Kings Coach Darryl Sutter, shown hoisting the Stanley Cup trophy in June,… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
CALGARY, Canada — As the Kings go from city to city this season as the defending Stanley Cup champions, they inevitably face the same question:
Is their slow start the result of the proverbial Stanley Cup hangover?
The fact that injuries have taken out of the lineup three of their top six defensemen -- Willie Mitchell, Matt Greene and Alec Martinez -- has far more to do with their struggles than anything else. In addition, with the NHL starting the season three months later than usual because of the lockout, players had plenty of time to recover from their celebrations and get back to work.
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter certainly doesn’t believe in the hangover theory.
“I know what a hangover is, and I didn’t have one,” Sutter said after his team’s optional skate at the Scotiabank Saddledome in preparation for Wednesday’s game against the Flames.
“What does that mean? A hangover for us was a lot of injured players and guys are still injured. We’re playing three defensemen that haven’t played in the NHL, so consistency is what all young players strive for and what all coaches strive for them to accomplish. That’s what it is. We’re a different team and I don’t think there’s anything that held us back other than the injuries.”
Sutter also said the Kings are playing the same style as they did last season during their Cup push, but the three defensemen they’ve had to work into the lineup -- Davis Drewiske, Jake Muzzin and Keaton Ellerby -- aren’t as familiar with the league or with the requirements of playing heavy minutes.
“We just have a different team,” Sutter said. “We don’t have the same experience on the back end. If you look at it, it’s almost identical, a lot of the stats. We didn’t change our style or our system or any of that.”
Ellerby is from Strathmore, east of Calgary. He had to buy 17 tickets for Wednesday’s game for family members.
“They could have stayed home and watched TV,” he said. “I’m just joking. It’s a first-time thing -- maybe one-and-only-time thing. It’s worth it. It’s family and you can’t say no to family.”
Sutter never announces his starting goaltender, but judging by Jonathan Bernier being the first goalie off the ice at the morning skate it’s all but certain Bernier will start against the Flames as the Kings conclude a back-to-back sequence. Bernier won his two previous starts, on Feb. 11 at St. Louis and Feb. 15 over the Columbus Blue Jackets. That kicked off the Kings’ 3-1 surge.
Colin Fraser, who returned from a four-game benching to score the Kings’ first goal in their 3-1 victory at Edmonton on Tuesday, is expected to stay in the lineup. He centered an effective fourth line with Jordan Nolan and Trevor Lewis, though Lewis moved up alongside Mike Richards and Jeff Carter later in the game.
“We put our six forwards together that have given us some offense this year and then there’s eight other ones after that, that haven’t. So we’re just trying to find something that works,” Sutter said.
Sutter also said he was glad to see Fraser finally score. “I like him when he’s in the lineup,” Sutter said. “He and I have a pretty good relationship and I don’t like not having him in the lineup.”
With Fraser getting his first goal this season, the list of regulars still carrying a zero in the goal column shrank a bit. It still includes Drew Doughty (seven assists and -9 defensively), Simon Gagne (five assists and scratched at Edmonton on Tuesday), Lewis — whose two assists against Edmonton were his first points of the season — and Dustin Penner, who has one assist and a -2 rating in seven games.
We’ll have more coverage from Calgary later.
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