AUDIO: Includes audio of media interviews with Matt Greene, Jake Muzzin and head coach Darryl Sutter after practice on Feburary 23, 2015.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — After winning seven straight games to move themselves, for at least one day, anyway, into third place in the Pacific Division, the Los Angeles Kings are firing on all cylinders, and as previously reported in this space, they’re doing it by playing Kings Hockey, a term used by the players off and on since last season.
Kings Hockey is when they smother opposing teams in the defensive zone, recovering pucks and breaking out quickly from their zone. That allows the Kings to generate speed through the neutral zone on attack. That speed is critical to their ability to beat opposing defensemen to loose pucks deep in the attacking zone, allowing them to get in on the forecheck, and create scoring chances off of that.
“Most of it starts in your own zone, as a team,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “If you can’t play well in your own zone, with and without the puck, you’re not a playoff team.”
It took the Kings until their current seven-game winning streak began at Tampa Bay on February 7, but they have finally re-discovered Kings Hockey, and perhaps just in the nick of time.
Perhaps the most significant factor in their re-enlightenment is the contributions from the forwards.
“I think the forwards have been doing a good job of helping out,” said veteran defenseman Matt Greene. “Our defensive coverage starts with backchecking, not giving up chances off the rush, and getting pucks out of our zone a little bit faster.”
“I think it’s just playing [more] connected with the forwards,” added Greene. “We’re a good defending team when all five guys are working together in the defensive zone, so I think the forwards deserve a bunch of credit for this run. They’ve been great in the defensive zone, helping us move pucks out.”
“I think guys are playing well, [and] having our center just a little lower in our zone—those guys are doing a good job for us. It makes all the difference.”
Defenseman Jake Muzzin also credited the forwards.
“It’s not just the defense[men],” he noted. “It’s the full five or six guys in our zone being quick to the puck and hard on the puck. There’s a lot more talk, which makes it easier to get [the puck] in and out [of their own zone] quicker, limiting their zone time and getting more zone time for us because we’re fresher on the ice when we get it in and out quickly.”
Apparently, strong words from the coaching staff about their defensive zone play had an impact.
“It was a strong focus on it from the coaches,” Greene indicated.
“We just keep working, keep going,” said Muzzin. “[Their seven-game winning streak is] no concern, really. We’ve just got to focus on what we’ve got to do every day, and continue to work on areas [in which] we need to get better.”
Sutter emphasized that his team is not doing anything different. Rather, they are back to playing, as mentioned earlier, Kings Hockey.
“[The forwards’ greater attention to defensive play is] not a change,” he noted. “That’s something, that if you want to be a good hockey club, that’s responsibility, and we’ve said that for almost four years now, about how our centermen have to be dominant players in the middle of the ice, or try to be dominant players. But that doesn’t just put the onus on them. That puts the onus on defensemen getting the puck to them, and wingers being in the right position.”
“It’s not something that’s new to our team,” he added. “If you’re not prepared to play that way, then you’re like the old Kings.”
The stronger defensive zone play by the skaters has also brought out the best in goaltender Jonathan Quick, who was named as the National Hockey League’s First Star of the Week ending February 22.
During that stretch, Quick backstopped the Kings to three straight wins, earning a 1.33 goals-against average (GAA) and a .959 save percentage.
Quick was in goal for all seven games of the Kings’ current winning streak, earning a 1.86 GAA and a .934 save percentage.
“His October was outstanding, and I think he deserves this,” said Sutter. “He should be the first star of the week. I think when a team wins games and one guy plays in all those games, he should win.”
“Goaltenders get overlooked 100 percent of the time unless they’re not playing up to standards,” added Sutter. “Jonathan Quick—I’m not going to go any farther than this. If I have to pick a goaltender for a big game, I want Jonathan Quick, and we’re playing big games, so I want Jonathan Quick.”
The Kings may be running the risk of overworking Quick, but Sutter evidently feels that he has no choice, given how tight the Western Conference playoff race is—even in third place in the division, they could be out of the playoff picture the next day.
“The schedule, the way it’s been, we’ve had to adjust and adapt,” Sutter noted. “That’s what we’ve had to do, in terms of how we’ve used our goaltenders. We’re trying to make the playoffs.”
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Jake Muzzin (1:53)
Matt Greene (3:00)
Darryl Sutter (6:50)
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