The Los Angeles Kings’ special teams converged on the same point in the NHL rankings a season ago as the power play and penalty killing both finished a respectable 10th in the league. For the power play, the 10th place finish represented the continued momentum that accelerated when Darryl Sutter took over as head coach in December, 2011 and has been partly aided by players such as Mike Richards and Jeff Carter had joining the units.
The penalty kill’s 10th place ranking represented a drop from fourth place, where the shorthanded units had finished the two previous seasons. Los Angeles ranked 18th in the league on the road with a 79.1% success rate in 2012-13, a figure that the team will look to better in an effort to improve upon an 8-12-4 road record.
After chatting with Mike Richards over the weekend, I consulted with Jarret Stoll – who, like Richards, is a member of both the power play and penalty killing units – to gauge the special teams direction in preparation of the start of the new season.
On whether the special teams were improved in Las Vegas, compared to earlier games:
The power play, I think it was. The penalty kill, we’ve still got a little bit to work on, just focus-wise. Just routes and reads and making ‘em quick. You don’t have much time out there. The way power plays move the puck, you’ve got to make the right read right now. I think the second game in Vegas, our reads were a little bit late. We’re getting better at that. We’re going to work on it [Wednesday]. We’ve talked about it. We’ve seen some video on it, so we’re going the right way.
On what accounted for the power play improvement last season:
I don’t know. Maybe just guys being comfortable with each other. There have been the same guys on the power play, but we’ve had new guys come in, obviously, in the last two years that play on the power play, and maybe just getting accustomed to those guys and their skill level and where they like to be. But our penalty killing I think can get better. I think we were 10th as well, right? I think we should be way better than that, to be honest with you. On the road, a lot of our stats I think dropped because we had a great home record and played well at home. A big focus has to be keeping that home record and attitude intact but improving on the home record, for sure.
On the penalty kill’s drop to 10th, and whether it was taken “personally”:
Anybody that penalty kills, it’s a personal thing. It’s a pride thing that you want to be the best, or at the top of the league, for sure. You’ve got to kill the right penalties. You’ve got to go on some stretches where you kill 25, 35 in a row and get that confidence going. You need big saves from your goaltender – which we always get – and big shot blockers, which we have, and guys that work hard. There’s no reason why we can’t get back at least in the top five in penalty killing, and it just starts with hard work and using our heads out there. Probably the first of all, though, to not have very many penalties taken. That’s probably the biggest thing.
On the key to countering quality faceoff teams such as San Jose and Phoenix:
Knowing who you’re going against. You’re going to go against the same guys, usually, on power play situations and penalty kill situations. I know that. Everybody does, I think, when you play a team a lot. Some guys have moved around. I know Boyd Gordon is now in Edmonton, not Phoenix. Same division – a guy that I battle with a lot. There’s no easy nights. There’s no easy faceoffs out there. If you have the attitude that is an easy faceoff, you’re probably losing it anyways.