John Stevens’ conversations with the media are remarkably informative. Apart from questions about immediate lineup decisions, no queries are off-limits, and everything is thoughtfully answered, even if he and the team aren’t necessarily fully at liberty to spill every detail surrounding some of the more risqué topics.
That often includes injury information, fractional responses meant in part to both protect players, who literally hurl themselves in front of pucks and bodies for the enjoyment of spectators, as well as to not provide any leg-up on preparation for the opponent. It’s somewhat understandable; this is, at times, the league of the “body injury.” Sometimes you’ll have to scour Mystery Valley for such reports.
But on Wednesday, Stevens walked a balanced line while sharing detail on the process of getting Jeff Carter integrated back into practice, and, ultimately, into a Kings game later this season. Wearing a red non-contact jersey, Carter took the ice late in the team’s practice at Bridgestone Arena and skated for the second day in a row. It’s part of an arduous rehabilitation schedule that began when he suffered a deep laceration in his left ankle on October 18 that necessitated surgery the following day.
Carter is showing appropriate progress in the long road back, but he is not nearing any sort of impending return. That will continue to take time, and on Wednesday, Stevens spoke about the continued communication with members of his medical and conditioning staff to help bring that day into focus.
“We have a recovery team,” Stevens said. “Basically, we have a team of people that would include (Head Strength and Conditioning Coach) Matt Price and his assistant Trent [Frey], (Head Athletic Trainer) Chris Kingsley and (Director, Player Health and Performance) John Meyer, and John Mayer is the physical therapist that we work with now. He’s done most of Jeff’s rehab to this point, just because he wasn’t medically cleared, so he has to progress it along based on the doctor’s orders on different things he can do and how he can progress, when he can be weight-bearing, when he can get on the treadmill, when he’s progressed to the slide board, how many days has he worked, how many does he rest, how does he react to it?”
“Review the injury and see how it’s healed, and then the next steps, so that’s all been geared through that group. John’s the physical therapist, he works closely with Kinger. Now they work with our team to get him on the ice. Those guys are in constant collaboration unto what can he do, what level can he get to, when can he be implanted with the team, and there’s trigger points there – when he can do this on the ice, he can get to this point. They’ve done a good job of communicating and organizing exactly what’s best for him from a medical point, passed off to a physical therapy point, to a conditioning and rehab point … and we’ll get our hands on him when we’re told we can.”
As articulated, there isn’t any sort of absolute set date of his return or when exactly the next benchmark in his recovery will take place. It is an ongoing progress, but one in which a glimmer of light at the end of a long tunnel is beginning to form. Carter has been highly regarded for his conditioning regimen, and as a professional athlete, his body has a good chance of responding well and taking to the care and rehabilitation it has received. Still, there are questions, and not yet any firm expectations yet of how his body may react and how long it will take himself to thrive in game situations to the best of his ability once he ultimately finds himself battling with Jamie Benn, or Ryan Getzlaf, or Mark Scheifele in an actual NHL game.
“[It’s a] good question, and one we don’t know the answer to, to be honest with you,” Stevens said. “And, again, every situation’s different. If a guy had a knee, he’s out three months, shoulder. This is a totally different type of injury, and the fact of the matter is he’s been off since October. I think the thing in Jeff’s favor, he’s been around the team, he’s watched us play a lot, he’s been interactive with the team. This is going to help him. He’s a really well conditioned guy that’s a natural athlete that I think’s going to help him, but we don’t know. We’re going to have to get him back in our practice situations and see how he responds and how quickly he responds.”
He’s not quite able to participate in those practice situations. This is a player who resumed skating lightly just over two weeks ago. Eventually, should all proceed appropriately, he’ll be able to rejoin the team at the outset of a practice, and, in a following step, be placed on a line. From there, he’ll then look to be able to weather some contact in battle and compete drills. All of these steps, and the steps that follow, will be closely monitored through constant communication with the group Stevens outlined above.
More from Stevens following today’s practice:
On whether Tuesday’s win was the most complete performance of the season:
I think it’s one of the better games we’ve played in a long time. I just think the fact that we started the game the right way, I thought the commitment from everybody dressed was totally dialed in to doing the right things with the puck, managing the puck early, checking properly, even right from faceoffs, you could tell our urgency, the way we engaged right from the drop of the puck really showed our emotional engagement in the hockey game. I think that really made the difference for us last night.
On what he saw from the forwards’ performance in the win:
I think if you go back, the game that was the mirror opposite of that was the Vancouver game. I think the Vancouver game, we were trying to make a play every time we had the puck, and we were trying to create offense even though they had people back, and I thought last night was really good commitment early to two things: get pucks in behind and keep it away from Bishop so he couldn’t break the puck out for them, and there was a real strong intention to play pucks off the net. I think both those areas, in terms of mindset, really helped us, and because of that, the forwards were able to get pressure, we had good depth over the top of the puck. I thought the forwards did a really good job of reloading and making sure their defense had to play through us because their defense could really skate as they’re entering attack, and I thought the work of our forwards really limited their ability to do that.
On finding success in getting bodies and pucks to the net:
I think when you’re thinking about getting the puck to the net that if you don’t have the puck, you’re thinking about going to the net because you know the puck’s going there. I thought we did a good job in those areas that you were saying, and the fact that we were getting the puck to the net first allowed us to do things quicker. Even our defense, same-side one-timers and shooting pucks right away off of low-to-high plays where they didn’t have the ability to set up in the lane and those types of things, I just think when you’re predictable to each other it makes you a faster team, and part of the predictability of our game last night was thinking about going to the net with the puck and getting the puck to the net.
On whether Darcy Kuemper’s performance has affected how he’ll balance his goalies’ usage:
Well, I think Darcy’s played really well, and I think the fact, if you look at the schedule in February and March, we’re going to need two goalies playing really well. We’ve got a lot of confidence in Darcy. He’s going to get his time in the net. If I had a number in mind that I quite honestly wouldn’t share with you, but I had a number in mind that we’re very close to. But I think if you look at the schedule, February and March, that’s the time where you’re going to need both guys playing well. That’s the time where you’re having two goalies that are playing really well that can share the load there is really going to help your hockey team.
On whether Kuemper has made goaltending decisions more difficult:
I think every player on your team, you would hope that your decision on who plays and who doesn’t is hard, but if you look at our goaltending, it’s been one of the strong points of our team all year, and I think we’ve had two guys that have played extremely well. Quick deserves a lot of credit for the success we’ve had this year, and Darcy’s come in and done a tremendous job in all the games he’s played in, even in relief. Performance is always considered when it comes to those decision.
On the team’s strong puck management in Dallas:
I thought it was very good, and again, it goes back to what we talked about initially, just having the right mindset that you know teams are going to start the game ready to go, you know teams are going to have people back, and sometimes your forecheck sets up your rush game, or sets up your zone time. It’s almost like field position where you spend time in the zone and then they’re chipping pucks out trying to change and you’ve got fresh people coming after you. I think your ability to manage the puck, especially early in games, can really go a long way to help in your team game for 60 minutes.
On the Nashville Predators:
Well, they’re a very good hockey team. They’ve got a great goalie that handles the puck really well. They’ve got depth up front. They trust … lines, it allows them to play with pace, and their defense has an ability, and all of them have an ability to make plays on their own and skate pucks out of trouble. That poses a big challenge for us. Special teams are very good, and they play a little bit of a different scheme in the neutral zone, and it makes it tough to get through the neutral zone with any sort of speed and possession, so that’s an area we’re going to have to conquer tomorrow to have success.
On where he’d rank Nashville’s defense by their ability to provide offense and join the attack:
Best in the league. They come up analytically every year as one of the best in the year in terms of shots generated, points generated. They’ve done a really good job with their defense – not only do they defend really well, but they’re a huge part of their team in all three zones.
On any concern that Anze Kopitar is playing too much, given his recent elevated faceoff usage:
No, he’s been terrific. He actually likes it. He tried to go on the ice last night when Adrian lost the faceoff, and then we pulled him back. And then Adrian won the next one clean. If you want an example of how it works really well, look at the last penalty we took where we had a primary penalty killer in the box, and Mitchie’s in the box, so we went Brownie-Kopi, Lewie-Tanner, and we used four instead of six, which we normally do, and then we had six line changes in one PK. Every time the puck went down the ice we got fresh people on the ice, so it’s just being smart, getting off the ice, not extending yourself, especially in a PK situation, especially in a second period where it’s along change. And even if we throw him out there as an extra guy on a faceoff, he’s a smart guy where he can roll off the ice without putting your team at a disadvantage and getting fresh people on the ice. Mitchie’s done that for us. The Calgary game might be a little bit of an outlier just because we were going into the break, so we knew hje was going to have time to recover and rest, where he ended up right around 22 minutes last night. For me, and I’ve been saying it all year, most importantly is his shift length. If we can get his shift length down, we can control his minutes. [Reporter: is that the template then, for how you can manage shift length isa situation like that, being able to change off after 15, 20 seconds?] Yeah, just don’t extend yourself. Even power play – we’ve got guys that are ready to go on a second unit, even a third unit last night. We have trust in those players. We don’t want guys overextended out there, so we can keep their pace up. And with Shoresy being out, say what you want, Shoresy’s been taking some responsibility in the faceoff circle. He’s a guy that we trust killing penalties. His faceoff situations, he’s a guy that we trust in our own zone in those faceoff situations. Not having him available lately has put a little more onus on a guy like Kopi, but I think Adrian’s getting better in that area, and other guys will continue to assume some of that responsibility, as well.
-Quotes on Adrian Kempe, and updates on Derek Forbort, Nick Shore and Marian Gaborik will be shared in
today’s practice report tomorrow’s morning skate report
-Lead photo via Adam Pantozzi/NHLI