External Motivation vs. Internal Drive: An L.A. Kings Story
Dustin Brown didn’t just get a hat trick last night. He got a natural hat trick. Three goals in a row. They were beautiful. The first was a snipe, top shelf, coming off his left wing. The second was a rebound that he picked up in front of the net, controlled, extended and tucked in successive fluid motions. The third was one that even surprised me – a shot in stride without pulling the puck back and to his side, all on a partial breakaway, five hole. You may think those goals were the highlight of my evening as I watched the game at midnight after returning from a wedding. They were not. Strangely, this was.
That is Dustin Brown after he had a glorious chance at a fourth goal (another where he made the move from left wing to the middle) but could not bury it.
That is Dustin Brown upset. Immediately before this photo and thereafter, what you see is frustration, a “fuck!” like pursing of the lips and look at the scoreboard (warning – the preceding conclusion requires means such as the reading of the eyes, facial gestures & expressions which do not project themselves like statistics and therefore necessitate brain usage beyond that which fits neatly within an excel spreadsheet). This turned me on. He was motivated throughout the entire game, even after scoring three, to score more goals. “Oh well” didn’t emanate. Similar to Brown, the L.A. Kings, even in the last five minutes of the third period and despite being up 4-0, looked to score. They were inspired.
Yes, the Blackhawks, though they too had their chances, played poorly through the neutral zone and their gap control was this side of atrocious but it doesn’t matter – the Kings took the opportunities that came their way and fucking buried them – something we have rarely done this season.
That brings me back to Dustin Brown but will also include Jarret Stoll, Alec Martinez and Mike Richards. We will conclude with Jonathan Quick.
Dustin Brown looked like a man possessed. He was intense. He wanted the puck. We have seen Dustin Brown have “flashes” like this in the past. This one was one of the best. It is not coincidence that we saw this right after his name was all over the hockey world in trade talks. It is not coincidence that he did not celebrate the first goal like we typically see from players, specifically with wide smiles, hugs and elation (warning – the preceding conclusion requires the use of factors such as life experience and human nature which do not project themselves like statistics and therefore necessitate the use of the brain beyond that which fits neatly within an excel spreadsheet). He was angry. He wanted to prove his detractors wrong and perhaps it was an “up yours” of sorts to Dean Lombardi but, regardless, there were plenty of external sources of motivation that drove him internally to play his “best.”
Jarret Stoll – similarly possessed, right? He was everywhere and everything, winning faceoffs (his usual forte at which he was nothing short of spectacular last night), looked to create plays and didn’t just go through the motions across the neutral zone and over the blue line. He played hard in all three zones and he played unlike what we have seen from him for a while. In a contract year, does the deadline acquisition of Jeff Carter, a high scoring center who can also play wing, serve as an external motivation to a player who has struggled all season and has arguably been rendered expendable, especially if he wants to stay at the same pay grade or elevate therefrom? (Warning…nevermind, you get it).
Alec Martinez. Solid. Far better than what we have seen in the last several games – Jack Johnson is gone and there is now the potential this season for a permanent position within the 4-6 spot, with only his own merit as the determining factor.
Mike Richards has struggled. Now he has his best friend right next to him. Together, they can become the dynamic duo they once were. Regarding Jeff Carter, the number 77 is a “look at me” number. It doesn’t blend in. You can’t and don’t forget it. It takes confidence and an ego to put it on, even if it is subconscious (did your inner voice go “warning…”?). I like that. I like that it was worn by one of my favorite players of all time, Paul Coffey, and I dig that Jeff Carter, a player who was acquired to come in here and make a serious offensive impact, decided to put it on especially when he has not worn that number before.
From the most apparent downward, the above players had external motivations to perform and they did. While I am thrilled to see them play an excellent 60 minutes, there is a part of me that wishes it didn’t take the external forces to get them there. I want to see Dustin Brown bring that lead by example game every night, more than “compete” (my apologies to those who just winced and threw up in their mouth a little) but a “I shall not be denied” attitude that wills himself to bury the puck. Substantively, I refer to a middle lane drive, head up while skating with the puck, looking to make and receive seam passes and consistent traffic in the goalie’s face. That is Dustin’s game. That is why he scored 3 last night. For all of our players, last night is a game in which they can take pride. But pride is fleeting. If they follow it up by laying an egg or they do not consistently play games like it is their last, we simply will not win the Stanley Cup because we will not have earned it and every season we fail to earn it is another season where failure defines our history and destiny.
“You forgot about Jonathan Quick, Scribe.” I did not. I saved the best for last. Quick played a great game last night because he is talented and a tireless competitor. He has the number one spot locked up. It seems Darryl Sutter intends to play him 90% of the remaining games if history is any indicator. He played a couple of poor games but was placed right back in the net. With plenty of excuses available to not be at his best, he earned a shutout (his 7th this season) and made key saves during the second period that allowed the L.A. Kings to maintain their momentum. Jonathan Quick has the inner drive that doesn’t require external motivation for him to play at a consistently high level. The L.A. Kings players need more Jonathan Quick infused in their hearts. Last night’s 4-0 ass kicking of the Blackhawks is a good place to start.