EL SEGUNDO, CA — One day after they got off to another slow start against a lesser opponent and paid for it with a loss, the Los Angeles Kings were already looking ahead to their upcoming five-game road trip, one in which they know that they need to start stringing together some wins to keep themselves in a playoff spot, and, they hope, improve their position in the standings.
As mentioned, a big problem has been slow starts.
“Our starts have been kind of a low point in the first quarter of the season, especially on the road,” said defenseman Jake Muzzin. “It’s tough when you give up two or three [goals] in the first period.”
“It’s a tough league,” said center Jarret Stoll. “You can’t be chasing the game, come from behind. It’s too hard now, so we’ve got to have better starts, we’ve got to be more consistent.”
Greater consistency in their play seems to be the focal point for the players.
“The biggest thing is that we have to find consistency in our game, in all areas, whether it’s penalty-kill, power play, and five-on-five, both individually and collectively,” said forward Dustin Brown.
“[Consistency]—I think that’s the one word,” said Stoll. “We’re struggling a little bit with our consistency, as a team. Structure-wise, system-wise, we have some very good games, but then we come back, and—we’ve had some tough starts to some games, to start the season, which is, usually, not the way we like to do things.”
Defenseman Alec Martinez also lamented his team’s up and down play through the first 27 games of the season.
“I don’t think we’re nearly satisfied with our level of play right now,” he said. “I think we’re getting better, but we’ve got to have a little more consistency. There’s been some big games [where] we weren’t happy with our performance.”
“If you’re satisfied at this point in the year, I think there’s something wrong there,” he added. “The season is a process. You’ve got to develop your game, and make sure that you’re playing your best hockey when you’re coming down the home stretch.”
Another slow start was a major factor in their 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on December 6. Nevertheless, the Kings have played better in their last ten games, earning a 6-3-1 record.
“We’ve been playing some good hockey of late,” Muzzin noted. “[Saturday] afternoon, we had a lot of good opportunities. If we got a bounce here or there, it’s a tie game, or we’re winning.”
“We’ve got to continue getting better, staying hungry, staying focused,” Muzzin added. “We have a big road trip coming up that we need to get amped up for. We’re going to need some wins on the road. [The key is] everyone coming together, playing as a unit. Some nights, we have some guys going. Other nights, guys aren’t going. I think it’s just getting the total effort out of everyone, every night.”
There’s that consistency thing again.
“It’s just consistently playing our game, and doing the things that we do well,” said Martinez. “You have ups and downs during a season. That’s going to happen all the time. But you want to not get too high, or stay too low. It’s owning our style of game, in terms of making quick decisions in the defensive zone, getting pucks in deep [in the attacking zone], and keeping that focus and attention to detail, because at the end of the day, that’s what makes the difference.”
Stoll broke the consistency issue down to the lowest common denominator.
“It’s just execution, and the preparation to do [that],” he emphasized. “You can say it all you want, and you can hear it all you want. But at the end of the day, when you’re on the ice, you’re either doing it or you’re not.”
“It’s no secret,” he added. “It’s kind of a common sense thing. We’ve just got to go out there and do it. We know what we have to do to win hockey games. We feel that when we play our best, when we play the way we’re supposed to play, that it’ll be good enough. We’ll win. [But] when we don’t, we won’t.”
Brown also added a bit of perspective.
“We’ve found ways to win,” he noted. “The important thing is that we’re right there.”
Now…With An Opposing View…
When asked about the players talking about the need for greater consistency in their play, head coach Darryl Sutter bristled, just a bit.
“Every team wants [consistency],” he said. “That’s [called] ‘getting better.’ From a coaching standpoint, we’ve got points in 19 out of  games. If you had said [we would get] that at the start, we’d take it. Away we go.”
But at that point, Sutter fired a cannon shot across the bow of the ship carrying some of his players.
“I don’t think that, as a team, we’re looking at consistency,” he noted. “We’re looking at the top end of our lineup to be more consistent.”
“You can [look] at this [any way] you want,” he added. “If you’ve got a lot of young guys who are playing serious minutes, as some of those young defensemen and those kids up front are, then the top end of your lineup—you’re looking for consistency [from them].”
“The top end are the players who get all the credit when you win. They have to absorb a lot more.”
To illustrate, with the exception of defenseman Drew Doughty and Brown, all of the Kings’ top players have 2014-15 numbers that are worse than last season through the first 27 games.
To be fair, forward Jeff Carter’s current season numbers are comparable to his 2013-14 numbers—just slightly lower. But the numbers, again, through the first 27 games, that hit you smack dab in the face are:
- Marian Gaborik: Last season, he contributed five goals and eleven assists for 16 points in 19 games after being acquired at the trade deadline from Columbus. He has just four goals and four assists for eight points this season, and has missed twelve games to date due to injury.
- Mike Richards: Scored six goals, and has contributed 14 assists for twenty points. But this season, he has scored just four goals and has tallied six assists for ten points, to date.
- Justin Williams: scored ten goals and added ten assists for twenty points through his first 27 games last season. This year: six goals and seven assists for 13 points.
- The most noticeable player with a big drop-off from the same point last season is, arguably, their best player, center Anze Kopitar, who has played in 24 games this season, missing three due to injury. At the same point last season, he scored six goals and added 16 assists for 22 points, with a +8 plus/minus rating. But this year? He’s not even close, scoring just five goals and tallying seven assists for twelve points, with a +2 plus/minus rating.
“We were a high scoring team in the playoffs, so [scoring] is not an issue with our team,” Sutter lamented. “It just goes back to the balance [between] the group that doesn’t get the credit—it’s the guys who are looked at as offensive number guys who haven’t contributed as much this year. Hopefully, they do.”
Sutter was asked what needed to be done to get these players back on track. Instead, he placed the responsibility on the shoulders of those players.
“I’m not going to bang my head against the wall, trying to get superstars to contribute more. They’ve got to figure that out.”
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