Shaved, shorn and suavely suited, Kings players and staffers gathered onstage in the White House East room Monday and smiled politely as President Obama joked how unfortunate it was that they had defeated his hometown Chicago Blackhawks on the way to winning the Stanley Cup last spring.
Obama quipped about forward Jeff Carter's gap-toothed "hockey smile," the supposed absence of ice in Los Angeles, and Kings Coach Darryl Sutter's gruff manner with the media. "I've tried the one-liners, by the way, with the press," the president said, "and it never seems to work."
He also praised the sustained excellence of the Kings and their corporate cousins, the MLS champion Galaxy, who shared the stage Monday. "Now, as a Chicago fan, I'm a little resentful," said Obama, who was given team jerseys, a miniature Stanley Cup and a silver hockey stick engraved with his name and presidential number (44). "You guys have an embarrassment of riches."
Obama praised both teams and singled out the Kings' rally from a 0-3 series deficit against San Jose in the first playoff round. Players reacted with genuine smiles. "They're laughing," Obama said, "because they're thinking, 'Man, let's try to do it easier next time.' "
One point Obama didn't mention: to do it again they'll have to make the playoffs, and the Kings are still outside the top eight in the West.
Although their White House party and tour kept them off the ice Monday, the Kings might benefit from this visit. Seeing the Cup again — which captain Dustin Brown said still gives him chills — and being recognized as champions could be a form of closure and push them to mentally move on.
"This is the last of the congratulations and all that," Brown said. "Not that that's a distraction to us as a group. We've been through that before. But to get it all done, to have this behind us, allows us to focus on hockey and what we need to do. We're all well aware what we need to do."
Anze Kopitar agreed Monday's visit should turn the Kings' sights forward.
"This is probably the last thing you can possibly relate to last year," said the Slovenian center, who researched the history of the White House before he arrived. "I know Darryl has been saying a lot of that and we've got to look ahead now and we have to. We've got to put this behind us."
They haven't played badly lately. Their come-from-behind win over Obama's Blackhawks on Wednesday was among their best performances this season, and they were punishingly physical and solid defensively in losing at Boston on Saturday. But not one of their forwards is having a career year, and their offense has sputtered.
Their team bond was jolted last week when center Mike Richards was waived and assigned to Manchester (N.H.) of the American Hockey League. (Richards opted out of Monday's ceremony). They might need another jolt, this time on defense.
"We can't afford too many more mistakes," said Luc Robitaille, the Kings' president of business operations. "I think our guys know they've got to get on a run. They've got to get on a run now."
No time like the present, especially since they have no reason to look back anymore.
Bruins on the rebound
When the Bruins visited Southern California in early December, they were battered and had lost their identity. They dropped close games to the Ducks and Kings before being routed at San Jose, part of a 1-4-2 slump that left them chasing an East playoff spot. New Bruins Chief Executive Charles Jacobs made it clear he wasn't happy when he assumed that role early last month.
"For us to be a team that's out of the playoffs is absolutely unacceptable," he told reporters. "Everybody in the executive offices is fully aware of how I feel. … It's been an utter disappointment and a failure. A complete failure."
The Bruins' health improved when forward David Krejci and defenseman Zdeno Chara returned from injuries and the team's record turned around with an 8-1-3 surge. "With a little bit more depth and players in the right places we seem to be on the good side of the equation," Coach Claude Julien said. "Our personnel is a little deeper."
Goaltender Tuukka Rask was 7-1-3 with a 1.61 goals-against average and .949 save percentage in January. "Our style of hockey has always been hard work and forecheck and battle, and when we get away from that the results are not there. We kind of got away from that when we had guys injured," he said. "When they came back it calmed everybody down and the results have been there."
Arizona Coyotes goaltender Louis Domingue will long remember his first NHL start Sunday in Montreal, near his hometown of Mont-Sainte-Hillaire. Playing in front of 30 friends and relatives, he overcame a slow start to earn a 3-2 victory over the Canadiens, the Coyotes' first victory in Montreal since October 1996. ... The Calgary Flames' comeback win over Edmonton on Saturday was their league-leading ninth victory in a game they had trailed after two periods.
Montreal goalie Carey Price has recorded back-to-back 1-0 shutouts, over the New York Rangers and the Capitals, to increase his career shutout total to 29 and tie Patrick Roy for fifth-most in club history. ... Goalie Evgeni Nabokov, ineffective as a backup to starter Ben Bishop for Tampa Bay, cleared waivers Monday. Nabokov, who had a 3.15 goals-against average and .882 save percentage in 11 appearances, might retire rather than report to the minor leagues.