The last time Dustin Brown missed this much time, he was 19 and the youngest of 42 players to play for the Kings in one season.
An ankle injury in November 2003 gave him a seat under the arena rafters, where space on the ice is distorted because of the steep view.
“I learned my lesson … that watching from the press box can be a dangerous thing,” Brown said. “I can’t remember who we were playing, but I’m like, ‘Why the hell did he not make that play?’ And then I realized it was Ziggy Palffy, who was definitely the best player on that team.”
The Kings could use Brown as their Palffy, so to speak. He has watched them struggle, either from ice level or television, and there’s no need to adjust the picture. At 2-7-1, they own the franchise’s worst 10-game start since the 1985-86 team began 2-8, and they sit on the verge of a shakeup following their sixth straight loss.
Brown’s return from a finger broken by Anze Kopitar’s shot in the preseason finale arrives as the Kings prepare for seven straight games at home. He is expected to make his season debut Sunday against the New York Rangers.
The Kings will take any positive developments in a season that has placed their flaws under fluorescent light. They’ve progressed some in the last two games but, with five points and minus-18 goal differential, it doesn’t seem like they can climb out of this the way the roster is constructed.
The remaining base that delivered two Stanley Cups hasn’t paved a road out of this and that so-called window for another playoff run almost seems like a pinhole. While the effort was lacking late against the New York Islanders last week, for the last three games they either haven’t conjured a proper offensive attack or converted when they do. It’s not for a lack of trying.
“I don’t think it’s a question of our work or anything like that,” goalie Jonathan Quick said.
General manager Rob Blake is believed to be lukewarm on the trade market, so again it’s up to those inside the dressing room. Ideally for the Kings, they can align with better depth with Brown back in the lineup.
“We underestimate how important Brownie is,” Blake said. “He’s a very important piece to this whole thing … I guess for balance and the look of team. It kind of puts guys in right spots again. Special teams aspect of that, too.”
Brown’s net presence is painfully missed on a power play that is three for 34. Ilya Kovalchuk was brought here specifically to ignite that. Not only has he not scored a power-play goal, his big-shot capability hasn’t really been on full display.
Under increased scrutiny, Kings coach John Stevens keeps trying different line combinations, none of which has lasted for an extended period outside of the recent top line of Alex Iafallo, Kopitar and Tyler Toffoli. A new option is to put Brown back with Kopitar and Iafallo. The three played almost all of last season and combined for 72 goals. Iafallo, one of the few consistent forwards in the lineup, said he misses the vocal leadership of Brown.
“Especially on the bench, I feel like he’s more of a communicator, just giving me advice and telling me to make that next play and that I can make that next play,” Iafallo said. “It’s simple things like that go a long way and help me contribute to that line.”
Brown brought his career back to life last season with 28 goals and a career-best 61 points. He was particularly effective deflecting pucks in front of the net. All he was able to do recently is lead from the sideline. He has only missed 18 games since his first full season in 2005-06, and three of those were because of suspension.
“Everybody’s probably telling us what to do at this point outside of this room, but there’s something about being in it together that is different,” Brown said. “I try to give little things here and there to individual players. I’ve been a part of a few team meetings where I’ve said some stuff, but you’re just trying to help in any way.”
This is both new and familiar territory for Brown, a member of the 2011-12 team whose inertia grew to the point it tuned out coach Terry Murray. He was fired that December and replaced by Darryl Sutter. Thus began two Cup-winning runs in three years.
Hardly anyone is envisioning that with the way the Kings have looked. Many of their veterans are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning, and their prospects either aren’t ready or could be affected developmentally in a losing culture. With Brown expected to be activated, Sheldon Rempal was re-assigned Friday.
“This is the first time I’ve been out like this, so that’s hard in itself,” Brown said. “I think if we were [7-2-1] instead of [2-7-1], it’d be not easy, but manageable. When the team’s struggling, you want to get back and be a part of the solution.”
A sliver of coincidence is the backdrop. Last season, the Kings ended a six-game losing streak with a win at home against the Rangers. Only one thing seems certain Sunday: Brown will have a better view than from the press box.