AUDIO: Includes audio of interviews with Drew Doughty, Kyle Clifford and head coach Darryl Sutter.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — On Wednesday morning, extending slightly into the afternoon hours, the Los Angeles Kings held a high-energy, intense practice as they look to avoid starting the season 0-4, which would set a new team record.
Although one couldn’t tell what was on the minds of the players and coaches while they were on the ice, they know that their leaders, their best players, have not gotten the job done at all in their first three games.
“I think the play of our top players [has been sub-par],” said one of those players, defenseman Drew Doughty, who was including himself in his criticism. “[These are] guys you count on to lead you, in terms of offense. Our leaders aren’t playing good enough hockey, and I think that’s pretty obvious to a lot of people.”
“When your leaders aren’t playing well, the young guys who don’t have a lot of experience—they don’t know the way to go,” added Doughty. “So that’s what we’ve got to change. It’s just our leaders stepping up to the plate, and then everyone else will follow.”
“We need our leaders to be better players. They haven’t been playing their best, and if they have, one guy’s playing well one night, and the other guy on the next night. We need everyone to play well, collectively. [The coaching staff] put a lot of emphasis on the leaders taking a big step in leading this team in the right direction, and everyone else will follow after that.”
Head coach Darryl Sutter didn’t specifically mention his team’s top players, but it was plainly evident whom he was talking about after Wednesday’s practice.
“Our problem is we haven’t scored any goals,” he lamented. “We’ve scored one even strength goal and one shorthanded goal this year, and if you go back through training camp, we liked our team’s training camp, but at the same time, the guys who want to score and need to score didn’t have much success in the pre-season, either, and that part is carrying into the regular season. We’ve got to help them, as coaches, with that, and get more out of ‘em, for sure.”
More specifically, what are the Kings’ top players, in particular, not doing well?
“We haven’t had the grit and the determination that we need to have to win games,” Doughty lamented. “That comes right from the top guys and has to flow through our whole team. It hasn’t been.”
“We’ve all got to step it up,” said left wing Kyle Clifford. “It’s about rolling four lines, six defensemen. We’ve got to play better. We’ve just got to be mentally tougher, physically tougher. It’s hard to win in this league.”
“I don’t think we’ve executed very well,” added Clifford. “We could definitely pick our pace up. Like I said, it’s hard to win in this league. You need tough guys to win. We have to be tougher if we want to win.”
Indeed, all one has to do is look at the front of the opponent’s net in the three games—a critical area on the ice that has been almost entirely devoid of Kings forwards—to see the lack of grit and toughness.
“I think our net presence was lacking, definitely,” said Doughty. “Especially yesterday, there were a few times that our defense had looks at the net, and [we] didn’t have anyone in front of the net, so the shot’s an easy save for the goalie.”
“That goes with the toughness,” Clifford observed. “If you’re not going to be tough in those areas, you’re not going to score. It’s easy to play on the outside. We’ve got to be tougher in those areas. Then we’ll get our scoring chances.”
“The goalies are too good these days,” Doughty noted. “They’re just amazing athletes. It’s impossible to beat them if you’re not below the circles on a clean shot. It’s almost impossible, so it’s all about getting screens, tips, rebounds. It’s all about that, and if you see other teams, that’s how they’re scoring, and that’s how we’ve got to do it, too.”
Sutter shared a similar view.
“It’s tough to score in this league,” he observed. “There’s no freebies, very few lucky ones. They’re mostly about work and second and third effort and getting guys in front of the net, things like that, and we have to be much more efficient with that.”
“We need to get more from all that low stuff and all that second and third effort stuff, and all that around-the-goalie stuff,” he added. “You look at a lot of the drills we did today, it was really hard on the goalies. You can’t have guys stand in front of the goalie in practice because that’s usually where somebody gets hurt, but you can still have the same affect or impact on what you’re trying to accomplish.”
Another area that the top players need to get going is the power play, which has begun the season 0-for-13.
“The power play had an opportunity to get us back in the game yesterday, and we didn’t [score], so we watched a little bit [of video] on that,” said Doughty. “We don’t need to score pretty goals on the power play. We need to just bang in a dirty one. It doesn’t matter where it is, and if we aren’t scoring, we need momentum for our team, and I thought the power play really didn’t give us too much yesterday.”
But the problems go deeper than the power play.
“I think the power play’s not going to win or—it has zero impact on anything, if guys aren’t consistently producing offensively,” Sutter emphasized. “I mean, that’s where it becomes highlighted. So if they’re not doing it five-on-five, they’re probably not going to do it on the power play, if you look at it.”
“As I’ve said, we’ve scored two goals this year,” Sutter added. “One [was] a deflection—[Dustin] Brown shot, [Nick] Shore tip. [Jeff] Carter shot, [Tyler] Toffoli rebound, shorthanded. We’ve got to work on that in these couple [of] days.”
Doughty also noted that the Kings’ defensive zone play hasn’t been very good, either.
“We all know in here that we have a better defensive corps than we’ve shown,” he said. “We have to start playing more physical on defense.”
“Every area can be cleaned up,” Clifford noted. “It’s about focus and execution, coming prepared to play, and prepared to win.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty (right) receives instruction from associate head coach John Stevens (left). Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Drew Doughty (4:16)
Kyle Clifford (1:38)
Darryl Sutter (5:03)
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