The Los Angeles Kings take on cross-town rival the Anaheim Ducks tonight at Staples Center. The puck drops at 7:00 for the fourth game in the series between the Kings and the Ducks. Los Angeles leads the series 2-1, and they are hoping to make it a 3-1 lead under the lead of new head coach Darryl Sutter.
Another new addition to tonight’s game is the much desired return of Mike Richards. The 26-year-old Center has been out since December 1 with a head injury and concussion-like symptoms. Having Richards back will hopefully help get the Kings out of their scoring slump. There’s hope to move out of last place in the NHL in terms of average goals a game under new coach Sutter, Richards return, and a newfound energy among the team.
Wednesday’s Kings practice was Darryl Sutter’s first time out on the ice coaching the players. The practice started at 10:30 am and lasted a good hour. The place was so crowded it was hard to find parking. There were news crews, fans, and TV personalities including Patrick O’Neal, Bob Miller and Jim Fox. Other familiar faces included NHL Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille, General Manager of the Kings Dean Lombardi, LA Kings Insider Rich Hammond, and superstar Anze Kopitar’s dad and younger brother Gasper, who is currently playing for the USHL
Watching Darryl Sutter coach the team I found that he seemed very personable as he was taking the time to talk to players individually. There were a few changes I noticed during the practice. For one, the tempo seemed to be up. The players had good energy, quick puck movement and there was a lot of goal scoring. Another noticeable change was the lines and pairs.
The first line included Captain Dustin Brown, Assistant Captain Anze Kopitar, and Brad Richardson. The Second line had Simon Gagne, Mike Richards, and Trevor Lewis. Dustin Penner, Jarret Stoll, and Justin Williams made up the third line. The fourth line switched up throughout the practice but included Kyle Clifford, Colin Fraser, Kevin Westgarth, Andrei Loktionov, and Trent Hunter. Trent Hunter is marked as a healthy scratch for tonight’s game against the Ducks. The defensive pairs were as follows: Rob Scuderi (whose wife just gave birth to their 3rd child this past Tuesday) and Drew Doughty, who played one of his best games of the season Monday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Defensemen Willie Mitchell and Slava Voynov were paired together. The other two pairs of defensemen featured Jack Johnson playing with Matt Greene, and Alec Martinez paired with Davis Drewiske.
The last half of practice, the team was split into two, with one side practicing shooting on an empty net and the other half playing a scrimmage. After a little while, goalie Jonathan Quick came into net and players practiced shooting on him. Quick will be in goal for tonight’s game.
I liked that Darryl Sutter took the time to talk to players one on one and got to know them. Towards the end of practice, Sutter spoke alone with Kyle Clifford and even gave him the “fist bump” like they were old friends. At the end of practice, I hear its customary that the rookie player has to clean up the pucks. I watched as number 48, Andrei Loktionov flipped most of the pucks into a basket using his hockey stick. It was a pretty neat trick. As usual, #19 Kevin Westgarth was the last player on the ice shooting pucks and skating. It’s really admirable to see a player work so hard and be so dedicated.
Overall I would say the practice was full of energy and excitement for this new start. Hopefully Los Angeles will be able to begin this new journey with Sutter’s first win as the Kings’ coach tonight over the Anaheim Ducks.