LOS ANGELES AND EL SEGUNDO, CA — With the National Hockey League’s All-Star break behind us, there is a bit of concern about the Los Angeles Kings as they enter February, a month in which they will play nine out 13 games on the road, including their annual Grammy road trip, a grueling seven-game road swing this time around.
Indeed, the team that led the Pacific Division by twelve points not so long ago has seen their lead drop to seven at the All-Star break.
The Kings’ lead over their division rivals has shrunk as they’ve sputtered in recent games—they have lost three out of their last five, and ended January winning just four of their last nine games.
A good example of what has ailed the Kings of late was their last game, a come-from-ahead 4-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on January 27 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
“We stopped playing and started watching,” center Anze Kopitar said after the game.
Kopitar’s statement could’ve easily described his team’s play in the previous four games.
“I just don’t think we’re playing [well] enough for 60 minutes,” he observed. “We’ve had spurts where we’ve played really [well], but then there’s a little dip in our game. We’ve got to correct that.”
“I think we’re taking too many penalties, and we’re putting ourselves in the position to defend instead of going after it,” he added.
Kopitar was not alone in that assessment.
“We’ve let games slip at certain times, and it’s cost us a bit, letting teams back into games that we were dominating pretty good,” said left wing Tanner Pearson. “We’ve just got to get back to playing our way, and it’ll work out for us.”
“One thing I think we’ve got to work on is playing a full 60 minutes,” said defenseman Alec Martinez. “Before the break, a couple of weeks before that—two or three weeks—we had leads in games and we didn’t shut teams [down]. If you want to play in the playoffs, if you want to be successful in the playoffs, you’ve got to know how to do that. That’s definitely something we can work on.”
“You’ve got to close out teams,” added Martinez. “When you get leads in hockey games, you’ve got to keep playing the way you’ve been playing to get that lead. We’ve let our foot off the gas pedal and let teams back into games.”
Looking back to the start of the 2015-16 season, Martinez pointed to how the Kings bounced back from a terrible start, and indicated that they can do that again.
“I think we did a good job of bouncing back from the start that we had,” he said. “Obviously, that 0-3 start wasn’t what we wanted. There’s ups and downs in a season.”
What caused the Kings to start things off so poorly?
“I think it was a lot of things,” said Martinez. “I think we had some new guys in the room, too. It takes some time to develop some chemistry. I [also] think our attitude was a lot better, something I feel that was different from what it was last year—we came in with a chip on our shoulder. That’s another thing that I’ve liked this season.”
As for specifics on what they need to do to improve, few were provided.
“With the All-Star break, most of the guys have had time to rest, regroup, get our minds away from hockey, re-think things and refresh the legs,” Pearson noted.
“We are in the position we want to be [in],” said Kopitar, referring to being atop the division standings. “Our last five or six games were definitely not the best. We’ve got to make sure that, coming back on Monday and playing on Tuesday, that we’re as sharp as we were before and get it going again.”
“We realize that this is not the way we have to play,” added Kopitar. “The ground that we gained on some teams is going away quickly. We’ve got to make sure we keep on going.”
As he often does, when asked about what he liked and didn’t like about his team before the All-Star break, head coach Darryl Sutter approached things from a different angle.
“We’ve been really consistent, I think,” he said. “We’ve had to move lots of guys around because of injuries. With [Jeff Carter’s injury], we had a lot of forwards switching around at Christmas. Then, with the trade for [Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn], we had to move it around again. I think our guys have adjusted well to that, so we’ll see where we go now.”
“You’re always going to have highs and lows in parts of the game,” he added. “But we still have a foundation. We’ll stick to the foundation.”
As for what he didn’t like before the break, Sutter pointed to being unable to set his defensive pairs in stone.
“I think I’ve said it all along, I’d still like to declare who, actually, our partners are on the back end,” he lamented. “It’s always easier for those guys, but it’s still ongoing.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
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