Also features a video interview with Los Angeles Kings forward and captain Dustin Brown.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — As the Los Angeles Kings limped home after losing all four games on their last road trip, they head into a contest against division rival Vancouver tonight (7:00 PM PST, Staples Center) having lost five straight games for the first time since December 3 – December 13, 2011, a streak of misery that ended with the firing of then-head coach Terry Murray.
Although there seems to be a significant amount of panic among Kings fans, the circumstances are dramatically different from those of two seasons past. In fact, the Kings insist that they are not far off from being on the other side of the won-loss column in their last five games.
“We’ve played well enough,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “If you look at it, prior to our last time we played St. Louis, we’d gotten points in five straight games. Four of them were overtime losses. Now we’re not getting the extra goal, so you’re not getting points.”
“Quite honest, [Thursday night in St. Louis, a 5-0 loss] was one of our highest, when you break it all out—we had the puck for 64 percent of the game,” added Sutter. It’s maybe the highest since I’ve been here. So you don’t lose. That’s good to say, but it means that you’re not finishing. You know what? You’re not getting the end result, so you have to do a better job.”
“When you have 70 attempts, regardless of whether they count, and you do it by puck possession time, you should win. So then it becomes the detail part of it, like [defenseman Matt Greene’s] penalty, two face-off goals. It just becomes isolated, like wee little things. A penalty becomes a bad goal. When we’re not scoring, it’s like every little thing. So it’s way better to show’em what they’re doing, make them feel good than make ‘em feel bad.”
It is easy to overlook aspects of the game like puck possession, which has not been a big problem for the Kings, as Sutter indicated. What it comes down to is a lack of finish, which leaves the defense and goaltending exposed because they pretty much have to be perfect.
“We haven’t been scoring goals, which means we have been getting basically zero secondary scoring,” Sutter noted. “Zero, which is hard. There’s a fine line, and then your goaltending has to be great. It can’t be just average.”
It does appear that players are starting to press offensively.
“I think it’s a fine line because you talk about bearing down, and then there’s the other—I’ve been known to do it in my career—grip the stick too tight when you’re pressing for goals,” said forward Dustin Brown. “But we need to find a way to find that balance of making sure we’re finishing off our chances, but not gripping the stick too tight that we’re not making the right plays, if that makes sense.”
To illustrate the lack of finish, all one needs to do is look at the glorious scoring chance forward Jeff Carter had during the loss at St. Louis.
“I thought Jeff scored there,” said Sutter. “They made a great play, and he just missed. If I’d have drawn it up before the game and said ‘jeez, Carts, in the first period you’re going to get a six-foot friggin’ [chance], you’re going to bury it and go line up at center,’ he’d have said, ‘yeah, I would.’”
“If you’re not getting‘em—there’s times that where you don’t get ‘em,” added Sutter. “Quite honest, against the same team like St. Louis, you don’t get‘em, and we did. So it’s the way it is. I’m not going to dwell on it. Get ready for Vancouver.”
Greene indicated that his team’s play may have begun to slide just before the losing streak.
“Maybe towards the end of that winning streak we were winning games that maybe we shouldn’t [have], like at the end of every streak,” he said. “Now you’re trying to bust out of it. We’ve been playing some tight games that could go either way, but you’re not doing the little things to get it done. We’ve got to right those.”
“I think it’s a lot of detail play right now that we’ve really got to focus on,” he added. “It’s pretty cliché, but it really just basic stuff that you’ve got to bear down on, get that going the right way. That’ll turn around our fortunes.”
One of those details that has reared its ugly head, especially during the current losing streak, is a lack of discipline—the Kings average 4.45 minor penalties per game, which places them just barely above the bottom of league rankings.
“From an X’s and O’s standpoint, or a hockey standpoint, a big part of it is we have to start eliminating our penalties,” said Brown. “We’re just taking too many penalties right now. We have a good penalty-kill.”
“You see the numbers—it’s the frequency that you’ve got to kill [penalties],” said Greene. “You’re playing a dangerous game there, taking penalties and giving teams a lot of power play time. Teams are good. They’re going to score goals. We’ve got to limit their chances, and that just means taking less penalties.”
Brown also pointed out that it is not just the number of penalties.
“I think it’s a bit of everything really when it comes to penalties,” he noted. “I mean, there are certain penalties in a game that you’re going to take. But when we’re taking offensive zone penalties—hooking penalties in the offensive zone, stuff like that—those are the types of penalties that end up biting us.”
“I think that’s one area that, except for the Chicago game, every game, the difference was a power play goal against, he added. “I mean in St. Louis, we got beat by five goals, but they got an early power play goal and it ends up being the difference.”
As Sutter mentioned earlier, Greene was nailed for a high-sticking double minor at St. Louis, and that turned out to be a key factor in the loss.
As usual, Greene not only acknowledged his transgressions, but he also kept on pointing at himself, beyond the penalties.
“The last road trip I had three minors, and one double minor,” he noted. “You’ve got to stay out of the box. You can’t be killing penalties for the whole game and expect to win on a consistent basis. That’s a huge thing right there. That’s top to bottom. That’s something you definitely want to address. You’re never helping your team out by taking repeated penalties every game.”
“You can only speak for yourself, and that’s just being clean with the puck, just making sure that you’re breaking out clean as much as you can, and playing physical, shut down hockey. I can’t talk for anybody else in this room. I can only talk for myself, and I have to get back to that to help our team.”
On the other side of the special teams ledger is the power play, which has not been a strength for the Kings of late.
“Our power play has been kind of up and down all year,” said Brown. “I think it was the same last year. It’s trying to be consistent with it and sticking with it.”
“The power plays—everyone talks about percentages,” added Brown. “I don’t think it’s about percentages. I think it’s about scoring. Using your power play for momentum and scoring goals at key times.”
“Percentages are a little deceiving, because you have teams that have really good power plays. Maybe they score two goals in the third period in a 4-0 game. Those goals don’t really mean much. It’s about scoring the big goals. A good example is [Thursday] night, we had a five-on-three in the last little bit of the second and we have to find a way to score a goal. I think Carts had pretty much an empty net and [Blues goaltender Brian] Elliott made a pretty good save on it, but we have to find a way to score on that.”
Brown also stressed that the Kings have weathered storms that were more treacherous than the one they are currently trying to get out of.
“It’s never pleasant when you lose,” he noted. “We need to lean, not only on our leadership, but our continuity in the room. We’ve been through much harder things than a five-game losing streak with this group of guys. It’s a matter of relying on that experience and leaning on each other.”
“You’re not panicking, but you’ve got to stop the bleeding,” said Greene. “You’ve got to make sure that it’s at the forefront of everyone’s mind that you’ve got to get points, and we’re reminded of that daily by each other.”
“Guys are passionate here,” added Greene. “Guys know where we are in the standings, and what these last five games has done to that. We’ve got to make sure that everybody looks at themselves first, and gets their own game going. That’s going to help the team.”
It appears that the Kings are on an even keel, and not overly concerned about their current slump.
“You know what? Hey, you talk to’em always about game day and focus and staying in the moment and all that stuff and shift to shift, and putting’em together, and periods, and keep putting all that stuff together,” Sutter noted. “At the same time, then you say OK, ‘Let’s just take two minutes to look at the big picture, right? You know what? Anaheim’s still a push team. Chicago’s still a push team. We’ve done a good job of trying in that push, so just do it. It’s all relevant, and it’s all real.”
But what about fan reaction?
“You know what? When we win four or five? There’s four or five people who go ‘oh, are you guys ever going to lose,’” said Sutter. “It’s like I told them…now, hey, everybody’s going to say, ‘are you guys ever going to win?’”
“I said, you know what? Just tell them we’re going to win every game for the rest of our careers.”
In other words, although it might not always be blue, the sky is still up there, folks.
Video Interview With Dustin Brown via FrozenRoyaltyNHL on YouTube
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