EL SEGUNDO, CA — After earning a 3-3-1 record on their annual “Grammy” road trip, the Los Angeles Kings begin a nine-game stretch (starting tonight against the Calgary Flames, 7:30 PM PST, Staples Center) in which they won’t leave Southern California, and they’ll need whatever advantage playing on home ice can possibly provide, with the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks now trailing them by just two and three points, respectively.
Indeed, the team that was once running away with the Pacific Division lead is now in a vicious dogfight for first place.
“We’ve got a pretty big home stand over the next couple of weeks,” said defenseman Luke Schenn. “It would be nice to get into a bit of a rhythm on home ice.”
Although the Kings began to lose their twelve-point lead in the Pacific Division standings in January, their .500 record on their long road trip left the door wide open for the Ducks and Sharks to gain ground in a big way.
“We didn’t get results,” left wing Dwight King said. “Besides the first [game of the road trip at Boston on February 9], there were a lot of low scoring games. Defensively, there’s breakdowns in every game, but offensively, we’ve got to get a little hungrier. We’ve had some opportunities. We just haven’t found ways to get’em in and make’em count. That’s one area we’ve got to work on.”
Goals were certainly hard to come by on the trip.
“You’d like to come back with a couple more wins, but it was a tough trip,” Schenn noted. “There are no easy games, and we played a lot of close games that could’ve gone either way. We had trouble scoring goals in a few of the games.”
“Most games, we’ve actually had good looks,” said King. “It’s a matter of bearing down, as a simple way to put it. We’ve been moving around, getting some looks. We’ve just got to find a way to put’em into the net.”
An area of concern for the Kings in the offensive zone is getting bodies in front of opposing goalies, something they were not all that consistent at during the long road trip.
“That’s called not working hard enough to get chances and goals,” King lamented. “That’s probably the simplest thing you can do to create offense—get to the net, screen the goalie and find rebounds. If we want to score goals, we’ve got to get better at that. You need a guy in front to make goalies think twice.”
“We had a decent amount of shots, but you do want to make it harder on the goalie,” said Schenn. “They’re too good in this league—big and athletic. They’re going to stop what they see. You’ve got to take away their eyes, create traffic and havoc in front of the net. I know, as a defenseman, the more forwards that go to the net, the more trouble we have. That’s what we have to look to do on the offensive side of things.”
“We don’t try to over-complicate things,” added Schenn. “That’s what gives us success—keeping things simple, playing hard, and playing within the structure. It’s matter of getting bodies and pucks to the net. There will be rebounds there. Sometimes, you’ve got to pick up those garbage goals.”
On the positive side, it’s not like the Kings aren’t generating scoring chances.
“I feel like we’re getting opportunities,” Schenn noted. “We’re putting up shots. You’re worried when you’re not getting chances. Our power play has been getting chances and on five-on-five. It’s just a matter of capitalizing. It’s a fine line between bearing down in front of the net and missing on a couple of chances, but that can be the difference in hockey games. All in all, I feel like we’re right there. If we keep putting pucks to the net, and if guys keep going to the net, we’ll get rewarded.”
“Most of it is being hard on pucks and battling to get to areas to score, and once we get there, put it in the net,” said King. “We also have to keep working on the defensive part. In the end, that’s what it’s going to come down to, if you want to win games, in the clutch.”
“We also have to get into transition quickly, coming out of our zone,” added King. “Get everybody back, and everybody moving forward, at the same time. That creates a five-man forecheck, instead of a two-man or three-man forecheck—we’re more effective that way.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings defenseman Luke Schenn. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
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