However you measure it, facing the Penguins is big for the Kings
No matter how often the Kings said they're not approaching tonight's game against the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins as a gauge of their own progress -- and they've said it often the last few days, including after Thursday's game-day skate -- you know they're geared up for this. And they should be.
Defenseman Rob Scuderi, who left the Penguins to sign with the Kings as a free agent over the summer, said Wednesday that the Kings are hoping to be like the Penguins someday. So why not measure yourself up against the Penguins tonight?
That's not to say the Kings can -- or should -- copy the Penguins' game plan. The Kings don't have the top-to-bottom skill to do that. But persistence isn't measured in point totals. A poised, smart, disciplined approach is their best chance at competing well.
The Penguins "have a lot of momentum going in this particular game," Kings Coach Terry Murray said today. "They’re playing extremely well. And being the defending champions, they always want to find a way to get off to the right start at the start of the year and they found a way to do that.
"That’s a concern, that we match the energy and momentum that they’re going to start the game with. And their goaltending has been very good. We have to know going in here that we’re not going to just shoot the puck into the net uncontested. We’re going to have to get traffic, get a lot of second and third efforts in front of [Marc-Andre] Fleury. He’s that quality of a goaltender. He’s very quick. He’s got tremendous legs. He protects the low part of the net extremely well. Traffic and making it more difficult for him is going to be a key part of the game."
So is sticking to their own game plan instead of trying to copy the Penguins.
"When you win the Stanley Cup, you’ve got a high skill level. There’s lots of players that can go out and do the job," Murray said. "The danger for you as a team playing against those top-end, skilled teams is that you start to play the same game and you want to get into a track meet. You think you have the same skill level and you’re now getting away from playing the hard game that’s got you where you are: playing physical, getting on the forecheck, stirring up loose pucks and again, making it hard in front of the net with a lot of traffic.
"If you’re going to play the game without really skating in the right areas or just thinking you’re going to pass the puck into the net, there’s a big trap there, and next thing you know you’re going to be looking from below and saying, ‘We’ve got to get two, three goals to catch up on this team.' And it’s going to be very hard to do."
Murray has already done a good coaching job in advising players to say this isn't a measuring-stick game and that they're no more psyched for this than any other. But winger Teddy Purcell said it's not quite an ordinary game.
"It's a big two points," he said, "but this one will definitely feel probably a little bit nicer than most other ones if we do beat them tonight. We had a good couple of days practice and we’re ready to go."
Purcell, incidentally, acknoweledged the obvious about his own game. "Things haven't been going as well as I planned the last couple of games," said Purcell, who had two goals in the Kings' first three games and none in 12 games since then.
"But that's part of the season. You have to be consistent as you can. I’m just going to keep doing what Coach Murray wants, and that’s the play away from the puck and digging in and keep competing, and hopefully I’ll work my way up."
Tonight's lineup was expected to be the same as for the Kings' 5-3 victory at Phoenix on Monday, with Peter Harrold and Randy Jones the healthy scratches.
Tonight's game is big for another reason: It's the final event of the Kings' father-son week. The 15 fathers who accompanied the team to Phoenix and have shared meals and quality time with their sons got the Kings a win on Monday, and Murray was hoping for a repeat.
"There's always a little bit more of a dig-in from the players who have their dads here. Everybody wants to play well for their parents," Murray said. "If there is a big win out of this one, maybe we’ll extend it for a long period of time."
More later at www.latimes.com/sports.
-- Helene Elliott