Dustin Penner scored 29 goals for the Ducks in the 2006-07 season and 32 goals… (Abelimages / Getty Images )
After missing a game because of back spasms that began when he sat down for a pancake breakfast, Dustin Penner cleverly turned a potentially embarrassing incident into a running joke that enhanced his image and could benefit the Kings' charitable foundation.
If the burly left wing could turn his miserable season around as effectively as he turned the pancake incident into a public relations bonanza, the Kings might not rank near the bottom of the NHL in scoring.
"Working on it," Penner said Saturday morning as the Kings prepared to face the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night at Staples Center.
Penner scored 29 goals for the Ducks in the 2006-07 season and 32 goals for Edmonton in 2009-10 but has struggled since the Kings acquired him from the Oilers in February. He had only two goals for them in 19 games last season and had two in 30 games this season when his back seized up and prevented him from playing against Columbus on Jan. 7.
He explained the next day that he was about to eat his wife's "delicious" pancakes when the spasms hit, but his candor and his character were questioned. "I've taken a lot worse in my career," he said. "I had a little fun with it."
He contacted longtime Kings fan John Hoven, who runs Mayors Manor and asked if he could write a letter to tell his side of the story. He went through a few drafts — "The one that eventually came out was a lot tamer," he said — but his tongue-in-cheek tone was just right.
The pancakes were "vegetarian," he said, and the injury occurred "as I was sitting down to eat, not mid-bite. And yes, I did finish them," he wrote.
He dubbed his affliction "Sudden Onset Back Spasms," or SOBS. "I'm a little hurt, to tell you the truth, that the plight of my people isn't being taken seriously," he said. He also announced plans for a raffle in which the prize would be the opportunity to join him for a pancake breakfast, with proceeds going to charity.
His marketing genius — a talent the Kings and NHL should note — immediately went viral. A fan brought a box of pancake mix to the Kings' game in Calgary and Penner autographed it. "They had a pancake-eating contest in Edmonton. People were giving me a lot of free syrup, so I'm saving money that way," he said. Someone in Vancouver placed a bottle of syrup behind the visitors' bench Tuesday, and it was featured on the Kings' telecast as well as across Canada. Coincidentally — or not — Penner scored a goal that night in the Kings' 3-2 shootout victory.
Hoven said the Kings are working with him and that IHOP wants to host the pancake event, whose details he expects to be complete in the next few days. "I'm completely blown away by how this thing has taken off," said Hoven, who runs the website full time. "He's turned this story on its ear."
Now, if only Penner could do the same with his season.
"I just want him to be consistent," said Coach Darryl Sutter, who was 8-1-6 in his first 15 games behind the bench. "Everything's measured with him because of his size and his scoring. Try to take that pressure off him just to be a consistent, two-way guy."
Sutter said that Penner, 6-foot-4 and 242 pounds, isn't a power forward. "But what you've got to use the size for is puck protection. And scoring goals," Sutter said. "Quite honestly, he does a good job standing in front of the net, but more of it is getting to the loose pucks and then protecting it and using it. That's where he has to use that size because he's not a slow player."
"It's like I tell the coaches: We need him from 7:30 to 10 o'clock every other day — 7:30 to 10. Think about it, eh? Every other day for 180 days. That's how I've got to look at it and approach him. Because you know what? We need more.
"We need more production from four or five guys. We're hanging on to a playoff spot, and if we'd had four or five more points, we'd be competing for first overall, so that means just four or five more goals."
For Penner, that should be goals first, pancakes second.