EL SEGUNDO, CA — With a 2-3-0 record on their annual Grammy road trip, the Los Angeles Kings came up well short of what they needed to do, given their precarious position in the standings.
Despite that, ending the trip with two wins is something they can and hope to build on.
“We were able to salvage a road trip,” said right wing Justin Williams. “It could’ve gotten really ugly.”
“It seems like we’re a team that puts itself in a lot of holes,” added Williams. “We’ve put ourselves in a big one now, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. We see it. We’ve won a couple of games, and we know if we win the next few, we’re right back in the mix of making the playoffs. But the hardest part is getting in, and we’ve got to make sure we do that in order to defend [as Stanley Cup Champions].”
“The trip was not good, but we finished up with two huge wins,” said center Anze Kopitar. “Now we have to continue building on that and make sure that—I think it’s a three game home stand now—that we make sure we’re playing our game, and our style of hockey, and make it tough for the other teams to come and play in our building.”
In their two wins to end the Grammy trip, the Kings were better in all three zones, and the outnumbered attacks that they were giving up in bunches were not an issue.
“It’s the whole game, it’s not really just one piece,” Williams stressed. “It’s everything together. Lately, when we’ve been getting scored against, we’ve been giving up odd-man opportunities, and there’s a reason [for that]. We’ve been a bit [too] aggressive, pushing for a goal, instead of being patient, taking what’s given to you, and sometimes, hockey is more defense first. It comes from that.”
“Our neutral zone was a lot better [in the two wins],” Williams added. “You could see from the games that we lost on the road trip, there were a lot of odd-man rushes against us. We cleaned those up the last couple of games, and in turn, we had a lot of offensive [zone] time—over 40 shots against Columbus. A big reason was staying on top of pucks, creating turnovers.”
Kopitar pointed out that the Kings got off to good starts and displayed resilience in the wins at Tampa Bay and Columbus.
“In Tampa, we had a good start, and maybe played on our heels a little bit, but against Columbus, even though they scored in the second period to make it, 2-2, we came right back to make it 3-2 again,” he said. “I think that was a big, big moment of that hockey game, and it got us out on top.”
Greater emotion was also a key factor.
“I think we were just a lot more emotionally involved,” said defenseman Jake Muzzin. “We were getting desperate early [in games] and played that way for the full 60 [minutes]. That resulted in getting more goals. Getting two wins at the end of the road trip was huge for us.”
“We need [that level of emotion] now,” added Muzzin. “Everyone’s got to bring it every night.”
Despite the hole that they’ve dug themselves into, the Kings remain unfazed by their predicament.
“The mood is good,” said Kopitar. “We’ve done it in the past, and we certainly have all the confidence that we can do it again. But looking back on the past too much is not going to help us. It’s the same old story, we’ve got to prepare and look ahead and just play better hockey.”
“It’s nothing consciously that we do that puts us in these situations that we’ve been put in,” Williams explained. “But we tend to answer the bell, and we’ve put ourselves in quite the predicament with where we are in the standings. But resilience and [having been] through it before, and being in tough situations, all helps you at this time of year. It’s a grind to the playoffs, and there is always someone gearing for your spot. The hardest part is getting in, and we’re going to do that.”
“[We’re] confident in our abilities, and confident when you look around the room at the different guys that you have, knowing that he’s going to be able to do the job come crunch time, and he’s going to give everything he’s got,” Williams elaborated. “When it’s go time, you know he’s going to be there for you. As I said, we put ourselves in a tough spot, and when I look around the room, I see confident guys who are able to get the job done.”
In their first game back at Staples Center since the Grammy trip, the Kings already face a big challenge with the Calgary Flames coming into town tonight, five points ahead of the Kings in the Western Conference standings.
“Calgary has played us well, and obviously, [they’ve earned] themselves a lot of respect, the way they’ve played in the first 50 games of the season,” said Williams. “We’d better wake up to the fact that it’s a challenge, and they’re a great team. We have to bring our best to beat them.”
“It’s no secret that it’s four-point game for both [teams],” Kopitar noted. “I don’t know exactly what the points situation is right now, but either they’re going to pull away further, or we’re going to close the gap. We all know what’s at stake.”
“Their defense corps is really good,” Kopitar added. “I don’t know if [Flames defenseman Mark] Giordano is still on top, points-wise, but he’s done some damage against us, so we’ve got to make sure we limit that, and make it hard on them.”
Calgary’s speed and mobility has been an issue for the Kings this season.
“It’s a fast game, yeah,” said Kopitar. “They’re not the biggest team by any means, but they can play fast. You definitely don’t want to trade chances with them because they also have a lot of firepower up front that can hurt you in a hurry.”
“I think a team creates its own identity in how they play, and I think they’re just a very mobile team and very opportunistic on rush chances,” said Williams. “They have defensemen joining in and they’re able to create a lot from that. It seems against Calgary, you have to skate just as hard forward as you have to do backward, and that’s hard to do.”
Muzzin Not Rattled
Speaking of remaining unfazed, still-young defenseman Jake Muzzin made a few rather glaring mistakes during the first three games of the Grammy road trip, namely bad turnovers that led directly to goals against.
Although he was visibly angry with himself during those games, he is not letting the mistakes eat at him.
“You’re going to make mistakes,” he emphasized. “Make the mistake, learn from it, and move on.”
When Muzzin was playing for the Manchester Monarchs, currently the Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate, he was often very hard on himself, dwelling too much on mistakes he made, which had an adverse effect on his game. This behavior continued after he was recalled by the Kings.
But Muzzin learned that a player who is afraid to make mistakes will also be afraid to make plays.
“It’s tough, when you’re a young guy coming up,” he noted. “All your mistakes are magnified a little bit because they’re seeing if you can make it or stay [in the NHL], and you dwell on your mistakes a lot longer. But now, you’re going to make them. Just learn from it and continue to play. There’s lots of games left.”
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