After starting the season with six of their first eight games on the road, the Kings return to Staples Center Saturday night to begin a stretch of eight of their next nine at home. The Kings split their first two at home, losing to the New York Rangers and defeating the Ottawa Senators.
The Kings split the first two games of the 2013-14 season, which wasn’t great but certainly not bad considering the distance they traveled to Minnesota and Winnipeg to play on consecutive nights to start the campaign. Kings coach Darryl Sutter fielded a couple of questions Sunday about whether the results of early-season games, good or bad, tend to be overblown by overeager fans, reporters and other outsiders.
The Kings played their customary methodical game and pulled out a 3-2 shootout victory Thursday over the Minnesota Wild. Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter scored in regulation and Anze Kopitar and Carter had the only goals during a shootout. Jonathan Quick blanked the Wild in the final two periods plus overtime and the shootout. Stop if you’ve read any of this before. The Kings followed a similar game plan the last two seasons. Here’s a closer look at the Kings’ victory in their season-opening game in St. Paul, Minn.
Can the Kings make another long playoff run?
Some pundits around the league selected the Kings as Stanley Cup finalists, which would be a remarkable feat in an era when repeat champions are non-existent and multiple deep runs in the postseason are extremely rare. The Kings would seem to have the depth, skill and continuity to chase the Chicago Blackhawks as the best team in the Western Conference. It looks like a third straight prolonged run could be in the making for the Kings. They must get balanced scoring. They must get a little lucky in avoiding injuries. They must continue to stick to coach Darryl Sutter’s game plan. They must play their steady style of hockey from start to finish of every game, from now until season’s end. Then, if they do all those things, then they should be at or near the top of the conference when all is said and done.
The Kings’ roster is remarkably unchanged from the one that won the Stanley Cup championship in 2012. Does that ease coach Darryl Sutter’s mind going into Thursday’s season-opening game against the Minnesota Wild at St. Paul, Minn? Of course not.
Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell couldn’t say Wednesday whether he would play in Friday’s exhibition against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver. He couldn’t say exactly when he might pull on a Kings sweater. What he could say was that he’s suffered no setbacks so far in training camp, with his surgically-altered knee feeling sound. Mitchell also said it’s up to Kings coach Darryl Sutter to decide when the veteran defenseman will play his first game since the Stanley Cup Final in June 2012.
“Darryl has his plan and has kind of been sticking with that,” said Mitchell, who sat out all of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season after undergoing knee surgery last December. “I’m waiting to hear from him. It’s been good, though. As much as you want to get in there right away and want to get back in (the lineup) … you’ve just got to get back into a game and get your timing and your feel and all that back. …I’m feeling really good. I’m feeling great on the ice right now. Anxious. I don’t know. I’m guessing something will happen fairly soon. I’m looking forward to it. … It’s his decision. He’s the boss.”
Darryl Sutter made it clear he didn’t like Kyle Clifford’s approach to a second-period penalty shot during the Kings’ 6-0 victory Tuesday over the Ducks at the Honda Center. Clifford was hooked on a breakaway by Ducks defenseman Sami Vantanen, drawing a penalty shot less than two minutes into the middle period of what was then a tight game.
Clifford skated in on goaltender Viktor Fasth and shot quickly from a good distance away from the net. Fasth gloved the puck easily and the score remained 1-0 in favor the Kings. Later, the Kings’ coach expressed his displeasure with Clifford’s attempt.
“He shouldn’t shoot high glove,” Sutter said. “Might be the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs. One play.”
Concealing injuries has been an NHL playoff tradition for as long as there have been postseason beards. Darryl Sutter hid an injury from the Kings players for all of last season plus the playoffs before revealing last June that he underwent a double-hernia operation performed by a robot. The coach made the announcement during a television interview. “You know how much I don’t like guys playing if they’re half injured,” Sutter said Thursday, on the opening day of training camp. “Quite honest, I’d rather they didn’t know I was hurt.”
Sutter said he was 100 percent.
“I’m good,” he said. “It feels good to feel good again. It took a while.”
In the fourth and final installment of Kings coach Darryl Sutter’s postseason session with reporters, he talks about the media’s need for news versus the team’s need for secrecy when it comes to injuries to players, especially during the playoffs. And there’s quite a bit more as Sutter wrapped up his second season as the Kings’ coach.
Question: Fans want to know who’s playing. That’s a normal curiosity.
Answer: “Yeah, it is. If they get there on time, they know who’s playing. That’s what we did as a league, right? You have seven days. If somebody goes on IR, they’re hurt. They’re out seven days. Right? I don’t understand … It’s not supposed to happen.”
Kings coach Darryl Sutter met with reporters for about 20 minutes two days after the team’s playoff ouster at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks. The conversation touched on a variety of subjects, including what the Kings must improve on for next season. There also questions about the health of the team following a second consecutive lengthy playoff run. Sutter answered some questions, dodged others and acknowledged the job reporters have to do. Here’s the third part of a four-part installment.
Question: Talking about lowering the goal-against average for next season, would that be the major concern or would it be the left wing and the lack of production there?
Answer: “I said goals-against. I didn’t say production. We went from 30th to sixth in offense. We went to third in our conference. So, we’re not looking at it by position. We have multiple players who play multiple positions. If you’re listening, I did that once we know our roster then we would know better. Our goals-against, very simple, you don’t win. Teams I coach are always great defensively. We were a great defensive team again this year. But our goals-against … what you do home-and-road, there’s a disparity.”