Some stuff from practice this morning/afternoon…
– As previously posted, Patrick O’Sullivan is gone to Manchester. It’s not a surprising move. Alyn McCauley will return from IR soon and O’Sullivan clearly was going to be the odd man out. There’s a certain level of disappointment in the move. The Kings acquired O’Sullivan thinking he has NHL ready, but they found out otherwise. Coach Marc Crawford never warmed to him. They got off on the wrong foot in training camp, when Crawford was critical of O’Sullivan’s work ethic, particularly his competitiveness (or lack thereof) away from the puck, and things never really improved.
O’Sullivan’s game, at this point, is based around ready-made scoring chances, around picking up loose pucks or being set up by teammates. Crawford wants him to be grittier, and actually work to create loose pucks, etc. O’Sullivan can’t just be an opportunistic sniper; he has to put in the dirty work as well, and the Kings weren’t seeing enough of that.
In 12 games with the Kings, O’Sullivan had one goal and one assist.
Some quotes from Crawford: “The biggest issue is that his work habits nave to be unquestioned, without the puck. … He’s had success in the past, but he needs to have the right kind of success. … It’s a positive demotion if he takes it in the right form. It’s always a question if (players) will. … I know Patrick will be heard from again.”
So O’Sullivan returns to the AHL, where he had 47 goals and 46 assists in 78 games last season. It seems that O’Sullivan will become the personal pupil of Manchester assistant coach Scott Pellerin, who had a 13-year NHL career as a grinder and had skills that Crawford would like to see rub off on O’Sullivan. From Crawford: “He’s got to play with the determination that Scott Pellerin played with. He’s got 70 to 75 percent more ability but the determintation…if he finds that, he will be a top player in this league.”
Crawford knows of course, that O’Sullivan is only 21 and retains great potential. But from the Kings’ perspective, it’s better for him to work out his issues in Manchester than to be a healthy scratch in Los Angeles.
– WIth O’Sullivan gone and Jeff Cowan out for another week, the Kings are down to only one extra body, which means that another roster move likely will be announced before Saturday’s game at Phoenix. McCauley seems to be making good progress, or perhaps the Kings will look to Manchester. Noah Clarke and Lauri Tukonen each had five goals in their first seven games for the Monarchs.
– Ah, the goalies. This is now a full-fledged situation. You can try to twist the numbers any way you want, you can say that Dan Cloutier has faced tougher competition and you can say that he’s been burned by more than his share of defensive errors in front of him. All that might be true, but the fact remains that Mathieu Garon is making saves and winning and Cloutier isn’t. The question now becomes, how does Crawford handle this situation?
The Staples Center crowd made its opinion known Wednesday when a large segment of the fans starting chanting for Garon. On Thursday, Crawford spoke a bit about the situation but stopped far short of saying that Garon would get the lion’s share of the starts in goal.
Crawford: “We’re giving Mathieu a lot of time. I could have played him (Wednesday) but I felt it was better to show confidence in Clouts. The biggest thing (Wednesday) for Clouts was to work through the criticism he got from the fans and the public. He fought through it and that was a positive sign. He’s been a little bit snake bit. … I’m thrilled for Mathieu and the way he’s been playing and I’m disappointed for Dan that he hasn’t had the results that maybe he deserves.”
This is why coaches get all the zeros at the end of their paychecks. It’s not an easy thing. The knee-jerk reaction is to say, “Of course Garon should be the No. 1,” but there’s more to it than that. Remember that less than two months ago, the Kings gave Cloutier a two-year, $6.2-million extension. They committed to him, for better or worse. Crawford won’t say that the contract plays into his thinking, but how can it not? Would anyone really argue that Garon wouldn’t be starting if he made what Cloutier is making this season?
Crawford has to be very careful with Cloutier’s psyche. What if October was just a great month for Garon? What if he gets the No. 1 job and stumbles? Then, Crawford has to turn back to Cloutier and essentially say, “I know we sat you down, but now you’re our guy!” On the other hand, the Kings can’t afford to mess around. Every point in the standings is like gold, and can you really afford to put Cloutier out there, just to maintain his confidence, if Garon is clearly performing better? It’s all conjecture at this point, but this is what makes coaching difficult.
– I spoke to Garon briefly about the similarities between this season and last season, when he entered training camp as the No. 1 goalie but quickly found himself locked in a goalie rotation with Jason LaBarbera. Garon said it felt different, because before last season he had never appeared in more than 19 NHL games in one season and he was learning what it took to make it through a full season. He probably wouldn’t mind have an increased work load this season…
As the final word on this subject, I’ll repost an interesting comment from a reader who identified himself as Richard: “I don’t ever remember seeing a situation where, after both goalies have played meaningful amounts of minutes, that one goalie is literally twice as good as the other. Cloutier allows 1 goal per 8 shots, Garon 1 per 17. The GAA for Cloutier is just over twice Garon’s also. Garon hasn’t been perfect (two short-siders allowed in his last two starts), but the numbers demonstrate that he should be starting.”