One thing I forgot to mention in the Jon Klemm note is that Klemm moved into Wayne Gretzky’s empty locker next to Michael Cammalleri. Gretzky and the four other Kings with retired numbers have empty stalls at the Toyota Sports Center practice facility as a tribute to the team’s history. Gretzky is out, at least temporarily. No word if this had anything to do with the team he coaches, Phoenix, beating the Kings twice so far this season.
Playing with a full face mask protecting his fractured cheekbone, Ivanans still played a physical game against the Ducks on Sunday. He had pounded Kent Huskins into the boards in the first period and was called for boarding. He was involved in two heated gatherings in the first period but was limited in what he could do in that situation.
“It feels all right. I can still do the same things except the fighting. I have to be patient. It’s frustrating when there’s scrums and stuff and you can’t really go 100 percent, but that’s the way it is. I’ll be better in a couple of weeks.”
There was one scuffle late in the first period when Ivanans tried to come to the defense of Jack Johnson, who was hit hard into boards. A Ducks player — I believe it might have been Todd Marchant but I’m not positive — grabbed at Ivanans mask and pulled it up a bit before letting go.
“That’s how the Ducks are — dirty,” Ivanans said. “Of course it gets you mad. There’s nothing I can do right now except grab a guy and say a few words.”
Jon Klemm found things a little different returning to the American Hockey League at age 37, more than 12 years after his last stint in the minor leagues.
On the bright side, the average travel time between games had shrunk from about seven hours to one or two. But the players with whom he was sharing the bus rides were nothing like he remembered.
“When I first started out, there were a lot of older guys,” Klemm said. “Now it’s all about development, so the guys are really, really young. I was like 15, 16, 17 years older than everyone on the team. It’s tough to find things in common with guys when they’re that much younger. But it was fun to watch them and just remember when I was their age, how much fun they have coming to the rink and the gags and stuff like that.”
Some days he felt younger being around the other players and sometimes he felt ancient.
“A lot of those kids like to listen to the hip hop music,” Klemm said. “I grew up in the ’80s listening to heavy metal. One time one of the coaches came in and asked if there was any music I’d like to hear in the locker room. The kids started rattling off names like Judas Priest. Then one of the young guys says The Beatles. I just shook my head. It was funny at the time.”
Klemm, a 15-year NHL veteran, won two Stanley Cups in Colorado, where he played for three years under Marc Crawford. He could have retired but he decided to sign a one-year, $500,000 contract with the Kings even if it meant he had to spend time in the minors.
“I’m not ready to pack it in yet,” Klemm said. “I still think I can play at the NHL level. It’s tough to have to go down but those things are out of my control. My goal wasn’t any different than any of the young guys down there. I could sit there and feel sorry for myself because I’m in a situation I didn’t really want to be, but I tried to have fun, work hard and wait for a call to get up here. I got my chance now, and hopefully I can make an impression and stick around for a while.”
Klemm played forward during the Kings’ game against the Ducks on Sunday. He’ll move back to his usual defensive position tomorrow to replace Jaroslav Modry, who was given leave to be with his ailing father in the Czech Republic.
“I know what he’s capable of,” Crawford said. “He’s similar to the player I remember. I’ve always been a big fan of Jon because he works hard, is smart and competitive. It’s kept him in the league a long, long time.”
Kyle Calder returned Sunday after missing eight games with a broken thumb and scored a goal off a rebound despite playing with a cast under the glove on his left hand.
“I can’t move the hand very much and sometimes it feels like the puck rolls off a bit,” Calder said. “That will come with time. I’m getting used to a different way to hold the stick.”
Where the injury can cause problems is in taking passes or battling for the puck against the boards.
“He’s a tough guy,” Crawford said. “A lot of stuff he’s good at the hand is not affected by, like his play in front of the net and his ability to get in on the forecheck and keep pucks alive.”
Alexander Frolov, who has a groin injury, didn’t practice today and won’t play tomorrow at San Jose.
“He’s still not at the point where he can participate in practice or a game, so he’ll be out at least until the weekend,” Crawford said. “We thought he’d be skating by now but he’s not. It’s an injury where I guess the individual has to be the judge of it. We’ll have to wait and see how he is (for Saturday).”
Scott Thornton didn’t practice either. He’s not eligible to come off the injured list yet so he couldn’t play tomorrow anyway.
Marc Crawford was asked today about the Kings’ penalty-killing unit, which has killed all seven of opponents’ power-play chances over the last two games. Crawford said:
“We’ve done a good job. It starts with Jason. Jason has made good saves on the penalty kill. We’ve concentrated a lot more on it. I think we’re doing a better job on entries and we’re doing a better job on clears. Penalty killing is very much an experience-based skill. Handzus has done a good job for us there. O’Sullivan is getting more experience, as is Brown. We brought in Klemm, and he’s a guy who can help us out. We’ve used Preissing up front a little bit more, and those defensemen have a pretty good knowledge of the positioning and sticks and closing down. It’s hard work, the penalty kill, but it pays dividends. We’ve been better. We’ve won the special-teams battle in the last two (games). It helped us to win the game in San Jose and it put us in position to win the game yesterday. That’s the type of team that we have. With the talent base we have, we won’t overwhelm teams and have the type of depth in scoring that maybe you’ll see our team have as we continue to grow. And so special teams do become important. They put you in position to be pretty good.”
Crawford was also asked, in a general sense, about taking positives from the last two games. He said:
“We played two of the top teams in our division and we played them extremely well. We were in a position yesterday to get something out of the game. We didn’t get anything out of the game and obviously that’s not what you want, but if you want to look at the glass being half-full, we played a very spirited game. We played well and we were right there. It just shows us, as a coaching staff, and shows the players that if they grab that extra three or four percent, or if they make one more good-habit play, it might be the difference in the game going our way. The old adage is, `You have to get close before you get better.’ We’re close right now. The way to get better is to keep emphasizing work, keep emphasizing team and do the things that allow you to keep your work ethic high and your team focused at a high level.”
Alexander Frolov, out with a strained groin, didn’t practice today, but that’s not a surprise. Marc Crawford wouldn’t rule out Frolov playing Wednesday at San Jose. Here’s what Crawford had to say today…
“We’ll see how he is. If he’s in good shape tomorrow and (doctors are) giving us clearance, we’ll utilize him. We’d love to have Alexander in our lineup, because we’re a better team with him than we are without him. He can do so many things and he’s a quality player. We also know that part of the reason that we’re holding him back right now is that we want his injury to have time to heal. That’s what we’re continuing to monitor on a day-to-day basis. We’ll test it again tomorrow, off the ice. If we feel, on Wednesday morning, like he’s ready to try it out, maybe we’ll try it out. If not, he won’t play. That will be a decision that’s made right near the end.”
Sometimes I feel as though I’m the only one who feels this way. Perhaps I am. But I can’t get past the feeling that the signings of Handzus and Nagy have been profound disappointments. In September, I saw them as two-thirds of a potential strong second line, perhaps with Frolov or O’Sullivan on the other wing. They were supposed to have great chemistry together. Has anyone seen it yet?
Handzus, who got a four-year, $16-million contract, has one goal and three assists in 23 games. Nagy, who got a one-year, $3.75-million contract, has four goals and seven assists in 20 games. Not awful, but he has the potential to be a 20-goal scorer. As for Handzus, I understand that he’s still getting stronger after ACL surgery, and I believe he has played much better in his last few games.
I have a hard time believing, though, that the Kings are paying Handzus $4 million a year because he’s a valuable two-way, third- or fourth-line player. And I have a harder time believing they’re pleased with Nagy, especially since Marc Crawford made him a healthy scratch Sunday. I asked Crawford about this duo and here’s what he said:
“Handzus has always been regarded, by us, as a good two-way player and a guy that would, often times, match up against the top player, as he did yesterday against Getzlaf and like he did in San Jose against Thornton. Getzlaf scored the one goal, a very hard-working goal by them. There was no mistake made; they just made a good play. They got the puck to the net and he got his stick on the tip and we were in position all over the ice. So you have to give them that. Good players are going to score and they’re going to get opportunities. The other one was a 4-on-4 play and they got a break. Vis fell. I think that Handzus is really picking up his game. We’re starting to see him do what he was brought here for and he’s getting more and more comfortable playing for us and how we’re utilizing him.”
OK. How about Nagy?
“Well, Nagy didn’t play yesterday, so it’s hard to have an impact on the game when you’re in the press box. From that standpoint, he was the odd guy out. As we say to players, `You should always be concerned when you’re not playing,’ but there’s not much you can do about it. All you can do is come here and practice hard and be ready for your next opportunity. He most likely will be in the game against San Jose and we’re looking for him to respond as well as he did the last time he was sat out. I’m not sitting guys out to elicit a response. I’m sitting him out because I thought the other people gave us the best opportunity to win yesterday’s game.”
As I posted before, the players received a memo today titled, “Key Factors Late Game With Lead.” When asked about it after practice, Marc Crawford was none too happy and said, “There’s nothing to it. You shouldn’t have seen it.” But then, pressed a bit to share his thoughts on the topic, Crawford opened up a bit.
“We’re always trying to do the right things,” Crawford said. “We’re trying to, again, keep guiding our players to continually give themselves the best chance to win games. The way that you win games is to have good habits. You have things that you want teams to do with the lead and you have things you want them to do without the lead as well. It’s advancing the puck, protecting the puck, making good plays, making sure plays and working hard. It’s a lot of cliches. It’s not very exciting and it doesn’t make for very good copy but it does win games.”
It’s worth noting that among all of the things the Kings are doing wrong, goaltending is rarely mentioned these days. For the most part, Jason LaBarbera has been solid, and when I pointed out to him that the team’s goaltending hasn’t come under fire lately, he deadpanned, “Well, that’s good.” On a serious note though, I asked him if he was able to separate his own play from the team’s fortunes.
“I feel pretty good about my game,” LaBarbera said. “It’s hard to get too excited about it, because obviously the results aren’t there. It’s frustrating when you feel like you’ve played well and you still lose, but that goes with the territory. My job is to keep the puck out of the net as much as possible. I feel good about the way I’ve been playing, but the results aren’t there. That’s the frustrating part.”
I asked LaBarbera about what he believes needs to turn around.
“We’re not doing enough of the little things for the whole 60 minutes,” LaBarbera said. “Against the teams we’ve been playing, some of the top teams in the league, you can’t do that. We’re right there with them, but we have to play a complete game.
“It’s a mindset, I think. It’s about confidence and believing in each other and doing the things that we need to do in order to get wins. Obviously — and it’s not an excuse or anything — but those teams have a little bit more experience in tight games and in the playoffs than we do. But I guess that’s how you gain experience, is by going through these kind of things. We just need to learn from them. Obviously it’s frustrating when you lose these games, but if you don’t learn from them and get better from them, that’s the worst part.”