Good afternoon to you from El Segundo, where the Kings held an optional skate on the second day of their first back-to-back set of the 2017-18 campaign. The last time they hosted an all-home back to back was March 13-14, 2017, right when the 2016-17 season began to get away from the team, which lost 3-1 to St. Louis on the first night and 3-2 in an 11-round shootout to Arizona on the second. Fun memories!
“We talked about it this morning,” Stevens said. “It’s hard to remember many of those situations where we’ve played back-to-back at home, or even here in L.A. where we play at home and travel somewhere else. It just doesn’t seem to happen that much because when you’re home, you’re home, and when you’re away, you’re away. I think in the east it happens a lot more because you have short trips, the trips where you’re in-and-out, whereas in the west, most of the time you’re home for a stretch and then you go away. You have four big trips a year here, so that usually eliminates situations like this. It’s unusual, to say the least.”
Even with the new energy and positivity around the team this season, there’s one thing that won’t change: Los Angeles still will not name its starting goaltenders in advance. (There is no use in @’ing me, fantasy hockey junkies.) Darcy Kuemper was the only goaltender to skate on Sunday and did not remain on for extra work, but John Stevens stopped short of anointing him as tonight’s starter when asked during post-skate availability.
“He’s going to play in some games for us,” Stevens said. “I’m not going to get into the habit of giving our hand of who’s playing. We’re going to count on both our goalies this year to win us hockey games, and certainly have confidence in him when his name is called.”
LA Kings Insider projects Kuemper to make his L.A. debut behind the same lineup that took the ice in last night’s 4-2 win over Buffalo. As always, please note this is a projection and not any sort of confirmation. Michael Cammalleri remained on the ice for extra work with Brooks Laich, while Kurtis MacDermid, who took warm-ups last night, could theoretically replace Christian Folin in the lineup, but I still expect Folin to get the nod.
Meanwhile, the Kings have a seven-game point streak at home against the Islanders, going 6-0-1 in their last seven Staples Center meetings. New York coach Doug Weight confirmed that Jaroslav Halak will start in net for the visitors and that no other lineup changes will be made. The forward groupings should align something like Lee-Tavares-Eberle, Ladd-Barzal-Bailey, Chimera-Nelson-Ho-Sang and Kulemin-Cizikas-Clutterbuck. That’s a pretty good forward group, and don’t overlook ideal fourth line center Casey Cizikas, nor interesting speed/offensive/playmaking prospects in 20-year-old Matthew Barzal and 21-year-old Josh Ho-Sang. That John Tavares fellow is also half-decent, based on what I’m hearing from my sources.
“The Islanders, they have a significantly different penalty kill in terms of how they pressure in the zone – something we’re going to have to be aware of,” Stevens said when asked about special teams. “…The Lee that plays for them on their power play, I would put him right up there with Wayne Simmonds in terms of effectiveness around the net. He’s one of the better guys in the league at not just being there but being really effective and getting sticks on pucks and being tough around the blue paint. And then obviously Eberle, Tavares on that one unit, and then they have Ho-Sang and Barzal on the other unit who are young guys that we don’t know that well but are really effective guys, so they’ve got some things to worry about.”
As for Los Angeles’ outlook, Dustin Brown has returned to being a focal point of the attack and is tied for the team lead with six points through the first four games. There are changes to the team’s systems play and offensive zone freedoms that have allowed him to bust through the starting gates, but along with any adjustments in schemes, there are also improvements in his overall outlook.
Speaking with several beat writers, Brown spoke about how he’s not bringing games home with him and has done a better job sublimating any mental baggage when he’s away from the rink.
“It’s just a change in mindset really. I had a rough few years there,” he said. “You’ve just got to analyze it, look at it from a detached standpoint and see what of change you can make to get better. It was just one of those of things that was kind of glaring going home with the game and you just never get a mental break from it. And then when things are not going well, it kind of snowballs into week after week and pretty soon you’re not having any fun.”
I get a similar sense from several other players I’ve spoken with this season. Several additional Brown quotes:
Dustin Brown, on whether the team ever brings in a sports psychologist to meet with players:
No, I mean, you’ve got probably a mix of 23 guys. There’s probably some guys that would look at that as an opportunity. Other guys don’t want any part of that. Everyone’s different. In a team setting, individuals have got to find what’s right for them and you kind of learn. There are valleys. And I’m still learning. I’ve been in the league for 15 years. Every day you kind of find a different thing that can help you. [Reporter: Do you have any examples of that? Maybe not this year or last year something that has picked up, and that has helped you whether that is mindset or something physical or something on the ice?] I think the physical stuff is kind of like just doing the work really. You learn to work. Like I said, those days when you have a chance to work, you put the work in. You kind of learn that early on, right, if you want to stay in the league. It’s more of the mental side, like what you need to get mentally prepared. I think we’ve been a really prepared team this year. It’s been a really positive environment around here and that goes a long way. I think guys are having fun and that guys feed off of that. Coming to the rink and being excited to play, having fun with your teammates, especially in a long season, it’s kind of hard to break it down. But it’s a big, big part of it, is coming in and enjoying practicing and working.
-Lead photo via Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI