Coach Darryl Sutter was feisty while leading the Kings through their morning skate Tuesday at Washington’s Verizon Center, and he maintained his edge afterward, deriding a question about the team’s desperation level and saying reporters were baiting him into criticizing players when those reporters should offer the criticism themselves.
With a game against the Capitals later in the day, Sutter barked at players on the ice, leading to an increase in intensity. He also reconfigured the lines to reunite the once-productive trio of Marian Gaborik, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, moving Kyle Clifford back with Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams.
Asked what more he needed from the Kopitar line, Sutter replied, “Maybe they’ve all played as well as they can.”
Does he really think so? “We’re 50 games in. maybe they are,” he said.
Is that an indictment of that trio? “No,” Sutter said. “Again, you guys, it’s always the same thing. You want the coach to criticize a player and then you say that the coach criticized a player. You know who should do it? You should.”
Asked what more he needs from those three, Sutter made a valid point: “They’ve been really good at home. They haven’t been very good on the road.” Kopitar has nine goals and 31 points in 28 home games and is +6 defensively, but he has only two goals and seven points in 18 road games and is -12. Gaborik has 10 goals and 19 points and is +3 in 20 home games, but has five goals, eight points and a -2 defensive rating in 16 road games.
“Maybe it’s a depth thing,” Sutter said. “You shouldn’t isolate, I don’t think.”
He also had a strong response when asked about the Kings’ supposed desperation level. “You’ve got to be careful in pro sports. Desperation is usually when guys slit their own throats. We would prefer not to do that,” he said. “I’ve never been associated with a team that does that. ... We’re not saving a country or saving a life. We’re playing a game. I don’t know what desperation has to do with a hockey game.”
Perhaps urgency is a better word. “We’re playing Washington tonight. We’re not playing anybody that’s behind us or ahead of us in our standings. We’re playing the Washington Capitals. We’ll deal with that,” Sutter said. “That’s how you have success over and over and over, because you don’t let anything from the outside interfere with what you’re trying to do, and if you do that well enough, you win more than you lose. And that’s kind of what we’ve done.”
To win on Tuesday, the Kings will likely have to minimize the impact of Washington winger Alexander Ovechkin, who has scored 15 goals in his last 15 games and shares the league lead in goals (31) and power-play goals (14). Ovechkin has taken a league-high 248 shots, and on Sunday became only the fifth player to score 30 or more goals in each of his first 10 NHL seasons.
“He’s a pretty special player, one of the top offensive players in the league, so especially on the power play just be aware of where he is and where he wants to load up that one-timer,” Kings defenseman Matt Greene said. “And make sure everybody knows what’s going on with him as well.
“He’s got a world-class shot. He shoots it better than anybody else in the world. If you can figure out how he does it, I’m sure everybody would do it.”
Center Jarret Stoll said the Kings won’t change their penalty-killing structure because of Ovechkin, but will be aware and focused when he’s on the ice.
“We know where he’s at. He doesn’t move very much out there on the power play, so we’ve just got to make sure we’re spot-on with our reads,” Stoll said.