Per Rich Hammond, the players were locked into some grueling video sessions and critique of their game. There isn’t one on the squad who didn’t deserve it. Last night’s game against the Blackhawks showed this writer a team that was out of sync for all but 10 minutes of the third. When you consider how many posts the Blackhawks hit, we could have easily lost this one 4 or 5 to 1. The only positives were Rob Scuderi’s play, especially breaking up Hossa’s breakaway, Kyle Clifford’s continued growth, Alec Martinez’s surprising elevation of his physical game (“viva la raza!” as a fellow fan who regularly sits in front of me cheered at a big hit in the third) and Jonathan Quick’s consistency. The rest of the players can take a long hard look in the mirror and ask themselves a few questions, starting with “when will I take ownership of this team and my role?”
Terry Murray can also self reflect. Being out coached in your own building is a little embarrassing. Not doing a damn thing about it while your fourth line keeps landing on the ice with the opponent’s first is a bit more.
There is so much to discuss. Kopitar’s hesitancy in the offensive zone, a powerplay that has one set play and no secondary options beyond kicking the puck to the point for a shot, Brown’s difficulty in adjusting to the left wing (three instances of breaking to the right side – old habits die hard), Dwight King and Kevin Westgarth doing their impression of skating in mud and completely neutralizing Richardson as well as any hope for that fourth line to contribute, Westgarth’s one contribution of his face and nose to Scott’s fists, Handzus having a hell of a time holding on to the puck, Doughty playing the role of a grunt and not a skilled offensive defenseman, and Matt Greene clearly without his skating legs yet.
Alas, I consider the Kings fortunate to have only lost 2-1. This could have gotten ugly. Give Chicago credit. Once they took the 1-0 lead, they locked the door to the blue line and L.A.’s polite knocks were sent away.
Is it possible that losing two players could have such an impact on the team? Yes. This team, as it stands, is as good as the one last season, the one that just made the playoffs but couldn’t get past the first round. Willie Mitchell is the defensive glue that keeps the top four together. His veteran leadership was apparent from the first minute of the first preseason game I saw him skate in a Kings’ jersey. Poni had tremendous chemistry with Zeus and Simmonds. Despite Terry Murray’s clear belief to the contrary given his erratic line changes, chemistry can take a good line and make it a great one.
The Kings are at this moment a group of talented individuals that lack a nucleus and not one player has stepped up to take that “ownership”, not even our captain.
This however will pass. Despite seeing nothing but red (read: rage) by game’s end, watching the soulless fictional bandwagon fans that mirror those of the Red Wings and, like their heartless counterparts, will one day be supporting another flavor of the season, I am confident the Kings will turn this around. Gut check moments are defining ones. It’s time for this team to define the moment before them.