Several quick notes from a practice day in New Jersey. The LA Kings bused across the Hudson and changed in their dressing rooms before trekking down a short corridor of the Prudential Center, the National Hockey League’s most labyrinthine building. It’s a busy week. They traveled, they played, they practiced, they played, there’s a back-to-back ahead. But Friday was an important day for rousing the mind rather than getting bumps in.
“For us, where we are, I think we played our 20th road game out of 30 out of the last two months. We’ve been on the road like crazy,” Todd McLellan said. “Practice today wasn’t going to be physical. It was visual. For me, practice was the 15 minutes we spent together before reviewing games and situations and talking about that, and then that on-ice part was just the getting legs clean and try to get the spirit back up. They enjoyed it, they didn’t get ground into the ice, and they should still be energized to play tomorrow.”
It ended with a first-to-four shootout drill, with winners and losers clearly demarcated in the photo above.
— Cal Petersen will get the nod tomorrow, McLellan confirmed, and Trevor Moore will make his LA Kings debut. “We’ll get a real good game out of [Trevor], and Cal, because they’ll be excited to jump in with their new teammates,” McLellan said. Neither Petersen nor Moore have ever faced the Devils.
— Todd shared an interesting answer when he was asked how Anze Kopitar was handling the challenges of serving as captain in such a challenging season. “That’s an easy question to answer, because he’s been outstanding,” he said. “From putting on the equipment and trying to execute a game plan, trying to implement structure, managing practice and giving everything he has in that situation, leading by example, all those boxes get checked. As we go through a tough time, which we are right now, we expect him to elevate his leadership skills. But not just him, the rest of the mature group here. It’s hard right now, because some of these guys have lost teammates that have been around 10, 12 years, and they’ve won Cups together, and we want to slough it off in the sporting world and say ‘move on’ – I know I talk like that sometimes too – but it’s tough when a brother walks out the door and you know he’s not playing with you anymore. But Kopi’s done an outstanding job.”
— And, an evaluation on Nikolai Prokhorkin, who has supplied the odd assist and has grown confidence in his role but hasn’t scored since December 2:
“He was out of the lineup for certain reasons. He worked hard to get back in. I just think with Pro, there’s so much more there and we’ve got to get it out of him somehow. We need his offense, we need his skill and it was there for a little while. He really had an impact and then it falls off a little bit and we’ve got to get it back.”
All four of Prokhorkin’s goals came between November 16 and December 2, and that’s the type of data that makes one question whether this type of lull is related to typical struggles of a first-year player in the league. “I don’t know the answer to that,” McLellan said. “If I did, we would probably have fixed it by now. I think we’re beyond – I know we are. We’re beyond the language barrier and ‘what do I do in this situation?’ I don’t buy it, so I’m not going to let him buy it. It’s time.”
— One more bit from Todd. More tomorrow from the players, including New Jersey native Joakim Ryan, as well as executives, including New Jersey native and Rutgers graduate Jeff Solomon. Nothing crazy from Solly. Hoping to talk some pizza. Was actually thinking of doing a wider feature that a colleague suggested we call Pizza Wars in which Solly and Alex Faust argued over the merits of New Jersey and Brooklyn slices. But, you know, the team has lost a bunch of tough ones and a mainstay was just traded, so I’m pulling an LAKI Executive Decision and shelving these grand pizza ideas.
Anyway, back to Todd. He was visibly upset after the calamity of errors in which a missed call on Matt Martin was followed by a Doughty hit on Cizikas (a potential check to the head that didn’t rise to the intervention of player safety; he was whistled for roughing), leading to Martinez and Cizikas fighting and Los Angeles’ two best defensemen leaving the ice in a critical part of the game. A television timeout and two shifts later, with Martinez and Doughty in the box in five-on-five play, Kiefer Bellows scored the game-winning goal.
It wasn’t the reason the Kings lost, it was a detail they couldn’t overcome after having surrendered two two-goal leads. McLellan shared his views of the exchange after Friday’s skate.
“I talked to them, in a good way, I believe. Got an explanation,” he said. “I still don’t like the explanation, but guess what? We woke up this morning and there was nothing we could do about, so let’s move on.”
Using these scrums to question officiating can be delicate because nobody wants to be too hard on the officials, who have the most difficult job in the entire building, as McLellan acknowledged a number of times. And it’s also a topic that isn’t always great to raise after games while emotions are still high and the team is in a rut and coaches are more prone to shoot down any springboard towards an excuse. Questions about officials also force coaches into a gamesmanship decision on the spot. Given the circumstances, sometimes it’s good for them to vent or to use the officiating as some sort of mechanism that takes pressure off their team, but many other times it can be interpreted as offering up an excuse that might provide unfavorable optics were he were to share his actual interpretation of the play in question. I’ve often felt that if a coach has a point to make about officiating, they usually do so regardless of whether a reporter offers an opportunity to do so. Perhaps the Darryl Sutter Stockholm Syndrome is speaking, but I am wary, particularly as a team employee, of relying to much on officiating as an easy out and will generally let the coaches do so if they choose, I say, shuddering. It was an interesting chat to have the day after.
“There’s times when we get mad at them and we’re wrong. We have to admit it,” McLellan said. “We go back and look at the video and go, ‘ooh.’ So, we’ve got to man up and say ‘we made the mistake’ and it’s important that we do that too, not just yell at them and let it go. But, emotionally, you’ve got to be there for your team sometimes and you’ve got to let them know. And we do.”
Photos from earlier today: