BACK AT ‘ER
After a Saturday off-day, the Kings returned to the ice Sunday morning at the Toyota Sports Center with a sleeker, pared down roster. Gone are the dual groups from earlier in training camp, a more compact hallmark that serves as another reminder that the start of the season is now only 11 days away.
“Now that the numbers are getting lower, and it’s getting closer to the regular season, obviously things are getting ramped up even more, and the focus is on the first game of the regular season,” defenseman Keaton Ellerby said. “We’ve got to keep focusing on these exhibition games, and keep working on our team play and our system play and all that stuff, but we’re going hard. We’re getting ready for the first puck drop of the regular season, and when that day comes, I think what we’re doing in training camp now is going to have us well-prepared for the beginning of the season.”
Dustin Brown watched part of the practice from the sideline as he continues to rehabilitate a hamstring injury. Darryl Sutter said on Thursday that “we’ll hopefully get him on the ice either Sunday or Monday,” and then tacked on Tuesday as a potential day for Brown to return to the ice when he was asked at Friday’s morning skate.
Anze Kopitar didn’t express any heightened concern over the captain’s absence.
“We’ve played with him enough,” Kopitar said. “He knows enough. He’s watching the practices enough, so I don’t think it’s going to be too big of an issue.”
Kopitar was more concerned about getting his own timing back, and judging from his post-practice comments, he’s well on his way to doing so.
There appeared to be a raised tempo for Sunday’s practice, which followed the first off-day of training camp. After roughly 50 minutes of drills, the coaches put the team through a hearty conditioning skate.
“That little bagger at the end, it’s good conditioning for the boys, but I think it went well today,” Ellerby said. “There’s still quite a few numbers, but the drills we did were high-tempo. A lot of moving the puck, line rushes, and just getting the defensive zone and the neutral zone and the offensive zone stuff down pat so it just becomes a second nature to you, and when those games come around, it’s there and we’re ready to go.”
Willie Mitchell and Slava Voynov were once again skating together at practice after reprising their pairing during Friday’s overtime loss to Colorado. They had previously skated together during much of the 2011-12 championship season, including the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“I remember everything, how I played in my first year,” Voynov said. “I think we’re getting better every day. We played on the same level as we played [previously].”
Voynov didn’t pinpoint any major difference between playing with Mitchell and playing with Rob Scuderi, with whom he was paired for nearly all of the 2012-13 season. Interestingly, the 23-year-old Voynov, who led Los Angeles defensemen with 25 points last season before tying for the team lead with 13 playoff points, still sees himself as being in a position where he learns from his more experienced partner.
“It’s different players, Mitchie and Scuds. So I learned from Scuds a lot, and right now I will learn from Mitchie,” he said.
Like many of his American and Canadian counterparts, Voynov took part in an Olympic orientation camp shortly before returning to Los Angeles. He traveled to Sochi for what was basically a team walk-through and visited the arenas and locker rooms the team will be using when Russia hosts the Olympics in February, though he did not get on the ice with his potential teammates.
Tanner Pearson registered five shots on goal through the first two periods of Friday’s overtime loss in Colorado, and though he finished with a minus-two rating and his line allowed a goal on the first shift of the game, he was among the Kings’ most involved forwards and once again drew praise from Darryl Sutter after the game.
Though he has shown well during training camp and the team is looking for production from the left side, the 21-year-old isn’t preoccupied with his standing or the team’s needs at the moment.
“You know, I try not to think about it too much,” Pearson said. “I think if I just go out there and play my game and then let things happen, that’ll probably benefit me more than thinking about it and trying to produce.”
He has also adapted well to the pace of the NHL game. Sutter referenced Pearson “going up and down” in Friday’s game, a reference to his hustle and rink-wide contributions.
“The practices are a lot more up-tempo,” Pearson said of his adjustment to the NHL’s pace. “You’re playing against guys in the NHL, so it’s a harder league, but I think I’m doing a good job so far.”
The left wing has a goal and an assist in three games. You know what his preseason points pale in comparison to? His Starwood Points. The second-year pro is familiar with extended hotel stays.
Anze Kopitar, on whether it was good to get a heavy skate in on Sunday:
Even before, I guess, it was pretty hard, since we didn’t have too many guys on the ice and I guess you do a little bit more reps than that. Sometimes it’s good to get a skate like this in, where you don’t have to handle the puck and you just kind of can focus on your stride a little bit and really try to dig deep since you don’t have to do anything else. I thought it was pretty good. The guys looked good out there. I think we’re ready to go.
Kopitar, on the evolving training camp focus with 31 players remaining:
If you look ahead, we’ve got about 10 more days of actual training camp and then, I guess the actual preparation starts for game number one. We’re going to use these three games to prepare as good as we can, and then work on some details I’m sure, and hopefully get ready for the start, obviously.