EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: This story includes exclusive video of interviews with Los Angeles Kings left wing Dustin Penner and head coach Darryl Sutter following practice on March 8, 2013.
LOS ANGELES AND EL SEGUNDO, CA — Although the Los Angeles Kings are ranked fifth in the Western Conference heading into action on March 9, consistency has not been their strong suit through 22 games in this abbreviated season.
Although they have won nine out of thelr last twelve games, all one has to do is look at their sluggish 3-5-2 start, some incomplete efforts, and games in which the defensive blunders are glaring, and it leads one to question just how far this team can go this season.
To be sure, the loss of veteran defensemen Matt Greene (back surgery) and Willie Mitchell (knee surgery) have been huge factors in the Kings dropping from second overall in the National Hockey League on defense (allowed an average of 2.07 goals per game) to 12th this season (2.54 goals per game).
If you do the math, that is nearly an addtional half a goal per game allowed this season. If you extrapolate that out over the remaining games, the Kings are on pace to allow 66 more goals this season.
If you plug in last year’s number into the equation, the Kings would allow nearly 54 more goals this season. That might not seem like a big difference, but twelve goals could easily be the difference between qualifying for the post-season party and being on the outside looking in.
Uneven, incomplete or just downright poor efforts have been an issue this season, with the most glaring examples coming at Chicago on February 17 at Chicago (a 3-2 loss), and against St. Louis on March 5 (6-4 win).
Following that contest against St. Louis, center Anze Kopitar summed it up best.
“We got away with one tonight,” he noted.
The latest questionable effort came on March 7, when the Kings lost to the Dallas Stars at Staples Center in Los Angeles, 5-2.
In the game, defensive coverage issues, along with at least one fortunate bounce that went the way of the Stars, contributed to the loss for the Kings.
“We couldn’t handle the [Jamie] Benn line,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “We had nobody to answer the checking responsibility. We didn’t have anyone who could handle that line. They’ve got energy and they’re hard-working guys. Benn and [Jaromir] Jagr were too much for us.”
“That line of Benn, [Loui] Ericksson and Jagr had an impact on the game,” said winger and team captain Dustin Brown. “Our top guys need to be better in a game like tonight’s.”
“Our defensive zone [play] was sloppy,” added Brown. “They got in behind our coverage a few times on goals. That big line of Benn, Erickson and Jagr got behind our defense and found ways to get goals.”
Sutter also pointed out that his goaltenders need to be better.
“Giving up four goals a game, you can’t win,” he emphasized. “We need better goaltending, better defense. Simple. You won’t win any games.”
“We didn’t get good enough goaltending tonight [from Jonathan Quick],” he added. “[Save percentage] is one stat that doesn’t lie. [Stars goalie Kari] Lehtonen was at [.939]. That’s a stat that always holds true.”
And Now, With An Opposing View…
While Sutter and several players pointed to the Kings’ defensive play as an issue against Dallas on March 7, veteran left wing Dustin Penner indicated that luck had a little to do with it as well.
“I think you have to attribute two or three of their goals to puck luck,” he said. “That’s what happens. Sometimes we get it. In a situation like last night, where the pucks are bouncing for them—we were taking it to them, I thought, in parts of the game—you have to work a lot harder to beat a puck that’s bouncing in their direction.”
“Jagr’s first goal, where Benn throws it on net, and it [went] right back on his stick—back door [play],” he added. “Off a body, off a face, off a skate, back door. Things like that. When that’s happening to you, you have to recognize that, and realize that you’re going to have to work a lot harder to earn the victory.”
Speaking of working harder, Penner was, arguably, the Kings’ best player against Dallas, skating on a line with Jeff Carter and Mike Richards.
“As a line, we’ve played well, lately,” Penner noted. “When you throw [a guy like] Carter out there, who has  goals, usually, the other guys [on that line] are going to feel good about their game, too.”
“He’s been great on draws, especially [in] the last game,” Penner added. “That leads to puck possession, and then, we haven’t been throwing away pucks, or as I say, one-and-done. You get down [deep in the offensive] zone, and try to make a quick play, [but the puck goes] off a stick, and out of the zone. We’ve been putting pucks in the right spots, creating a forecheck, cycling the puck, and waiting for the right time to make a play on net.”
As well as the Penner-Richards-Carter line has played recently, no matter what they do, if the Kings’ defense falters, as it has in recent games, they are going to struggle mightily.
With that in mind, the team’s video session prior to practice was used to get their young defensemen on task.
“We reinforced areas that we haven’t been very good at, off and on, all year,” said Sutter. “There’s usually teaching moments that you can use, and we were able to use that this morning.”
“[Mistakes have] slipped into some of our younger player’s games,” added Sutter. “We have to get the mistakes out of their game again, and they’re easy mistakes to correct if they want to correct them.”
“What’s the old line? If the students are ready to listen, then the teacher will talk. Otherwise, don’t.”
When asked if the players are listening, Sutter dished out one of his famous Sutter-isms, this time about ears and hygiene:
“Jeez…we just won eight out of eleven. They must not have totally waxed up, have they?”
As you might guess, no one wanted to pursue that line of questioning further.
Frozen Royalty Video via FrozenRoyaltyNHL on YouTube – Exclusive Post-Practice Video Interviews, March 8, 2013
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