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HOCKEY

Kings want to get out of the gate quicker

Slow starts have cost them in their last two games, both shootout losses. They play the Ducks Wednesday in Anaheim.

February 18, 2009|Helene Elliott

Given the Kings' failure to show up in the first period of their last two games, it was no surprise they didn't show up for their scheduled practice Tuesday at the Toyota Center.

This absence was planned -- Coach Terry Murray gave players a day off the ice before back-to-back games at Anaheim tonight and at San Jose on Thursday.

He didn't grant them a reprieve from analyzing failed rallies and shootout losses against Edmonton and Atlanta.

"We basically wasted 20 minutes with our start," forward Patrick O'Sullivan said. "We can't settle for that one point because we need the wins and we've got to find a way to come out from the start and be ready to play."

The team held a meeting and some players met with General Manager Dean Lombardi. The theme: believe you can win.

"I love the fact you fight your way back and don't quit. That I've got to give them," Lombardi said. "You put yourself in this hole but you didn't quit. But good teams don't put themselves in that hole. And that tells me you are not mentally prepared to deal with expectations."

That's understandable because they've played no pressure games.

"I'm proud of you because you're here quicker than I thought," he said of the gist of his message, "but now that you're here you'd better learn from it."

In winning at Ottawa, Washington, New Jersey and Long Island, the Kings were relentless and smart. They came home and got two points in three games, playing in spurts and straying from their defensive foundation.

They're still within reach of their first playoff berth since 2001-02 but must pass several teams, including the Ducks. Both local teams haven't made the playoffs in the same season; the last time both missed out was in 2003-04.

The stumbling Ducks, who could be dismantled at the March 4 trade deadline, say they ignore the standings.

"What we can do -- what we should be doing -- is going out and competing as hard as we can and playing the best hockey we can as a team here," defenseman Scott Niedermayer said after their 8-4 loss to Atlanta on Sunday. "And that's all we can do, no matter how many games are left."

The Kings are on an upswing but must figure out what they want to be when they grow up -- which is happening rapidly. "When you go into a game and you expect to win, you have to deliver," Murray said, "and I think we have a tough time understanding and grabbing ahold of that."

Veteran defenseman Sean O'Donnell said the problem is purely mental.

"We're not doctors working 80-hour weeks. We have a certain job where we have a couple hours every second or third day where we need to bring our focus," he said. "Physically can we do it? Yeah. Do we need to improve our focus, our mental preparation? Yeah, and I think that's maybe a sign of a team that's a little younger and maybe hasn't played a lot of big games in their NHL career."

--

helene.elliott@latimes.com

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