Early Approach to Injuries a Winner
Jason who? Adam what?
True to their mantra of making the best of what they have instead of bemoaning what they’ve lost, the Kings rolled out the blueprint for the way they’ll have to play while Jason Allison and Adam Deadmarsh are nursing injuries -- however long that might be.
Tenacious and resilient, efficient on power plays though shaky in the penalty-killing department, the Kings overcame a flat first period in their Staples Center season debut to rally for a 4-3 victory over the Ottawa Senators, who last season compiled a league-leading 113 points. If this was a gauge of where the Kings stand, their progress has been considerable, whether tallied in yards or meters.
After four games, they’re 3-1 and could have been 4-0 if not for a third-period collapse against Detroit last Thursday. Their comeback against Ottawa was as impressive as their failure against Detroit was deflating.
But don’t declare their problems over yet. They’re taking this season one challenge at a time, and they’ve already had their share with injuries to Allison (whiplash), Deadmarsh (concussion) and Mattias Norstrom (bruised chest). This was one step on a long journey, and they can’t afford to stumble.
“Every game is a measuring stick,” defenseman Jaroslav Modry said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Ottawa or any other team. Every team has got high expectations. Ottawa did some really good things in the past and in last year’s playoffs, and that’s how we want to do it.”
The Kings’ defense needs work and so does their penalty killing -- leaving 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara uncovered for a power-play goal in the second period was a key gaffe -- but they played with spirit and grit. For one night, at least, they silenced questions surrounding the prolonged absences of two of their most talented players.
“I think for one thing we’ve got to quit worrying about who’s not in the lineup,” Sean Avery said. “This is our lineup. We’re the Los Angeles Kings. This is our game and this is the way we have to play to get two points ... this is a Stanley Cup team, whether or not people see it.”
Yet, as exhilarating as the victory was for them and the crowd of 18,180, the Kings know they will need Allison and Deadmarsh to compete with the perennial powers in the tough West but don’t know when the duo will return.
It’s difficult to believe club executives were deliberately deceptive about their status in order to sell tickets. Even if their motivation was sinister, they couldn’t have profited much. Anyone familiar enough with Allison and Deadmarsh to care about their status probably already had season tickets or is loyal enough to buy tickets no matter who’s in the lineup; both are outstanding players, but neither is a big box-office lure in the mold of Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux.
But if anyone should know to avoid definitive statements about head injuries, it’s General Manager Dave Taylor, whose career was ended by the effects of repeated concussions.
Say, if you must, the club is optimistic Allison and Deadmarsh will be ready for the season opener. Say all signs point to them being ready or that barring any setbacks, which can happen during the course of recovering from head injuries, they should be ready.
Instead of caution, the Kings gave in to foolish optimism. As late as Sept. 9 Taylor said of the duo, “We expect them to be 100% by the start of the season.” Coach Andy Murray said Sept. 20 Deadmarsh was being held back by a groin pull, not post-concussion problems, and suggested he might play the last three exhibition games.
However, neither has played and neither skated Wednesday.
Wishful thinking “was part of it,” Murray said of his expectations both would play in the season opener. “You hope they’re ready, and that’s what we thought, that over time it would get better and they would hopefully be ready to go.”
But it’s that kind of wish-fueled thinking that got the Kings in trouble last season, as even Murray said. It’s the reason he edits injured players out of game films -- Deadmarsh and Allison were deleted from the film Murray showed before last Thursday’s opener at Detroit -- and why he schedules workout and treatment time for injured players before the rest of the team arrives for practices and game-day skates.
“Last year we kept living on that hope, I think, and I think that was part of our problem in the month of January,” Murray said. “We had battled our tails off right up until Christmas and thought they’d be back and we were waiting for them. Right now, we’re not waiting and we’re just moving ahead. It’s like they’re not part of the team right now.”
So far, Murray’s unorthodox approach is succeeding. There’s nothing to be gained if players indulge in wishful thinking about the two forwards returning soon, even if Taylor and Murray seem to have allowed themselves that luxury this summer.
“We’ve got to go about our business,” Murray said. “You get extra guys hanging around the training room and it makes everybody feel bad. We need to feel good about the guys that are playing.”
By any measure, they had ample reason to feel good Wednesday.