EL SEGUNDO, CA — Willie Desjardins has been the Los Angeles Kings’ interim head coach for less than one week. But he already knows that his team’s heavy reliance on their established stars is a glaring problem.
Indeed, the supporting cast must also contribute, something they haven’t done much of to this point in the 2018-19 season.
“We need the second wave of guys to become heavy, hard players,” said Desjardins. “The older group—they’ve won. They’re just warriors. They come in and play so hard and they know it. The second group hasn’t got that yet.”
“The [first group] didn’t have it, either, when they were young, so [that isn’t unusual],” added Desjardins. “But the younger group has to start taking way more ownership of winning. It’s been too long that we’ve been relying on the older guys to do it. The younger guys have to start chipping in more, for sure.”
That second wave, or supporting cast, includes players like Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson and Adrian Kempe, among others, and especially for Kempe and Pearson, goals have been very few and very far between lately. In fact, Kempe has scored just one goal and one assist in 15 games this season. Even more glaring, last season, he scored a goal against the Buffalo Sabres on February 7, and did not score again the rest of the season.
This season, Pearson is in a similar situation, with just one assist. This, after a season in which his 15 goals fell well short of his 25 goals in 2016-17.
“It’s been kinda tough,” he said. “But I think I hit a low point about six games into the year. I had a look at everything and there’s only one way to go from there.”
“Recently, my game has pointed up,” he added. “But there are still things I can do better. I feel like I’m getting more chances than I have in the first handful of games, which is a plus. One is bound to go in when you keep generating [scoring opportunities].”
“Even when you get that one, you can’t look at it as just one. You move on and try to get the next one. One would be positive, but you can’t [think], ‘One! Finally!’ You’ve got to keep on going. You’ve got to keep generating chances.”
Not surprisingly, Kempe talked about tough sledding, as well.
“Since the beginning of the season, it’s been kind of tough,” he noted. “But over the last four games, we’ve taken a step in the right direction. The last two games, we’ve played pretty well. The entire team has been playing pretty well and as long as the team wins, I’ll be way more excited.”
“My second year [with the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League ] was kind of the same,” he added. “The first twenty games—I couldn’t produce. After that, I started producing and then, I got called up.”
Pearson indicated that he needs to go back to the basics.
“The more shots you generate ‘in the house,’ you benefit, so you’re looking for more shots from closer range—not so far out,” said Pearson. “I’ve also been looking at holding onto the puck more, not having it become a grenade-type thing. [Instead], having confidence with it.”
Pearson has also sought outside help to help him get his groove back.
“I’ve started working with [Darryl Belfry of Belfry Hockey], looking at clips—that’s kind of what he does,” he noted. “It’s definitely good to have someone watching your shifts [and telling you] what you can do better.”
Desjardins indicated that confidence might be Pearson’s biggest issue.
“I’ve seen him before,” he said. “I’ve had a good read—two years ago, he was playing so well, as a young player. I don’t think he’s playing quite as well now and different things go into that.”
“Confidence is so important in our game,” he added. “Once you lose confidence, you’re a totally different player. The other thing is passion. I’ve always said that you can’t tell where a player is at, or where a team is at, if they’re not playing with passion. When you’re not doing as well, maybe you lose a little passion for the game and you find it tougher.”
“I don’t think he’s playing his best right now. But he has had an upside in him. Our job is to get him back to that spot.”
Like Pearson, Kempe also pointed to the basics as what he needs to focus on.
“I’ve got to keep working on my game, keep creating chances, keep working hard,” Kempe noted. “Hopefully, the goals will come. There’s nothing else that I can do, other than keep working hard, try to play my game, look at video and see what I can do better.”
“You have to go back to the details [of your game], keep working hard, have [the right] mindset all the time and not think about offense too much,” Kempe added. “I have to work hard and get in on the forecheck. Maybe get to the net more. Maybe I’ll get a rebound.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings winger Tanner Pearson. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
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