want anyone on your team throwing teammates under the bus,” he said. “If we’re watching TV here, and we see another guy on another team throwing his teammates under the bus, we immediately think he’s a bad guy.”
“You don’t ever see anyone on this team do that,” he added. “That’s because we’re such a close team. We’re a good group of guys, we all love each other, and we all play for the man beside us.”
During the post-practice interview with Sutter, yours truly asked, “You guys have had trouble getting inside Nashville’s defense. How do you…”
Before I could finish my question, Sutter started answering it, providing the comments earlier in this story about how the Predators play. But he failed to actually answer my question, so I followed-up with, “so how do you penetrate their defense?”
“Just be better than we were last game,” he said.
Sutter then fired a question back at me. “We did beat’em once. Do you remember?”
I shook my head and replied, “no, not this year.”
His retort: “Then don’t ask.”
At that point, I was tempted to press him to clarify his comment, since his team is 0-2 against the Predators this season. But I assumed that he probably didn’t hear all of my answer to his question, and that he was referring to last season. In any case, I also figured that it was not worth pursuing at that point.
In any case, that was vintage Darryl Sutter.
Frozen Royalty Video via YouTube – Interviews From Los Angeles Kings Practice, March 3, 2013
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