AUDIO INTERVIEWS: Also includes audio of interviews with Tanner Pearson, Justin Williams and Darryl Sutter after practice on January 2.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — Now that the New Year is upon us, the Los Angeles Kings are looking to turn the page on 2014 and start a hard push for the playoffs.
“It’s now time to win a few in a row,” said veteran right wing Justin Williams. “Enough screwing around. It’s time to get ourselves atop the conference again, where we belong, and get some breathing room between us and other teams.”
“The regular season is long,” added Williams. “Everyone’s gunning for you. It’s a hard league. We need to, eventually, hit a point where it’s go time. We need to find that, and we need to bring it every night.”
The Kings’ come-from-behind 3-2 win at Vancouver on January 1 was a good start to their playoff push.
“We had to be a desperate team last night,” Williams noted. “That was a team that was ahead of us in the standings, they have games in hand on us, and before yesterday, we were on the outside looking in. Before tomorrow’s game (against Nashville, 1:00 PM PST, Staples Center), we probably could be [again].”
One thing is certain: Williams has complete confidence in his team.
“We’re a team that, when push comes to shove, we’re going to answer the bell,” he stressed. “We always have, we always will. That’s just the mentality of our team.”
Pearson On The Rise?
Early in the 2014-15 season, left wing Tanner Pearson was all the rage, starting off blazing hot with seven goals and two assists for nine points in the first eight games, earning him National Hockey League Rookie of the Month honors for October.
But since then, Pearson has had, as one might expect for a young player, especially an NHL rookie, his ups and downs.
Indeed, after those first eight games, Pearson did not record a point in the next six contests, and he contributed just one assist from October 28 to November 18, an eleven-game span.
Pearson went on to score four goals in the next ten games, only to be held off the scoresheet for the next nine.
Now with eleven goals and four assists for 15 points in 39 games this season, the 22-year-old, 6-1, 200-pound native of Kitchener, Ontario just might be on the rise again.
Pearson, who was selected by the Kings in the first round (30th overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft, assisted on the game-winning goal at Vancouver on January 1, a big play, to be sure. But before that, Pearson’s improved play became noticeable on December 27, when the Kings defeated the San Jose Sharks, 3-1, at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
In that game, even though he did not get his name on the scoresheet, the Tanner Pearson from October had returned. He was moving his feet again, using his speed to win foot races to loose pucks, and his strength to win loose puck battles along the boards and in the corners. From that, he was able to make plays, setting up teammates for scoring chances.
A few weeks ago, head coach Darryl Sutter said that Pearson (and right wing Tyler Toffoli) needed to be “better competitors.” At least for the time being, it appears that Pearson has taken his coach’s words to heart.
“Looking back at my game from the beginning of the season…I was doing little things right, I was working hard, and I was getting rewarded for it. I just figured I had to get back to [that]. When you’re working hard [things] are going to start going your way again.”
The little things…in Pearson’s game, that often comes down to those loose pucks mentioned earlier.
“It’s true that I’ve been doing a better job in the offensive zone [in recent games], hanging on to pucks and making smarter plays,” he noted. “I’ve been pretty good at wall play in my own zone, but for how much of a puck possession team we are, you’ve got to win the battles in the offensive zone, too.”
On the game-winning goal scored by Jarret Stoll at Vancouver on January 1, Pearson did one of those little things…twice, with the second one being getting to a loose puck in the right corner of the Vancouver zone before hitting Stoll with a pass across the slot to set up the game-winner.
But that was all made possible by the first little thing Pearson did on that shift.
“If you look at that play, it started in our end, [with me] making a wall play to [forward Trevor Lewis] to get the puck going north,” said Pearson. “That’s a quick [play to get] up on the defenseman, using a wall play to get the puck going to the other end. That’s what we need to do more of to be effective.”
“It is a game of little things that makes [up] a big picture,” added Pearson. “When everyone on our team is going, and we’re all playing LA Kings hockey, it’s pretty easy to see how we work, and how it benefits our team.”
Sutter indicated that Pearson, along with several other players, benefitted from the holiday break.
“I think some of those guys, the guys who had good starts, got some energy back in the last few games again,” he observed. “I think that’s evident. Pearson, Toffoli, I think the break really helped [defensemen] Drew [Doughty] and [Jake] Muzzin. I’ve seen that in their game. Those guys who’ve played every game, you see a difference.”
As hot as Marian Gaborik, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter have been lately, the Kings will need contributions from others, including Pearson, if they expect to make that push that Williams spoke of.
“It’s really important, when you’re playing a lot of games in a short period of time, to have production from other parts of your lineup,” Sutter emphasized.
Raw Audio Interviews – Los Angeles Kings Practice, January 2, 2015
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Justin Williams (4:39)
Tanner Pearson (3:36)
Darryl Sutter (5:49)
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