EL SEGUNDO, CA — The Los Angeles Kings are on a roll, having won five straight games, not to mention ending December with a franchise record in wins and points, earning a 10-3-1 record (21 points) last month.
The Kings end a stretch in which they will have played 16 of their last 22 games on the road tonight in Denver where they will face the Colorado Avalanche. But heading into tonight’s contest, the Kings have earned an impressive 9-4-2 record in the 15 previous road games with play that has been at least somewhat reminiscent of how they played during their playoff run in 2012, leading to the first Stanley Cup Championship in what was then their 45-year history.
Especially during their previous road trip in which they earned a 4-0 record against Phoenix, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary—all Pacific Division rivals, one player stood out, not only because of his strong play, but also because of his previous lack of production.
Indeed, forward Dustin Brown has struggled mightily over the past few seasons, and his struggles continued this year, despite changes in his diet and re-doubled efforts last summer to improved strength and conditioning.
To illustrate, prior to December 26, Brown had played in 33 games this season, scoring two goals with eight assists for ten points.
Although Brown is not expected to be a prolific scorer, more production is expected, and after the National Hockey League’s Christmas break, Brown’s game changed, and suddenly, his name began to appear on the score sheet.
Indeed, Brown has scored two goals and has contributed two assists for four points in the last six games.
Although a couple of goals and assists is nothing to write home about, Brown’s play has been noticeably better, as he has returned to the style of play that suits him best.
“I think the pace of his game has been much better, probably since Christmas,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “That’s evident. He has to play at that pace because then he’s involved. He’s in the traffic part, he’s in the forecheck part, he’s back in his own zone better, and he gets [himself] available in the neutral zone better.”
The holiday break allowed Brown to, not only rest and recuperate after a grueling stretch of road games, but also to re-focus.
“I just took the Christmas break to regroup,” he said. “Coming to the rink and working—the mindset was a big part of it. Now, [left wing Dwight King], [center Trevor Lewis] and I have played a few games together. We’ve gotten into a little bit of a rhythm.”
“The season’s up and down, a lot of times,” he added. “I had a good start to the season, but just couldn’t find the back of the net, and then I drifted away from what made me successful. I think I’m getting back to that. I just have to stick with that trend upwards and get around the net.”
Brown stressed that his improved play is not all about him. In fact, he attributed some of his success to his line mates, including King, who made his season debut at Edmonton on December 26.
“He’s one of those in the room who’s appreciated because he makes a lot of the little, tiny plays that are subtle, getting the puck in and out of the zone,” Brown noted. “That goes back to our forecheck. He’s put the puck in for Lewie and I to go in and get it with a really good chance of getting it back. He’s also really good at supporting the puck and getting in and around the net.”
“I think the one thing we have going for us right now, even with [center Jeff Carter] out of the lineup is that we’re getting contributions from everybody—from multiple lines, and I think our forecheck has been a key to that,” Brown added. “We’re doing a pretty good job of that. We’re forcing turnovers, and getting Kinger back on my line—he’s a big body who gets in on the forecheck. We’ve created a lot of turnovers and that’s why we’re getting chances.”
Although the impact King has had in the lineup has been plainly evident, Brown’s improvement was apparent before King returned.
“Brownie was good in Phoenix and Vancouver, and Kinger didn’t play until Edmonton,” said Sutter. “Kinger is one of those guys you can put anywhere and he does a lot of the cover work.”
As well as Brown has played lately, he has to continue to play well and contribute on the score sheet.
“We need him to be a good player for us,” Sutter emphasized. “We need him to play the role that he’s played for us when we’ve been a successful team. Hopefully, this is a step in the right direction.”
LEAD PHOTO: LA Kings forward and captain Dustin Brown, shown here at Staples Center in Los Angeles during the team’s 2014 Stanley Cup Championship Rally. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
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