Outside the Toyota Training Center, an unseasonable cold spell continued to grip Los Angeles. Inside, Coach Darryl Sutter turned up the heat on the Kings as he put his team through a spirited practice, full of tempo and contact, in preparation for Saturday’s season opener vs. Chicago.
“It was our fourth practice today and we built in a little game situation with some contact,” Sutter said. “In a normal camp situation, this would be our fourth day but it’s our third day and fourth practice after skating last night. Generally, you would be playing a preseason game today.”
As goaltender Jonathan Quick noted, “Darryl’s practices are a little more up-tempo than a lot of guys have practiced in the past. But you need that jump and you got to get that speed because that’s what it’s going to be when the games start. I think it’s going well, everybody is excited to be out there.”
So the Kings practiced like they were playing game. They competed hard along the boards for pucks and did not shy away from contact.
As Saturday’s opener drew a day closer, Quick said his preparation has been ramped up, too. He has worked with the team’s coaching staff to create more game-like scenarios.
“Billy (Ranford) and I and Darryl (Sutter) have talked about getting some more end zone, five-on-five, five-on-four situations. Just more situational type stuff you see in games. Just so you get those reads. For a goalie, you are getting five guys that you have to keep an eye on as opposed to a drill where it is one or two shooters, and they come down and go in the corner. It’s more situational. You have to follow the puck after you make a save and you have to be aware of everyone else on the ice.”
DEFENDING THE CUP
Defenseman Rob Scuderi, who was a member of the Pittsburgh teams that played in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 and ’09 (winning in ’09), talked about the difficulty of repeating in today’s NHL.
“I think it’s just the parity of the league,” Scuderi said. “It’s been pretty evident since the ’04-05 lockout that there is a lot of parity in the league and there are a lot more teams that have a chance to win each year. As compared to before, when you said there were eight-to-ten teams that had a realistic chance. Now, I think that number is much higher.”
Scuderi believes the Kings would have been ready to begin their defense had the season started on time, but said the added rest afforded by the lockout could be beneficial. Still, the work stoppage dragged on for far too long.
“I think we would have been fine (had the season started on time),” Scuderi said. “We would have been ready to go. At the same time, it’s always good to get a little bit of extra rest. But this stretched longer than any of us wanted it to go. As much as you would have liked a little more rest to let your body recoup, nobody wanted to miss any hockey.”
Under normal circumstances, Scuderi said, a Stanley Cup winning season and the ensuing season of defending the title can run together. The Kings won’t face that problem.
“I know the two times I went to the Finals with Pittsburgh,” Scuderi said, “(when you start the next season) you kind of feel like you never left. For us, with the extra rest and the fact that we bring back the same team, the same coaching staff and the same philosophies, hopefully that will be an advantage for us.”
KING OF KINGS
Winger Dwight King began last season with Manchester before recalled, along with Jordan Nolan, on Feb. 10. Unlike 2011-12, King will begin this season as a King, which – coupled with the shortened training camp – brings a different vibe.
“I think the whole camp situation is different,” King said. “Obviously, coming into this year, with only 24 guys here, it’s a little more of an in-house competition as opposed to when you are going to camp with 60 guys. It’s just kind of getting back to the fundamentals of what made us successful last year.
King and Nolan were credited with jumpstarting the Kings last year. But at the time of the recall, King’s only ambition was to help in any way possible.
“By calling me and Jordan up, the wanted to bring a little more size,” King said. “When it happened, you just think about bringing what you can to the team. You aren’t thinking about changing everything around.”
Because King arrived at the same time as Nolan and the two players had an undeniable impact on the Kings’ season, the two share an odd kinship. But even before uniting to help create a pivot point in the Kings’ Stanley Cup-winning season, King and Nolan shared a bond.
“I have lived Jordan for two-and-a-half years before coming up here, so I have had a really good friendship with him,” King said. “That made the transition easier for both of us. Coming up, we were able to rely on each other.”
King said he was able to be effective in last year’s postseason tourney by keeping things simple and playing to his strength.
“I started out with a little too much going on in my brain,” King said. “Then I got a little more comfortable and found my role and how I could be effective. Playing with Jarret (Stoll) and Trevor (Lewis) really focused in on getting hard on the fore-check and getting pucks on the net.”
CALL TO GLORY
When the Kings finally won the Stanley Cup after a 45-year quest last spring, radio play-by-play man Nick Nickson was not at a loss for words. Nickson punctuated the long-awaited title with this memorable radio call in the waning moments of Game 6: “The long wait is over. After 45 years, the Kings can wear their crowns. The Los Angeles Kings have won the Stanley Cup!”
Nickson’s call managed to pack nearly a half-century of frustration, hopes and dreams into a few choice words.
Nickson said when the Kings reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993, he never gave any thought to what he would have said had the Kings won it all. Last spring, however, other people started to wonder what his signature call might sound like if the Kings were able to close the deal.
“In the third round of the playoffs,” Nickson said, “a couple broadcasters asked me what I would say when the Kings won the Stanley Cup. I said, ‘Wait a minute – we have to win it first.’”
Still, the query got Nickson to thinking. He wanted to do the moment justice without overpowering it.
“I wanted to keep it short and not ramble on,” Nickson said at practice today.
When Nickson got the Stanley Cup for four hours in Sept., he had two things he wanted to accomplish.
“I wanted to invite longtime season ticket holders from my neighborhood in Santa Clarita,” Nickson said. “And, I wanted to raise money from people taking pictures – and everybody wanted to take a picture – for the Ace Bailey Children’s Foundation (www.acebailey.org) and Mark Bavis Leadership Foundation (www.markbavisleadershipfoundation.org).”
Coach Darryl Sutter said Anze Kopitar skated for about an hour before the Kings’ practice this morning as he continues to rehab his sprained right knee. Sutter said Kopitar is taking his return “one step at a time.”
“The advantage he is going to have when he is ready,” Sutter said, “is that he has played 30 games already (for Mora IK in Sweden).”
Defenseman Willie Mitchell was at the facility but did not skate. Mitchell is still recovering from knee surgery in which cartilage was removed.