The last time the Kings and Canucks met, the contest ended with Jarret Stoll going top shelf on Cory Schneider for a series-clinching overtime goal that ended a season of high expectations in Vancouver and fueled belief in Los Angeles.
“That seems like a long time ago,” Coach Darryl Sutter said of the Kings’ five-game series win last spring.
Tonight’s game will not provide the kind of drama that can only be found with a season on the line, but it does offer the Kings the opportunity to keep things rolling after Saturday’s 4-2 win at Phoenix.
“A big win tonight against a big team like (Vancouver) will definitely give us a confidence boost,” defenseman Drew Doughty said. “Then, hopefully we can string a few wins together.”
Sutter declined to classify the Canucks as a Kings’ rival, at least not this early in the season, and said he did not expect any carryover from last year’s playoff series.
“We haven’t played them yet,” Sutter said. “It’s tough to talk about a rivalry when you haven’t played a team yet.”
Asked if there were any team he got particularly fired up for as a coach, Sutter shifted to the deadpan delivery he has mastered in his media sessions.
“Chicago, Colorado, Edmonton, Phoenix, and now Vancouver,” Sutter said. “Pretty much in that order.”
Taking them in that order, tonight’s showdown with the Canucks will be the Kings’ fourth game in seven days, which Sutter likened to a playoff schedule.
“You are already in almost like a playoff practice/game mode already, just because of the time that you have,” Sutter said. “You try to get your players all the re-charge you can, while at the same time keeping them mentally right there.”
Doughty, meanwhile, said he does smell a bit of a rivalry brewing with Vancouver.
“We have played them a few times in the playoffs in the last four years,” Doughty said. “They are definitely a team that we are excited to play. They are a good team, so you kind of learn to hate them. Tonight is going to be a battle and we look forward to it.”
Doughty said he also expects a hard-hitting game.
“It should be a good, physical matchup, which everyone loves,” Doughty said. “You are getting banged, but at the same time, you are giving it back. There is nothing more rewarding than beating a team that has won the Conference the last couple years in a row.
Defenseman Willie Mitchell continues to recover from knee surgery and did not skate with the team. Sutter said it is his preference to focus on players who are active, not those who are absent.
“If he is on injured reserve,” Sutter said, “then he is a non-active player. Once he is off that, then you talk about him. Until then, they’re injured. I’m not a doctor, I’m not a psychologist, not a therapist.”
In his role as coach, however, Sutter is more than willing to assess the play of his top-line players, and the reports were mixed. Some players have not yet gotten up to full speed in this truncated season and Sutter placed Mike Richards in that category.
“It’s been an adjustment for some of our guys, in terms of getting up to pace. (Richards) is one of those guys that has to get up to pace.”
Dustin Brown, however, has shown improvement on a nightly basis, according to Sutter.
“Brownie has gotten a little bit better every game,” he said. “Brownie is a power game. He goes up and down, a power game. Strong on the walls, goes to the net. If he’s not doing that, you guys can see it better than I can. That’s his game.”
Sutter said he has also been pleased with the way Davis Drewiske has played while filling in for the injured Matt Greene.
“I think what we want him to do is take up Matt Greene’s minutes in positive way, with quality minutes,” Sutter said. “Greener gave us penalty killing minutes, and a solid 5-on-5; first minute, last minute. Situations like that. In the three games that (Drewiske) has played, he has done a good job.”
CLIFFORD STARTS FAST
With five points (1 goal, 4 assists), Kyle Clifford is the Kings’ leading scorer. Sutter said Clifford was highly motivated after missing out on most of the team’s run to the Stanley Cup last spring.
“When (Kyle) left last spring, he was so happy that we won it, but so disappointed that he didn’t get to play after he got hurt in the Vancouver series,” Sutter said. “That was his whole purpose when he left; he wanted to put himself in a position to play regular. He did that.”
Clifford played with the Ontario Reign of the ECHL during the lockout and said that decision kept him in shape and ready when the NHL season finally resumed.
“From a conditioning standpoint,” Clifford said, “down there they only have three lines so you are on pretty much every other shift. As far as conditioning, that was a good kick start.”
Playing on the Kings’ second line has also helped, but Clifford said, more than anything, his success has come from playing hard and paying a price.
“It’s fortunate to play with the two guys I am with now, but all my linemates have helped me,” Clifford said. “I just go to the net. How many players get rewarded by going to the net? I think that’s the mentality for every player on our team. Just go to the net hard.”
SUTTER ON SIMON GAGNE
When told Simon Gagne said he is playing a role he is unaccustomed to, Sutter quipped:
“He better get used to it. In this schedule, it’s not what you did, or what you are going to do. It’s what you are doing. That’s a fact.
MUZZIN’S FIRST GOAL
The Kings’ first win of the season Saturday in Phoenix coincided with the first goal of Jake Muzzin’s NHL career.
“It’s a big goal for me,” Muzzin said. “I am happy and excited about it, but I am not really big on holding the puck high, or anything like that. I will probably give to my parents and let them put it somewhere safe in the house.”
Muzzin said he feels more ready for the NHL this time around than he did during his fist stint with the Kings in 2010-11.
“I feel a lot more confident this time,” Muzzin said. “I’m a lot more calm on the ice. I’m a lot more experienced after being a pro the last couple of years, compared to coming in right after juniors. I’m more excited to be here and more confident.”
Tonight, Muzzin said, is an opportunity for the Kings to keep things rolling.
“We have been talking about building every game. We had a couple of close losses that we could have easily won. We want to build on the positives in each game and get better each game. Hopefully, tonight we can continue.”