Stanley Cup jealousy … the great and not-so-noble motivator.
The Kings looked into the past to analyze how they have reached their lofty level, winning the Stanley Cup twice in the last three seasons. Their second banner will be raised Wednesday night at Staples Center before the season opener against the San Jose Sharks.
"It was the first time you saw a championship banner with the Kings' logo on it," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said of the 2012 Cup win. "You see so many Lakers [banners] and stuff like that. You're not jealous, but it's, 'Hey, we should be up there too.' "
Those emotions, in part, fueled the Kings to the 2014 Cup victory. They put together the lessons of 2012 and the draining physical playoff run of 2013, which finished with a loss to the eventual champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, in the Western Conference final.
Those were some of the pieces of the puzzle that helped them survive three Game 7s in the spring. That run included an epic first round against San Jose, the Sharks once holding a 3-0 series lead.
"One of the things that drives us is, sometimes, jealousy," right wing Justin Williams said Tuesday after practice. "I see someone with the Stanley Cup and it's like a wife or someone. I see someone else holding it and I get jealous and upset. And I want it back.
"That was kind of the feeling that we had after we lost to Chicago and they won the Cup a couple of years ago."
Said Kings captain Dustin Brown: "You have a greater appreciation for winning.… Prior to 2012, losing in the playoffs [stunk] but that was a whole new meaning now that we've won. We understand what winning is and how much fun it is.
"Now when you lose, it hurts that much more."
The players sounded especially eager for meaningful games after a preseason without a loss in regulation, the Kings finishing 5-0-2. Coach Darryl Sutter said some veterans told him a week ago that they were ready for the season.
"Once it goes up, we're over it," Doughty said of the banner. "To be honest, as players we want the ceremony to be as short as possible. We don't want it dragging on and having us standing out there for 20 minutes."
The NHL's lockout meant that the Kings' banner-raising ceremony to celebrate the 2012 victory did not occur until 2013, in the middle of January. Not only was the ceremony lengthy, but also the Kings came out and looked flat in a 5-2 loss to the Blackhawks. Additionally, Kings defenseman Matt Greene hurt his back, an injury that affected most of his regular season.
"We got slapped around pretty good in that game," Greene said.
Said Doughty: "We didn't play well at all. We know that. We know we can't do that again. Teammates in here won't let that happen and the coaching staff won't let that happen. We have a new approach to this game."
They have been particularly focused and businesslike this fall, particularly starting goalie Jonathan Quick, who had offseason wrist surgery. He appears to have answered all the necessary questions in preseason, having played in a significant parts of three games.
Quick already sounded like his midseason, focused self the other day when asked about the banner raising. He was accommodating but wasn't summoning his sentimental side.
"That was all last year," he said. "It's a new season. They're going to pull the banner up and we're going to play a hockey game. It's all about playing the hockey game."
Said Doughty: "We don't play for second or third place. We play to get first place. It's extremely tough to do. We know that's expected of us now."
According to Kings Coach Darryl Sutter, the framework for this season was put in place by the coaches during the playoff run in the spring. It unfolded during the many plane rides during the postseason, aided later by input from some of the veterans.
Once the players arrived in training camp, the testing merely reinforced what Sutter mostly knew about his team — familiarity and stability has its benefits. Sutter has been with the Kings since late 2011 and there has been scant turnover from last season.
"You think you know your players well enough to see where they're at," Sutter said. "I can tell when we're on the ice. I can tell halfway through practice. I can tell 10 minutes into the game. I can tell by looking at them. I can tell by talking to them.
"It's not just some scientific physiological test."