EL SEGUNDO, CA — When the Los Angeles Kings practice at home, once their practice session ends, players trickle off the ice—Jeff Carter is usually the first—one here, two there, maybe three at a time.
But on February 5, after a lengthy practice session that lasted over an hour, those present at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California witnessed a very rare sight: all but five or six players streamed off the ice at once, heading into the dressing room.
The unusually rigorous skate was not punitive, even though the Kings dropped a 4-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks at Staples Center in Los Angeles the night before.
“It’s not too often that we have a chance to practice that hard with our breaks that we have here, and how the schedule winds up,” said forward Dustin Brown. “Sometimes, it’s really good to get a good, hard practice in. We just worked on the details of the game. That’s what today was all about. It was probably what we needed.”
The hard skate might not have been punitive, but the fact is that the Kings are just 2-4-0 in their last six games, and are 4-5-0 in their last nine—they have some problems to fix before they head out on their annual Grammy road trip, which begins on February 9 in Boston.
“We just want to make sure we’re going out with the right attitude and frame of mind, more than looking at the trip part of it,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “I think there have been games lately where our top guys have gotten away from the foundation of our team and the foundation of what helps you win. I want to make sure, in the days leading up to it, being that today is the first day, we’re getting those guys back in order, in terms of the structure that we need to play with.”
“We’re a team [in which] our stars and our captains are the same group, so those guys drive the bus,” added Sutter. “They drive the bus for us, win or lose, so it takes a couple days to reset it and go from there.”
Conditioning is also an issue.
“I think some guys need to get their fitness back up again, guys who haven’t been playing very much, and you [could] see it as practice goes along,” Sutter noted. “If those guys are going to help us do anything down the stretch here, then they have to push their fitness up the next two or three days, today being the first day of that.”
“I know it’s not noticeable for everybody, but for me, it’s very noticeable when we’re out two or three feet in situations and it costs you goals against. If you look at our last few games, we played well enough to win every one, but the games you win, you’ve given up two goals against, and the games you’ve lost, you’ve given up three and four, so that’s two feet somewhere in a game. If you can get those guys back on it, recovering [in] those areas, then you have a chance to only give up two, and then you have a chance to win.”
Brown stressed that the Kings needed to reset, and get back to playing their system before heading out on their long, seven-game road trip (over eleven days) due to the Grammy Awards kicking them out of Staples Center for roughly two weeks.
“Much like today’s practice was about getting back to basics, I think we need to use [this] break to get our heads wrapped around the road trip because if you look at a seven-game road trip at this point in the season, this is a vital road trip for how our season is going to end up,” said Brown. “If we can wrap our heads around that and get ready to go, we can put ourselves in a really good position if we have a really good road trip and then come back home in first place and looking to climb [even higher].”
“I think it’s just having that right mindset going into the road trip,” added Brown. “It’s a long road trip, but given our current situation, where we are in the standings, what point in the year it is, it’s important to have that road mode mindset, right from the get-go, and maintain it. You take it a game at a time, but it’s important to make that long flight ready to go.”
As for what ails the Kings, Brown shared similar views to those of his head coach.
“Our goals against—generally, we’re a really good goals against team,” he noted. “If we’re giving up three or four goals a game, we’re losing games. That’s uncharacteristic of us. If you look at that, it’s probably the result of not passing the puck well coming out of our zone.”
“When we’re passing the puck well coming out of our zone, we can get into [the attacking] zone, forecheck, and play that game that we’re really good at,” he added. “But when we’re not executing in our zone, or not executing coming out of our zone, we tend to play more in our zone. As a result, we play a lot more on defense, and give up a lot more goals against. So [it’s about being] sharper, coming out [of our zone], I think.”
As daunting as the Grammy road trip might seem, Brown sees it as an opportunity.
“I think it’s great, quite honestly, going on the road,” he said. “It allows us to get in that mindset. Sometimes, being on the road, you just have that chip on your shoulder going into other barns. That can go a long way, and we haven’t been playing very well at home. It’s about getting into that right mindset, prior to leaving and maintaining that, because it is a long road trip.”
“I think the longer road trips, like the one where we went to Canada with two-day breaks, those are the ones that seem longer,” he added. “This one, we have a back-to-back, and then we play every other day, so it’s pretty easy to stay focused on the game.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings winger Dustin Brown. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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