Are The LA Kings On The Right Track For 20-Game Sprint To The Finish?
March 3, 2014 Leave a comment
AUDIO: Includes audio interviews with Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez, Willie Mitchell, Jake Muzzin, Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams.
LOS ANGELES AND EL SEGUNDO, CA — Even though the Los Angeles Kings have won all three of their games since the National Hockey League returned to the ice following the Olympic break—they have won four straight games overall—they know their game is not yet where it needs to be. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that they have picked up their game since the break ended.
“We wanted to have a good start coming out of the break,” said defenseman Alec Martinez. “It’s no secret that we weren’t happy with our game before the break started.”
“We’re scoring goals, and we’ve been playing our game, the last three games,” added Martinez. “That’s certainly a good sign, but we’ve got twenty more to go. We’ve got to keep it going.”
Three games is a small sample size, no question. Despite that, the break does seem to have rejuvenated the Kings.
“You can obviously say that the Olympic break was good for us,” said veteran right wing Justin Williams. “If you came out of the break playing like crap, you’d say otherwise, but I think getting away for a little while was good for everybody. They used the time wisely. It’s paying dividends for us right now. We’ve played well.”
The time away may have cleared their heads, something they probably needed desperately.
“It could be a type of attitude, as well, where you don’t think you can score,” Williams explained. “You’re having a tough time, and things aren’t going your way. But when you get away from it for a little bit, you forget about all that, and just play. You have a little more energy, too, and you’re a little more refreshed.”
“The guys are fresh, and feeling good,” said defenseman Jake Muzzin. “We’re excited for the last part of the season here. We’ve got twenty games left, so it’s a big playoff push. We’ve got to ‘up’ our game. That’s what we’re doing, and we’re winning some games.”
For the players who did not make the trip to Sochi to play in the XXII Olympic Winter Games, they got in some much needed practices where they hammered out a lot of the kinks.
“We had some things to correct going into the break, and other than the guys who were at the Olympics, we had a good four or five days of practice to help correct those things,” Martinez explained. “We wanted to come out and have a good start. It’s playoff hockey here, this last 23 games before the end of the year. I think we’re doing a lot of the little things well, and that’s paying dividends for us.”
What exactly are those little things?
“Capitalizing on our opportunities, most of them,” center Jarret Stoll explained. “Locking it down more, defensively, getting back to our defensive structure, and working hard as a five-man group. Any time you’re looking at the screen, watching one of our games, or a video, we want to see five guys in the screen, six in our zone with our goalie. I think we’re doing that better.”
Martinez pointed out that the Kings are generating more quality scoring chances, but that this starts way back in their own zone.
“It’s starts with the defensemen making quick decisions down low, getting [the puck] into the forwards’ hands,” Martinez noted. “The forwards have done a real good job of getting in on the forecheck and stopping up plays in the neutral zone. That’s kind of our bread and butter. We’ve been playing a good team game. We’ve just got to keep it going.”
On the downside, special teams remain a sticking point.
“You can improve on every aspect of the game, but our special teams have been below average,” Williams lamented. “Our penalty-killing needs to step up, and our power play, even though we’ve scored a couple of game-winners, hasn’t been up to snuff.”
“We’ve got to get better on the power play, and on the penalty-kill,” Williams added. “You’re going to have streaks during parts of the season where you kill off twenty in a row, 25 in a row, or 27 out of thirty, something like that. You get on a roll, where you get that confidence. We had that a couple of years ago, and we had it at points last year,” Williams added. “We can get back to that. We have the personnel to do that.”
It’s That Time Of Year
The way this season has gone for the Kings is not much different from a lot of other years—they start fast, fade during the middle of the season, and then come on strong down the stretch.
Could the current edition of the Kings be following that same pattern?
“This is typical LA Kings, right, since I’ve been here,” said veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell. “We have games 40 to 60, where it’s a struggle, and then 60 through 82 seems to be where the team comes into their own, and starts to play well.”
“I don’t know the reason behind that,” added Mitchell. “I wish I did, because then it would be a lot easier heading down the stretch. We’d have a little more breathing room than we do now. But since I’ve been here, it’s always been like that. We seem to play well down the stretch, and we always play well in big games.”
“This time of year is when we play our best hockey,” said Williams. “These last twenty games is playoff time. It’s time to show up.”
Showing up is just one of the things the Kings will need to do during their twenty-game sprint to the finish.
“I think we’re on the right track now,” said defenseman Drew Doughty. “We’ve won three or four in a row, and we’re playing like we know we can. Our big guys, our core group, are stepping up, playing their game. Our guys are scoring big goals, and that’s exactly what we need to do. This is the most fun time of the year for our team. We have so much fun battling to get into the playoffs, battling for a spot. Then, when the playoffs arrive, we’re ready to go.”
“We’re playing well in all situations,” added Doughty. “There’s been games where certain things have hurt us—power play wasn’t good in one game, penalty-kill wasn’t good in [another]. Those are the only times when we’ve gotten into trouble. Five-on-five, I think we’ve been playing really well, both offensively and defensively. We just need to continue those things.”
Consistency and experience will also be key factors down the stretch.
“As well as we played at the start of the year, we know that we can play well, and against good teams,” Mitchell noted. “To get in, down the stretch, we’re going to have to be consistent, and then, in the playoffs, you’re going to have to be consistent over a period of seven games.”
“We have a lot of the same guys who’ve done it before,” said Martinez. “We’ve just got to play our game. It’s just a matter of taking a focus, bearing down, making the plays we know we can make, and capitalizing on the chances we get. That was the biggest difference between the past three games and the games prior to the break.”
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Alec Martinez (3:03)
Jarret Stoll (1:47)
Justin Williams (2:35)
Drew Doughty (2:23)
Willie Mitchell (1:34)
Jake Muzzin (1:28)
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