AUDIO: Includes audio of interviews with Milan Lucic, Darryl Sutter and Anze Kopitar, who also talked about his feelings about his contract negotiations.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — When the Los Angeles Kings hit Staples Center ice tonight in their 2015-16 home opener against the San Jose Sharks, they’ll do so with a top forward line that isn’t quite firing on all cylinders just yet.
The line of Anze Kopitar centering Marian Gaborik on right wing and one of the new kids in town, Milan Lucic on left wing, is still working to hammer out the kinks and build the chemistry needed to be effective.
But Kopitar indicated that progress is being made.
“We’re getting there,” he said. “I don’t think the comfort level is quite there yet, but we’re definitely on the right track. I know it’s only practice, but I can see it, and both of them can see it.”
“We’re getting used to each other a lot more all over the ice, not just the offensive zone,” he added. “It’s usually those little plays that make so much difference, and we’re starting to make those plays, which is, obviously, a really good thing.”
Head coach Darryl Sutter pointed out that the line really hasn’t played together enough yet to build the necessary chemistry.
“You’re looking for it to be really clicking and working,” he noted. “You see it in practice—you see the signs where it’s really sharp, and then you see it in games where it hasn’t been quite [as sharp]. They really haven’t played together. That’s the problem.”
“The whole thing where people say Boston and L.A. are similar teams, [but] really, they’re not,” he added. “Lucic always played with [David] Krecji, and now he’s playing with Kopi. When you look at it, they’re skilled guys. But one’s a right-handed guy who does a lot in the middle of the ice, and one’s a left-handed guy who drives with pucks, goes around guys and makes plays from down low more.”
Lucic acknowledged the difficulties in making the transition to a new team.
“When you play for the same coach, and in the same system, for eight years, everything is second nature,” he explained. “You don’t have to think about anything. You just go out there and do it because you’re so used to doing it. Now, everything’s new and you’re almost thinking a little too much, and when you’re thinking, your legs aren’t moving. I’ve just got to get adapted as quickly as possible to where I feel comfortable and get to [having] everything feel like second nature once again.”
“I think you’ve just got to take it game-by-game, and day-by-day,” he elaborated. “Practice is real important to create the chemistry, and that transitions into the games. The last couple of practices have gone better between the three of us. We’ve got to bring that into the games. I’m just doing whatever I can to adjust as quickly as I can.”
“It’s been a lot of learning. It definitely wasn’t the best pre-season I’ve ever had, but it definitely hasn’t been the worst. Day-by-day, it’s gotten better. The practices are getting better, the flow is getting better. I’m able to feel better with my line mates and with the team, so it’s just putting that into the game, so I can contribute the way I can.”
Like his coach, Kopitar doesn’t seem worried.
“[Lucic] fits into our style, our system—to play physical,” Kopitar observed. “He likes to hold onto the puck, and once he’s got his [rear end] turned to you, it’s pretty hard to get around it to take the puck off him. That’s obviously a good thing. It’s something we strive for, and pride ourselves [on]. It’s going to work really well for us.”
“It’s an adjustment,” Sutter emphasized. “It’s so easy to say on paper that they’re a good fit. It’s going to play itself out.”
Lucic: Time To Ramp It Up
Aside from building chemistry with his new line mates and adjusting to the Kings’ system and style of play, Lucic has some added pressure—making his debut in the Kings uniform, something he’s been excited about since this past summer.
“It’s great, it’s exciting, it’s something that we’ve been waiting for all summer,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been waiting for since I got traded here on June , so now I’m really excited for it—now the real games begin, not that pre-season isn’t any fun, but it lacks what a meaningful game has.”
“I’ve always loved playing at Staples Center,” he added. “It’s where I scored my first [National Hockey League] goal, so I’m excited to finally get into my first regular season home game with a new team, and in a new chapter in my life. It’s a fresh start, a new beginning, another opportunity to be part of a great team, to have a great season and to move on from there.”
For the record, Lucic’s first NHL goal was scored against the Kings at 15:19 of the third period, giving the Bruins a 7-5 lead in a game they won, 8-6, on October 12, 2007.
With the pre-season games now history, Lucic can bring out one of the most effective aspects of his game.
“A lot of my game is based on emotion, and I talked about the pre-season games—it’s hard to get that emotional part of your game going,” he noted. “But now that the real games are starting, it’s time to ramp that part of the game up. That’s one of the big things I know that I can bring.”
Transition Also Happens Off The Ice
Like any player moving to a new team, Lucic and his family have had to move to a new city, in this case, cross-country from Boston to Manhattan Beach.
So far, the adjustment has gone well.
“That’s been a great transition,” said Lucic. “Family has really been enjoying it. My wife is from Vancouver, as well, so she’s a West Coaster. That’s been really great, and what’s not to like about living out here? Sunshine? The beach?”
“I have been caught in traffic a couple of times,” added Lucic. “That’s the only thing. It drives you kind of crazy. If it didn’t have traffic, it would be the perfect place in the world, but that’s one of the things you’ve got to get used to.”
Lucic indicated that Southern California’s advantages outweigh the problems caused by gridlock.
“I’ll take traffic for everything else, but it’s been a good transition on the ice, and a healthy transition off the ice,” he said. “Now it’s time to ramp it up on the hockey part and get focused on that.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings left wing Milan Lucic (foreground). Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Milan Lucic (6:16)
Anze Kopitar (talks about line chemistry and about his contract status. Edited for language; 5:12)
Darryl Sutter (6:52)
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