Some notes from today’s practice at Citizens Business Bank Arena, which featured mostly full-ice drills and wrapped up in just under an hour.
–Starting with Wednesday’s game in Ontario against Texas, the Reign will play five games in eight days. It’s a hectic stretch that will see them play on the road in San Jose on Friday, turn around and play at home on Saturday against Bakersfield, then again hit the road to play at Tucson on Monday and Wednesday.
“You try not to dwell on it,” head coach Mike Stothers said. “The old cliche is one game at a time and I think that’s the only way we can look at it in this particular case. There is a lot of hockey to be played. There’s a lot of travel involved but it’s something that in order to get your required number of games in, the 68 that we need to play, there’s gonna be some stretches where you’ve got some games jammed in together. This is one of those stretches.
“Sometimes it’s not a bad thing either to play and just play. The guys prefer to play. Having what we talked about last week, we had some good practices so we feel comfortable and confident that we’ll be able to weather the storm. But there’s the possibility of some injuries of course and luckily we’ve gotten ourselves a little bit healthier with the return of [Michael] Mersch and [Andrew] Crescenzi. Hey, let’s just play, let’s get at it.”
Yes, the players want to play, this especially after a full week’s worth of practice last week.
“It will actually be nice to get away from practice and start playing again,” said defenseman Paul LaDue. “But no, we got a tough stretch coming up and these are important games. We’ve been on a roll here and we’d like to keep that going. We’ve got to take each game one at a time and try to get that win tomorrow.”
The players, in particular the ones who have been with the team since it resided in Manchester two seasons ago, are used to this sort of thing.
“I’d say it’s day by day, more so I think game by game,” center Andrew Crescenzi said. “We only play 68 games here. In Manchester we played 76 so I think most of the guys are used to it, especially when we used to play three-in-threes all the time. Just got to take it game by game, not look to far ahead, and you’ve just got to focus on who you play next.”
What’s also hanging in the balance is their first place position in the Pacific Division. Saturday’s 3-2 overtime defeat broke a six-game winning streak so the immediate goal is to get back on track quickly to not let that lead slip with San Jose and Stockton right behind them in the standings.
“Obviously we’re in first place, but not by a lot,” LaDue said. “All these games that we’ve been winning have been one-goal games or overtime games. There’s still room for improvement and I think that’s what’s in our coach’s mind and that’s what we’re working for, to get better each and every day. Hopefully by the time playoffs come around we’re playing our best hockey.”
Goalie Jack Campbell has now started 14 straight games and although Stothers has never shied away from starting any of his top netminders game after game after game, there’s a good chance we may see Jack Flinn.
“I never rule that out,” Stothers said when asked if Flinn would play. “[Campbell’s] been playing well. The schedule hasn’t been too, too taxing as of yet. We’ll wait it out and see how it goes but we feel good with [Campbell] and we feel good with Jack. He’s come a long way. He’s improved a lot, just through practice. Again, a lot of hockey. There’s a good chance everybody will get in.”
–Crescenzi played in his first game in a long time on Saturday against Bakersfield. He missed seven games, but part of that included the extended holiday break.
“It was nice just to be out there,” he said after practice. “It was a long time off for me unfortunately, but I got a couple of good practices in before and it was nice to be back out there with the team and feel like part of the team again.”
The reliable faceoff man and penalty killer didn’t get a chance to ease into things as his return came in the hyped-up outdoor game.
“It held up pretty good in that first game and it’s a couple good practices now so I think I’m ready to go every day,” he said.
–Missing from practice was defenseman Rob Scuderi, who’s a bit under the weather. “One of those things where I keep thinking that we’ve turned the corner and somebody else seems to get it,” Stothers said. “We kept him away from the guys just so we don’t infect somebody else or somebody who’s had it gets it again.” Stothers had mentioned last week that the team has been battling a bug since the holiday break.
Also absent were injured players Zach Trotman, Paul Bissonnette and Joel Lowry. It was reported last week that Lowry (lower-body) would be out for an extended period of time. It appears Trotman (upper-body) and Bissonnette (lower-body) are in the same boat.
“They’re going to be longer term as well,” Stothers said. “There’s nothing imminent about any of those three. I don’t know who would be the first one [back]. You can ask, but it’s not going to be during this stretch, that’s for darn sure.”
–Former King Jarret Stoll was on the ice for practice with the development staff and worked with the Reign’s centers on faceoffs. Be on the lookout for a story on him from LA Kings Insider Jon Rosen in the coming days.
–The trip home for the Reign was a long one on Saturday night following the Outdoor Classic. Due to weather the team had to re-route and take the 101 rather than go through the Grapevine and didn’t get home until well after 3 a.m.
“I thought it was only going to be a two-hour bus ride, I didn’t know. It kept dragging on,” said LaDue. “[The game] was fun. Even though the weather wasn’t great and it was raining and everything, besides all the factors it was a great time to get out there and play outdoors. Everyone grew up skating outdoors so it’s always fun to get out there.”