LOS ANGELES AND EL SEGUNDO, CA — After a dreadful 3-8-0 performance in January, not to mention a stretch where they lost ten of twelve games going back to December 29, the Los Angeles Kings are now looking up at a mountain in their schedule akin to some of tallest mountains and steepest cliffs in the world.
In fact, do not be surprised if you see Kings equipment managers adding rope, boots, crampons, gaiters, goggles, pitons and other mountain climbing gear to the usual hockey equipment, as the Kings will have to scale Mount February if they expect to make the playoffs this season.
It will take great strength and determination to climb that mountain, as conventional wisdom dictates that the Kings must earn at least twelve points in the standings during that stretch to remain in the hunt.
The one thing the Kings have going for them is that they appear to be back on the upswing, having won their last three games, and they have looked very solid while doing it.
“We’ve been playing good hockey, two games before, and now we got the result we wanted,” right wing and team captain Dustin Brown said following the Kings’ 4-3 win over the Phoenix Coyotes on January 22, in Glendale, Arizona. “We’ve got to find a way to keep it rolling because we need wins.”
“We have to stay focused on the little things, because trying to keep that intensity up—it’s not an easy thing to do,” Brown added. “Especially after the first [period] we had, you want to keep rolling.”
The Kings were light and loose at practice the next day, something not seen much during their January malaise.
“[The atmosphere was] a little more fun,” said head coach Terry Murray. “It’s funny how the emotions are tied to the wins and losses sometimes. It’s incredible.”
“There was good energy, I really liked our game last night, especially the start,” added Murray. “The first period was tremendous. It had the tempo, the pace, recovering pucks, a lot of good things happening on the shot part of it.”
During the three-game winning streak, the Kings cleaned up the turnovers and addressed their issues with inconsistent effort.
“Right now, we’re at a pivotal point in the year,” said defenseman Matt Greene. “We can’t have an off night for the rest of the year. We’ve got to be in every game and playing our ‘A’ game.”
“You’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game all the time,” Murray stressed. “That’s the way it’s been. We’ve known about this, we’ve talked about this since well before Christmas—how important every game is, to do things right, to make sure you’re coming to practice to get yourself ready for the next game.”
“Everything matters, everything’s important,” Murray added. “Pouring it all out on every shift is where it’s at in the game today. You’ve got to have five [skaters] on the same page—support, reads, and just continuing the net presence and shot mentality—good things will happen off those second and third opportunities that come off loose pucks.”
The winning streak should help the Kings build confidence from the ashes left from their January skid.
“This game is not only about mistakes—the least amount of mistakes wins, but it’s also about gaining some confidence as you go,” right wing Ryan Smyth said following his team’s 2-0 win over the Boston Bruins on January 24 at Staples Center. “When you put a string of wins together, it gives a boost to the hockey club.”
“When you have success, you’re going to be more confident,” Greene noted. “That game in Phoenix, as sloppy as it was at times, just getting that win put a lot of guys at ease. It let guys relax a little bit. It gives us faith in the system, that it’s going to work if we do it the right way. Tonight was a clear example of that.”
“When we’re playing our game, we’re a good team,” Greene added. “It’s just a matter of bringing that game every night.”
So went wrong in January?
“Things were not that bad before,” Murray explained. “The losses were there, I know, and you go through a hard time. But when you really put the game under the microscope, which we do, we’re not overwhelmed by it. It [was] was a couple of things here and there that needed to be addressed and corrected. We had some time in practice to get the repetitions in.”
“When you look back at some of those games—San Jose last time, a 1-0 game [on January 1], and we outshot them two-to-one. You can go through a bunch of games like that, and the difference is as fine as hitting the outside of the post instead of the inside and it would’ve been a win.”
Although their nightmare that was the month of January is behind them, the Kings now face a very, very steep, treacherous climb immediately ahead. Nevertheless, they do not seem to be fazed by it at all.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re playing, whether you’re at home or away,” said goaltender Jonathan Quick. “Every game is the same. For good teams, it doesn’t matter where they play. You have to be prepared to be at your best every time you go out there.”
“Hotel rooms get old fast,” said defenseman Jack Johnson. “You start craving home cooked meals. Restaurants get old. Other than that, I think playing on the road is fun. The game doesn’t change. You’re just in a different arena.”
The Kings get a tiny bit of help from the fact that those ten games away from Staples Center are split into two road trips.
“You go away for three, you come back for three days, you’re practicing, you unpack your suitcase, you get the laundry done, get the ironing board out, press a few shirts, and go back on the road for six games,” said Murray. “That’s the way you have to look at it.”
“A six-game road trip for the LA Kings is normal,” added Murray. “Let’s not get overwhelmed with it. Just go play. You’ve got to play the games. Let’s go do it the right way.”
“It’s going to be a little tough after the break,” said left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky. “But everybody in this room knows what needs to be done in terms of system and effort. I think everybody’s ready for it, and we’re just going to win as much as we can.”