Kings have eyes on NHL prize now, Olympics later
Before the Kings faced Dallas on Saturday with a chance to take over the lead in the Western Conference if they won, Coach Terry Murray reminded his players what was at stake.
On Monday, with first place overall in the NHL beckoning them if they defeat the Vancouver Canucks tonight at GM Place, Murray planned to again speak to his players about the pleasant possibilities they can turn into reality.
“We’re going to talk about what we have in front of us before the Christmas break. We’ve got three big games. Nine periods that are going to be really important for us,” he said after the morning skate, expanding his horizon to include the team’s games at Edmonton on Tuesday and at Calgary on Thursday.
“Get everybody to dig in and do the right thing. When you’re on the road, you don’t have to put the show on. You’ve got to check properly. And coming into this building tonight, against Vancouver, we know they have a big homestand. They’re really going to rally around this. They’ve got a premier line in [Henrik and Daniel Sedin] and we’ve got to have great awareness whenever they’re on the ice.”
Center Jarret Stoll said Monday morning that he wasn’t aware the top overall spot would be at stake.
“I don’t even think we knew that. That’s just how we’ve been focused and going about our business,” he said. “We didn’t even know where we were in the Western Conference until before last game…
“It’s just another motivation factor for us to get ready for this game and get two points out of it. That’s all we’ve been worried about. That’s all we really care about. Some of the games, maybe we didn’t deserve to get two points out of but we did. On the other hand, some games we played well and didn’t get any points. Over a long season it just works out that way and it’s a matter of trying to be as consistent as possible.”
The local media, assembled in strong numbers, seemed especially disappointed that Ryan “Captain Canada” Smyth isn’t on this trip. He’s still recovering from an upper-body injury that could jeopardize his chances of playing for Canada in the Vancouver Olympics in February.
But Drew Doughty -- also a Team Canada candidate -- faced quite a few Olympic-related questions, as did Americans Jack Johnson, Rob Scuderi and Dustin Brown and Russia’s Alexander Frolov.
Murray said he’s hoping players won’t be distracted by their Olympic dreams, and that’s a tough challenge because the teams will be announced by the end of this month -- or, in the case of Team USA, to be announced Jan. 1. The Games begin Feb. 12, though the men’s hockey tournament doesn’t begin until Feb. 16.
“We’re such a young group of guys that I’m a little nervous that if you start looking down the road…you know if you’re in October and you’re looking at what’s going to happen through the Olympics, ‘Am I going to be on the team?’” Murray said.
“Saying that, I know that’s on their mind. I think Dustin Brown has had that on his mind for a while. He’s been a little tense at times, coming off the ice, pressing and frustrated by not scoring, but obviously he’s going to be there. He’s relaxing, he’s playing better here in the last half-dozen games or so.
“I’ve really tried to stay away from that big picture. I hope and think that players are at the point where they feel they just have to go out and play good for us and let the cards fall where they may after that. Obviously the goal is for a lot of guys to be on that team, and it’s a special honor to get there. But it’s also the priority of playing for the L.A. Kings and playing well and I think it’s starting to set in, ‘Hey, let’s not worry about that. If it happens, it’s great.’”
Winger Wayne Simmonds was scheduled to undergo knee surgery today at about 1 p.m. A club spokesman said the Kings would issue an update when news was available.
The lineup for tonight will be the same as the last game, with Davis Drewiske as the only healthy scratch. Corey Elkins, called up from Manchester on an emergency basis, is scheduled to meet the team in Edmonton for Tuesday’s game there.
More later from snowy, chilly Vancouver at www.latimes.com/sports
-- Helene Elliott, in Vancouver