For a positive example of how to handle tonight’s game, the Kings need only look down the freeway. Anaheim returned from its three-game Western Canada swing and crushed Phoenix 6-2 at home last night. A team’s initial game at home, after a road trip, is always a cause for concern, the theory being that players relax and exhale after the trip, and don’t bring the same intensity to the game. Willie Mitchell said the Kings need to avoid the “trap game.’’
MITCHELL: “I think it’s a very important one, mentally and emotionally. It was a pretty successful trip for us, even though we threw up a lame duck in Edmonton there. We were pretty successful. I call these games, when you come back off the road and have a little bit of success, and it’s close to the All-Star break, your first game back at home, it’s a trap game. A mental trap. It’s up to some of us older players to make sure guys are ready and focused.’’
Darryl Sutter said he wouldn’t attach any extra significance to the Kings’ return home…
SUTTER: “Been there and done that. We’ve had two trips with tough travel, back-to-backs. It didn’t effect us then and it shouldn’t effect us now. It’s really got no bearing on anything, quite honestly. The schedule, you’ve got to break it (down). You’ve got these three games and then you’ve got your break and then a long trip, and you’ve got six back-to-backs in there. There’s lots of ways to keep a tighter focus, rather than being concerned about what you just did. If we had played in Vancouver and lost, then you’d ask about, how do you rebound. [laughs] So, really, that’s not the way it works. The teams are so close that you’ve just got to concentrate on what you can manage.’’
That said, Sutter clearly isn’t a fan of the Kings’ schedule, and it is a bit wacky. The season has included a start in Europe — don’t forget those two “home’’ games — followed by a week off. Now, coming up, there’s an eight-day midseason break, followed soon after by the annual “Grammy Trip’’ that will keep the team away from Los Angeles for parts of 11 days.
SUTTER: “This schedule is borderline crazy. With the way they started in Europe and the home and away part of it, and the length of some of the trips and the travel that is involved, with the border crossings. The next one, you go to New York and then Dallas. We just came off an 8 o’clock game and then a 6 o’clock game. They [players] aren’t machines.
“When I came in, I told the guys, `I’m going to give you every break, physically. You have to be there in the brain part.’ That’s how you’ve got to look at it in the long term. The successful teams, that’s what they do. They have to trust their training, and what they do for 12 months, what they do the day before the game and the day after the game. You have to set your team up, so that when they start training on the first of July, they’re getting prepared for back-to-backs and travel and time zones. That’s what you have to do when you’re on the West Coast, or Dallas or somewhere like that.’’