During a long hockey season, moments of frustration are often simmering just below the surface.
On Monday night, late in the first period of a scoreless game that eventually developed into a 2-1 Calgary Flames overtime win, that quiet simmer reached a low boil when Drew Doughty disagreed with a crosschecking penalty levied on him and drew an additional minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct after he leaned out of the penalty box to express his displeasure to the officiating crew.
“I just didn’t agree with the call and I lost it a little bit,” Doughty said. “I didn’t think I said anything too out of the ordinary, but obviously the ref felt differently. It’s a bad penalty by me, and thankfully the guys killed it off.”
That passionate undercurrent helps make Doughty the player that he is: the ultracompetitive and emotional team leader, the highly skilled and all-situational defender, and the cornerstone franchise piece who has done more at 25 than all but only the most accomplished of professional hockey legends.
That emotional outburst is a distinct part of Doughty’s comprehensive package, one that meshes skill with intuition, statistics with the intangible. It was also in contrast to a more contemplative Doughty, who spoke with the media on Tuesday afternoon and in clear terms articulated what plagued the team in a 1-2-4 homestand that netted the team six of a possible 14 points.
“I think we’re doing some things better, but we’re not doing everything better and that’s why we’re not getting wins,” he said. “When we get one-goal leads in the third period like that, we need to shut them down. We can’t let them back in the game and we’ve been doing that lately. We’ve been getting leads and we’ve been letting teams back in the game and that’s not what the LA Kings are about. We’re about shutting teams down and not letting them back in. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re still not playing the way we’re capable of and it’s frustrating and it needs to turn around quickly.”
Things did turn around quickly roughly 11 months ago, when a team that had built up a wider playoff cushion in the first half experienced a sudden halt in its points haul, losing nine out of 10 games in advance of the Olympic break prior to defeating Columbus in the final game before the two and a half week hiatus. Los Angeles then won the first seven games when the team reconvened after the Olympics.
“I guess in the past, maybe we played better and we weren’t getting the results and this time we’re actually not playing well and we’re not getting the results at the same time,” Doughty said. “I guess that doesn’t feel as good, but we’ve been in this position so many times that I know every single guy on this team is competent. We’re going to get our bit and we’re going to start playing well and win a lot more games.”
Their mission at this current juncture: Win the final game before the All-Star Break tomorrow night in San Jose, rest up, refocus, and enter the post-All Star slate with renewed vigor.
“Oh yeah, we need to be in that playoff spot before the break begins. No doubt about it,” Doughty said. “We’re obviously just barely out by one point, I think, right now. That’s all we’re thinking about right now. We need to win this game. It’s a division game. It’s a big rivalry with the San Jose Sharks. We need to win it. We need to go into the break feeling good about ourselves and I think the break would also be good for the team just to regroup and get some rest and come back and get on a roll after that, too.”
Darryl Sutter quickly put to rest the suggestion of any correlations between last year’s team and this year’s team heading into the longest break of the season. Through his candor, it was clear that last season’s path is in no way applicable the evolved circumstances and different personnel that helps define this current Kings team.
“They just have to keep understanding and listening to what I’m telling them about how tough it is to make the [playoffs],” he said. “The train has got to be a work train, not the Stanley Cup train. The Stanley Cup train was last year, and some guys just have to get off that train. There’s no extra for it. You get nothing for it. If it affected your next regular season with the way the transition and your personnel goes, then [at the] start of the year, they should give you points for it.”
If there are any superficial similarities, they’re that this team, like several of its predecessors, will have plenty of work to do through the dog days of winter if they are to play through well into the spring.
“Yeah, we kind of do these things every year I’ve been here,” Doughty said. “We’re trying to not have to come into the season late and battle our way into a playoff spot and make the playoffs just barely. We want to be up there in first place and obviously right now, that’s not looking like it’s going to happen. So we need to battle. We need to get up in the standings as high as we possibly can. We need to get on a roll going in to playoffs and we need to win. We need to treat every single game right now as a playoff game, because every single point matters.”
And though there were plenty of positives to take away from last night’s performance, at the end of the day the Kings held a third period lead and ended the night with one point.
“You need to have a 60-minute game,” Doughty said. “All it takes sometimes is one bad shift and the whole game changes. That’s kind of what happened last night. I thought we were pretty dominant throughout the entire game. I think we only gave up five shots half-way through the second or something like that. In the third period they finally get a goal and the momentum kind of changed. We can’t do that. We need to play a full 60 minutes. Every shift counts. Every second of every shift counts and we all know that.”