ALSO: Will Alec Martinez return to the lineup tonight against Ottawa? Willie Mitchell talks about complacency, and video interviews with Colin Fraser, Trevor Lewis, and head coach Darryl Sutter.
EL SEGUNDO AND LOS ANGELES, CA — After a 1-2-0 start to the still very young 2013-14 National Hockey League season, a quick spin through the World Wide Web forums where the Los Angeles Kings faithful congregate indicates that while many are not concerned with the team’s poor start, a significant number are already in panic mode.
Indeed, some fans are already pointing fingers, and railing against the performance of various players. Some have singled out goaltender Jonathan Quick. Even head coach Darryl Sutter has been under the microscope—some have commented that they believe he has lost control of his team, and has been tuned out by the players.
One word can be used to address such beliefs…
Seriously folks, the Kings have 79…count’em…79 games left in their 82-game regular season, and if you’re that far gone after the first three games, you could become a complete basket case in no time, so relax! There’s a lot of hockey left to be played.
Nevertheless, the Kings have played poorly in the three games, and that includes their shootout victory at Minnesota on October 3, which was the season opener for both teams.
Whether it is penalties, turnovers, bad reads, soft goals, poor five-on-five play, or anything from a list of issues, the Kings are failing to execute their game plan.
But again, it is very, very early.
“We need to nip it in the bud early,” said center Colin Fraser. “It’s better to do it now than in game 81. We’re not happy with the way we’ve played and the results we’ve gotten. We beat Minnesota, but we had to come from behind and do it in a shootout. Bottom line is that we’ve got to be better. There’s no excuses. We’ve just got to re-group.”
“In the NHL, the parity is so close, so you can’t fall behind the eight-ball,” added Fraser. “It’s hard to crawl back in. It seems that if you lose three, four or five in a row, you’re out of the playoffs, and if you win three, four or five in a row, you’re in first place. At a minimum, we’ve got to keep pace, but we want to be better than that.”
On that night, the Kings were out of synch and disorganized. Countless turnovers made their defensive zone play more reminiscent of a Keystone Kops movie than an NHL game.
Of course, the Keystone Kops reference is an exaggeration. But you get the point, right?
“Our defense [was] turning pucks over,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “Very simple. Willie Mitchell, [Jake] Muzzin, Drew [Doughty] and Slava [Voynov], our four guys who are looked at as puck movers—they weren’t even close.”
Turnovers by defensemen started a chain reaction of miscues, blunders and failures that extended into the neutral zone and beyond.
“[Turnovers by our defensemen] creates a gap,” Sutter explained. “We want our forwards to get going, so that means our defensemen have to get them the puck. When they don’t get them the puck, then there’s a gap. Then, there’s guys standing around, and you’re playing in your own zone. Most of that is after we had the puck on our stick.”
“There are some execution issues when you have the puck on your stick, and you give it to the other team,” Sutter elaborated.
To be sure, turnovers were the most glaring problem against the Rangers.
“We had far too many turnovers,” said right wing Justin Williams. “That’s certainly not our M.O. That’s not [the reputation] we’ve worked the last few years [for]. We need to get back to it.”
“Turnovers kill you,” Fraser noted. “It’s tough to get any offense going when you’re turning the puck over, and chasing it all the time. It’s one thing if they beat you on an honest play, but it’s another thing if you’re handing them chances and zone time, which we did by turning pucks over. You’re not going to win every game, but if you’re going to lose, you want to lose honestly, not the way we did last night.”
“It’s not really in our identity to do that,” Fraser added. “We’re more of a chip-and-go kind of team. I think we need to get back to [being] simple. I think we were trying to get too fancy. Less is more sometimes.”
As mentioned earlier, penalties have also been an issue.
“Three offensive zone penalties, and three defensive zone penalties in the first game, which is too many,” Sutter lamented. “Then, in Winnipeg, I didn’t like [defenseman Matt] Greene’s penalty to start the third.”
“That was a tired penalty early in the period, and that shouldn’t happen,” Sutter added. “That ended up being big. That made it 3-1, and we were still playing well. You just can’t take that penalty.”
Heading into tonight’s game against the Ottawa Senators (7:30 PM PDT, Staples Center), the Kings were focused on fixing their problems during their practice on October 8.
“It’s just being quicker and cleaner, and executing more,” said forward Trevor Lewis. “[We had] a couple of sloppy plays, so it’s executing a little more on the breakout, in the neutral zone, getting in on the forecheck, and executing plays in the offensive zone to get some shots, and generate some second chances. The main thing is to execute better, quicker, and more efficiently.”
“We all know the systems, we all know what we need to do,” said Fraser. “We just need to do it better. We need to tighten it up, execute a little bit more, and a little bit sharper. I think we showed signs of that, but obviously, not enough, certainly not last night.”
Center Jarret Stoll indicated that the players may not be as sharp as they should be coming out of training camp.
“It’s just the sharpness on where we need to be, and how we need to be to win,” he said. “We got out of Minnesota with two points, which was nice. It took right to the end to get it, but we know we can be better.”
Stoll echoed Fraser’s comments about sticking to their system.
“We watched a lot of video and talked about it,” said Stoll. “You look at your shifts, you look at your decisions, your reads—stuff like that. It’s so precise, and so specific. [It often comes down to] three or four feet here, or three or four feet there. That’s how we play. We’re a very structured team when we’re playing the right way. We just need more of that.”
“We’ve got to jump on teams, keep the foot on the gas, and just keep trying to punish teams,” added Stoll. “Wear’em down, like we’re used to doing, and we can do. When we’re inconsistent, it just gives teams confidence, the excitement to play the right way against us, and find ways to beat us. We’ve just got to be more consistent.”
Williams was much more blunt.
“You can search for any excuses you want, but our five-on-five scoring needs to improve (emphasis his),” he seethed, after the loss to the Rangers. “You can’t just rely on a power play. You need to get dirty, and we have not done that yet, to a man, and that certainly starts [with the top line of Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, and himself].”
“To a man, we simply were not good enough,” he added. “We got outplayed, out-battled, and our five-on-five scoring is non-existent. [That’s] unacceptable, especially from myself, and my line.”
“You address it by getting yourself dirty, by simplifying your game, being a first-line grinder, putting your work before your skill. That’s what we need to do.”
Could Complacency Be An Issue?
Defenseman Willie Mitchell talked about how good he thinks the Kings are, but cautioned that it could be a double-edged sword.
“We have a good group—a really, really good group,” he said. “I’ve played for awhile, and this is probably the best team I’ve been on in awhile. That can be a bit of our worst enemy this year in that we all know we have a really good team. We don’t want that complacency.”
Complacency is an issue is not something anyone is putting any credence into so early in the season. But Mitchell stressed that the Kings need to keep their skates on the ice, so to speak.
“We have a good team, but let’s make sure we bring the things that have made us successful,” Mitchell emphasized. “Our identity, as a team, is that we’re a hard working team. We play a heavy game. If we do those things, we’re going to be right in the mix, if we stay healthy.”
Sutter On Mitchell, Brown
After practice on October 8, Sutter gave the media his assessment of the play of Mitchell and Brown.
“I think [Mitchell is] progressing,” said Sutter. “Willie’s strength is being able to read and defend really well. A lot of it is with his stick, and then moving the puck. Where he’s had a hard time is the pace of the other team when he has the puck, not when they have the puck. I think he’s been fine that way.”
“Brownie’s got some work to do,” added Sutter. “He’s got to be a physical guy. It’s very simple. It’s not about offensive numbers. He’s got to be a physical guy.”
“He’s doing a good job around the net, but he can be a stronger guy on the boards, and a stronger guy protecting pucks. That comes with playing.”
Martinez Expected To Replace Muzzin
After the loss to the Rangers, Sutter made it clear that he was not happy with Muzzin’s play, despite the fact that he scored the only goal for the Kings.
When Dennis Bernstein of The Fourth Period asked him if he would have any trouble sitting Muzzin in favor of another defenseman, Sutter said, “Not at all. Him and [Alec Martinez] are pretty interchangeable.”
By all indications, it appears that Martinez will replace Muzzin in the lineup tonight against Ottawa. Evidence of that move was apparent during practice on October 8, as Martinez had been moved up to play alongside Greene, while Muzzin was paired with Keaton Ellerby, who has been a healthy scratch in all three games so far.
“[Muzzin is] struggling a lot,” Sutter noted. “We went through it last year. There’s a lot of pressure on him, and if he’s not quite prepared for those situations—we saw it in the playoffs last year. He was a healthy scratch. He’s sort of going through the same thing again.”
Through three games, Muzzin has two giveaways, including one that led directly to a goal against in the loss to the Rangers, and has a rather glaring -5 plus/minus rating.
“You’re not going to win too many games if you’re a guy who’s playing significant minutes, and you’re a high minus player,” Sutter emphasized. “He got hurt in Colorado [during the pre-season]. We tried to ramp his training up this summer. He was a very unfit player when we got him last year. We spent a month or so—he was very fortunate to be on an NHL roster just to work on his fitness. It really hurt him in the playoffs—the pace of it.”
“He did a really good job this summer of trying to get better in areas—cardiovascular—that we wanted him to,” Sutter added. “But then he got hurt in Colorado, so he didn’t skate for a week, or he skated [on a] limited [basis], and then, he didn’t have any contact. He probably shouldn’t have played in the first game. I should’ve bag skated him [for] a couple more days.”
“He’s going to have to learn not to turn the puck over if he wants to play. Period.”
Video Interviews via FrozenRoyaltyNHL on YouTube
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