I'm sending this from the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, Calif., where the Kings were on the ice today at 10 a.m. The practice ended just more than an hour later, although some stragglers remained on the ice until nearly noon.
The main topic of conversation afterward was some of the lessons learned after Saturday's game. You'll recall that the Kings beat the Boston Bruins 4-3 in a shootout, but only after spotting them a 3-1 second-period lead. With the San Jose Sharks coming to the Staples Center for a game tomorrow night, the Kings know that they can't be as careless as they were Saturday and expect to escape with two points.
"You can't get yourself into a hole against teams as you get into this part of the year," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "It's too hard to come back. You can't depend on that. It's a very challenging thing to do, and we were fortunate that we were able to find a way against a very good hockey club. But we need to be on page, every shift, every game, together, pushing ourselves to get into the playoffs. It's going to be that difficult, and I think it's going to go right down to the final couple weeks of the season, and you're going to see 12, 14 teams looking for those top 8 playoff positions. So now is a great opportunity to understand that as a young group, to start the game the same way and play that same way for 60 minutes."
The players concur, especially with that game against the Sharks looming.
"The bottom line is that we got two points," forward Ryan Smyth said. "It wasn't the prettiest way to do it, but we found a way, and that's a sign of a good team -- you find ways to win. We've got to be well aware of who we're up against. We know that San Jose is in here next. They're obviously a dominant team that is playing well. They have a lot of firepower, so we have to make sure that we do the simple things -- get the puck in deep, make them come 200 feet."
"We have to play 60 minutes," defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "We made a nice comeback, but we know we're not going to be able to do this all season. If we put ourselves behind the eight ball with a team like San Jose, you're just not going to come back, especially later in the year -- the tighter the games, the bigger the games, it's just not going to happen. Maybe one goal, but certainly not a two-goal deficit."
That said, the Kings are optimistic about tomorrow night's game They won three of the four games they played against the Sharks so far this season, including the last two. And don't think the Sharks won't remember the last time the teams played two weeks ago in San Jose -- a 6-2 thrashing by the Kings.
"The games that we've had against San Jose, we've done pretty well," Scuderi said. "I think the most important thing for us is that we have confidence that we can play, probably the best team in the league, we can play them well, either them or Chicago. We've played them well every single time and that's a big confidence boost for us, but at the same time we have to play the same way that we play against San Jose, against everybody."
"It's a divisional game," captain Dustin Brown said. "I think we always get excited. They're first or second in our conference, and playing against the top teams is always exciting, and we've always been successful against them this year. We've got to be ready to play, obviously. They're clicking along at a pretty good pace right now, and it's a matter of us preparing ourselves and being ready. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if we're playing San Jose or any other team. Two points at this time of the year are huge."
Yesterday Coach Murray told lakings.com:
"I watched a game recently with Pittsburgh and Calgary. [Sidney] Crosby, unbelievable play, breaking through two defensemen, holding on and making the difference in the game. I'd like to think that we can get a guy like that someday. Maybe [Kings forward Anze Kopitar] can break through and be that player someday. But right now, we don't have it. So we need to attack as five and to defend as five. Any time we stray from that, it becomes a concern."
After today's practice, Murray was asked whether that was a subtle -- or not-so-subtle -- effort to try to get Kopitar to raise the level of his game. While having more of an impact in recent games, the Kings' franchise offensive player hasn't been able to match the way he was playing, and scoring, in the early part of the season.
"It wasn't meant to be that, no," Murray said. "We are team right now that really needs to have the five men doing the job. We have to be on the same page and executing together both ways. Crosby made a spectacular move, splitting the defensemen and scoring. And we have guys who can do that, but we're at a time in our development where it's really critical that five guys push it together and that our team keep demanding more of ourselves and demanding more of each other, each game, so that we can have that consistency in our performance."
"When you play the game the way you should," Murray continued. "Extraordinary things happen for you. That's where I'm trying to come from here with this group: Play fundamentally sound, do the right things shift after shift, be on the same page in managing the puck with hard plays through the middle of the ice and out of something, great things will happen. And the opportunity is there now to take advantage of it."
Whatever Murray's intention, it was clear that Kopitar got the message.
"As a player," he said, "you thrive on pressure and thrive on opportunities, whether it's going head on head against the other team's top line or making sure that you find a way to beat the guy across from you."
"You want to win, first of all, and you want to contribute," he added, responding to a question about whether he was feeling any pressure to have more impact offensively. "That's a little bit of pressure, but you just want to play hard every night and help the team win. That's the most important thing for me. Obviously I'm well aware of that. If we're going to be successful, I've got to be on top of my game too. It's not a one-man team, and I know it's a cliché, but your best players have to be your best players."
Don't despair, Ducks fans! I'll be at their practice tomorrow morning and will have something from their pregame skate before the game against Buffalo tomorrow night at Honda Center.