The Kings are in 10th place in the Conference. Sounds bad, right? 16 games into the 48 game season means we are at the 1/3 mark, and it might seem the Kings are in trouble. The fact is the Kings are in a good spot, and especially good considering the adversity faced so far.
With 18 points, the Kings are 2 games over .500. Today, the 10th place Kings are only one point out of 8th with two games in hand against Dallas, one point out of 7th with one game in hand against San Jose, and one point out of sixth with a game in hand against Phoenix. Nashville is in fifth with 21 points, and the Kings are only 3 points behind them with a whopping 3 games in hand!
If we had been told we would play only 5 home games out of the first 16, that Greene and Mitchell would have played just one game between them in that time, and that we would then lose Martinez along the way, too, we would have been worried.
Think how worried we’d be if we knew we’d be relying on 2 defensemen that last year played only 9 NHL games each in Drewiske and Ellerby, as well as the wily old veteran Jake Muzzin who played 11 games two seasons ago, in 2010-2011.
Half of the Kings current defensive corps have never been full-time roster players, yet these guys have stepped in and with some amazing management by Coach Sutter, they have largely held their own quite well.
Darryl Sutter doesn’t talk much, and when he does, it’s all gee-whiz shrugs, and short sentences describing how simple and obvious everything is. Probably Russian chess masters say the same thing about their game. It’s all very simple, to them.
And last year, in the playoffs it might have seemed simple to us, too. The Kings game never fell off, there were very few lineup changes made and those few were mostly due to injury. None of the top lines were affected, and the only mild controversy was inserting Simon Gagne into the lineup in defiance of the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” axiom. It could easily seem that Coaching the Kings was indeed simple, just telling guys to get out there and play hard and win.
This year, though, Coach Sutter has shown us his true form. Injury, underachievement and tight scheduling have forced him to institute a complete shakeup of the team’s positions, across not just the Defense but all Forward lines, too. Even the Goalie position has caused Darryl Sutter to adapt, in contradiction to his usual style and even contradicting his own statements on the subject.
At the Kings first press conference after the lockout, Darryl Sutter said, “‘No. 1 goalies in this league are hard to come by. That’s the reason why the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup last year, because their goalie was their best player. I assume that they play 90 to 100 percent of the games.”
We used to debate whether Terry Murray was over-playing Quick; in 2005-2006 Sutter played Mikka Kiprusoff in 74 of the 82 games. And that’s only 90 percent…
In that press conference Sutter was clearly talking about Jonathan Quick. However, to date Jonathan Bernier has already had 3 starts plus a relief appearance of 53 minutes. Unless Quick is going to finish out with 32 games in a row, that 90 percent thing is just not gonna happen. Sutter adjusts, Sutter adapts. And it works.
Nowhere has this ability to adapt, and nowhere has this flexibility based on his deep insight of his player’s abilities manifested more than in Sutter’s mixing of the forwards into viable, winning lineups.
Recently, Sutter put Trevor Lewis in at Left Wing with Richards and Carter, at under a minute to play in a tie game. Lewis made the play that won the game, by carrying, holding and then shooting the puck that Carter was able to deflect. It worked, so Sutter stuck with it, and the result was Trevor Lewis having 2 goals and 4 points this 1/3 season, compared to 3 goals and 7 points in 72 games last season.
Coach Sutter had a read on a guy, and he let that read tell him what to do. It probably seemed simple to Sutter. It’s not rocket science, right? Or is it…
When it was going well last year in the playoffs (really well!) Coach Sutter never changed lines except due to a few injuries. He didn’t have to. This year, circumstances caused Coach Sutter to play career Right Wings on the Left (Nolan, Lewis) and a career Left Wing on the Right (King). Dustin Brown has played both Wings, Carter has played Center and Wing, Richards has played 2nd and 3rd line Center, Stoll has played 3rd and 4th line Center, Fraser has played Wing and Center… You see where this is going, right? It is easier to discuss the few guys that have not been juggled into multiple positions than those many that have.
The current situation is a testament to the Kings players, gutting out a tough schedule with key injuries, and new guys filling in. Players have had to adapt to new positions and new linemates, new assigned roles and new rules, too. One could say that 10th place is an under-achievement for the defending Stanley Cup Champs. With Darryl Sutter guiding them, though, I think we know better than that. It’s simple, right?