AUDIO: Includes audio interviews with Dustin Brown, Marian Gaborik, Anze Kopitar and Darryl Sutter.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — After winning seven consecutive games coming out of the Olympic break, and with eight straight wins overall, it is now safe to say that the break worked wonders for the Los Angeles Kings, who are on the verge of tying a franchise record for consecutive wins in a season with nine as they prepare to skate against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Staples Center here in Los Angeles tonight (7:30 PM PDT).
“I think all of our guys came back from the break really sharp,” said head coach Darryl Sutter.
“I had lots of fun, [the Olympics] was a great experience for me, personally, for [Team Slovenia], and for every single athlete who was there,” said center Anze Kopitar. “Maybe it gives you a little boost. When I came back, Darryl gave me a few days off, too, so I didn’t have to skate and put on equipment, which helped a lot.”
“Sometimes, when there’s a little change of scenery, a little break from the every day [routine] we have here, it’s welcomed,” added Kopitar. “It kind of reboots you. Maybe that’s the case, Plus, we had pretty good momentum going there, with everybody. We had fun. We just tried to bring [part] of that in here.”
Winger and captain Dustin Brown, who represented the United States in Sochi, said that with so few games left, the Kings must take advantage of the fact that they are at home for the next five games.
“This stretch of games—it’s pretty much our first time since the Olympic break where we have a stretch of games strung together at home,” said Brown. “It’s important to start off right.”
Brown, who has been a much improved player since returning from Sochi, scoring two goals and contributing four assists in those seven games, talked about the reasons for the Kings’ recent success.
“We’ve been better on the power play, from a production standpoint,” he noted. “Our penalty-kill has been good—special teams are always important. I also think we’re getting opportunities to score, and we’re scoring. That was there before the break. We had opportunities to score, but we just couldn’t get the puck in the net. Whether it was gripping the stick too tight, or not bearing down hard enough.”
“When you get those timely goals, it makes it easier to play our game,” he added. “When you look at when we’re playing at the top of our game, you find a goal and build off of it. We’re a smothering team once we have that lead. I think teams start thinking that it’s going to be tough to get out of the hole.”
Brown also indicated that the break has given the team more jump, which has a cascading effect, culminating in noticeable improvement in puck movement and speed on attack.
“A big part of it is just hitting the reset button during the break, with some of us getting two weeks rest,” he explained. “You’re a little fresher, a little quicker. As a result, you’re back a little quicker, you’re moving the puck a little quicker, and it makes it a lot easier. If the defensemen can get back quick, and if the forwards can get back quick to help them out, the result will be coming out of the neutral zone, or coming out of the [defensive] zone pretty cleanly, and our [puck] support has been a lot better.”
Kopitar also pointed to the improved speed on attack, but noted that it all starts in the defensive zone.
“We’re not giving up as much in the defensive zone as we did before,” he said. “We tightened it up a little bit. When you do that you don’t play in your own zone as much, and that helps. When we don’t play in our own zone, that means we have the puck, and I’d take that, obviously, any time.”
“I think that’s the reason [for the much improved speed on attack],” he added. “When you’re in the defensive zone, that comes [from] not managing the puck well through the neutral zone, making turnovers, whatever it is. That’s what bites you in the ass, and you have to play in the defensive zone all night. When we do manage the puck, we play a lot more in the offensive zone, and that’s where we want to be.”
As Kopitar noted, the Kings have been better in their own zone, something that has not gone unnoticed by the coaches.
“We were giving up too many goals,” said Sutter. “The sexy thing for everybody to talk about is not enough scoring. But if you look at that stretch [prior to the Olympic break], we were giving up about three-quarters of a goal too much.”
“That puts pressure on you, especially on the road, with the back-to-backs, the travel,” added Sutter. “It puts pressure on you to score big goals. We weren’t doing that, but now we are. Our goals against has come right back to where we want it to be, and we’ve scored big goals.”
Gaborik Making The Necessary Adjustments
Since coming over from the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 5, winger Marian Gaborik has played on left wing with Kopitar and right wing Justin Williams.
Gaborik has not recorded a point with the Kings through three games, but that should not surprise anyone as he adjusts to his new surroundings.
“I’m adjusting, but I think it’s going in the right direction,” he said. “We’ve created some chances. It’s going to get better and better. It’s a matter of time before we understand each other out there. We just have to get used to playing with each other, and I have to get used to the system. It’s going the right way.”
“I think it’s coming along,” said Kopitar. “I think we’ve had some chances over the course of the last two games. We didn’t connect on any yet, but I’m sure that’s going to come soon.”
As Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi said when he acquired him at the trade deadline, Gaborik gives the Kings an element they did not have—a player who can create something out of nothing.
His speed and skill on the wing also gives opponents something else to think about.
“He gives us good balance,” said Sutter. “What it does is that it spreads it out. It moves [Jeff] Carter and Brown onto different lines. It gives us more balance throughout our lineup.”
“I can definitely notice they’re careful of his speed,” Kopitar indicated. “In that regard, maybe their right [defenseman] is backing off just a little bit, giving us a couple extra feet, which is always nice on the ice.”
“He’s making the little plays in the offensive zone that turn into pretty good scoring chances,” added Kopitar. “I think everybody was expecting him to do that too, and he’s certainly brought that to the table, but I think there’s still more to be done within our line.”
Kopitar and Gaborik now have a bit of a mutual admiration thing going.
“[Kopitar is] one of the top two-way players in the league,” Gaborik noted. “He doesn’t get the credit around the league like he should, but he’s proven himself.”
“He’s a very smart player,” Gaborik added. “He knows the game so well. He knows where to be at all times, he’s such a smooth skater, and he’s fast. He doesn’t look like he’s fast, but that’s one thing I noticed. He can skate. I knew he was one of the top two-way players, but he’s [also] a great skater.”
Gaborik indicated that while defense is key to the Kings’ system, the offense shouldn’t be far behind.
“The first thing you’ve got to focus on is defense, but I hope to provide some offense,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s going to come soon.”
The other adjustment Gaborik has to make is moving from a team that was just starting to establish itself as one that might contend for a playoff spot, to a Stanley Cup contender.
“I’ve come to a team that has established itself in the league as one of the top teams, always a contender every year,” he noted. “I just have to try to fit in, do the right things, in terms of the system, and just go out there and play.”
“I really enjoy the team, I enjoy the guys,” he added. “It was good to start on the road to get to know the guys. It’s been going pretty smoothly. We have a good thing going here. We just have to keep the wins coming.”
The Kings had the day off on March 11, giving Gaborik some time to explore.
“I had a chance to walk around Manhattan Beach a little bit,” said Gaborik. “I’m staying with a friend there. I have to start to get to know the area more. I’m familiar with it a little bit.”
“It’s pretty easy to get comfortable here, enjoying the sun, and coming to the rink,” added Gaborik. “It’s beautiful around here. It’s nice to get some Vitamin D, and get ready for the game.”
As for what lies ahead, beyond this season, reports indicate that Gaborik would like to sign with the Kings. But for now, he is focused on the next game.
“We’ll see what’s going to happen,” said Gaborik. “I just came here, so I’m just focusing on a day at a time, and a game at a time. Whatever’s going to happen is [what’s] going to happen.”
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Anze Kopitar (4:54)
Marian Gaborik (5:37)
Dustin Brown (4:32)
Darryl Sutter (6:52)
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