Kings hope to regain road success
Most of L.A.'s players think they haven't played as well as they are capable of
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter cracked an ever-so-slight smile when he was asked about his decision to leave San Jose and bring his team back home for two days in between Games 3 and 4 of the Kings' Western Conference semifinal series against the Sharks.
"What are we going to do up there for two days?" Sutter said. "If we would have all stayed up there for two days, we would have been bored last night and today. You're just sitting in the hotel, and there's nothing to do."
Sutter would have you believe there's no difference between playing at home or on the road come playoff time. He'd like to believe the Kings are the same team at Staples Center as they are at the "Shark Tank." Of course, the results don't exactly bear that out.
Last year, his Kings won a record 10 straight road playoff games, and this year, the Kings have lost nine of their past 10 road games. Last year, his Kings stayed in hotel rooms even when they were at home to duplicate the feeling of being on the road, and this year, he's going out of his way to return home in between road playoff games.
"We've won enough in a lot of different venues and a lot of different circumstances," Sutter said. "When you talk about at home or on the road, it's just about the playoffs. Who cares what the record was any other time. It's just about the playoffs."
It would be ideal if the Kings were the same team at home and on the road, but that wasn't the case last season, and it's certainly not the case this season, during which they have won a franchise-best 12 straight home games.
So what do the Kings have to do to regain some of the success they had on the road last season?
The answer is simple if you ask the players in the Kings' locker room.
"We have to score more than one goal," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "[Jonathan Quick] is a great goalie, but at the end of the day, we need to score more than one goal, and we haven't done that. I think we've only scored one goal three times out of four away games."
The Kings have scored only one goal in five of their past six road games, and it's no surprise that the one game in which they scored more than one goal is the one game they won. As good as Quick has been in goal for the Kings, they cannot expect to win 1-0 on the road.
It's critical for the Kings to cycle the puck, get some action in front of the net and make life a little harder for Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi. They haven't been able to do that thus far this series, which is why Sutter wasn't happy with his team even after taking a 2-0 series lead and why he was prompted to make some line changes.
Even with a 2-1 series lead and a 6-3 record this postseason, most of the players on the Kings think they haven't played nearly as well as they are capable of, especially on the road.
"That's not a bad thing," Sutter said. "That's what good players and good teams say. Some teams are just happy to make the playoffs. If you're always trying to find a way to get better, that's a good thing."
Kings right wing Justin Williams believes the Kings haven't take advantage of the power play and peppered Niemi with enough shots. The Kings were outshot 40-27 in Game 3.
"Obviously it's going to be a lot harder to score in someone else's arena, especially with the way teams come out in the playoffs, but I certainly don't want to use that as an excuse after our run last year in the playoffs on the road," he said.
"Starts were big on the road last season. We didn't let any team come at us. We came at them. There was no, 'Let's be ready for the first 10 [minutes], because they're really going to come at us.' It was the other way around. We had a lot of pushback early in games and we sustained it in the whole game. Playing in the Shark Tank is a tough place to play, and we need to push back right away."
Despite not having as much success on the road this season as the Kings did last season and losing Game 3 in heartbreaking fashion in San Jose, Sutter didn't believe that would be a factor in Tuesday night's Game 4.
"There's zero momentum," Sutter said. "Once you get in the playoffs, there's no momentum unless somebody is way better than somebody, which as you see, nobody is. There's zero momentum. If there is a carryover, you're probably not a playoff team anyways."
The Kings don't have to be as dominant on the road as they were last season in order to advance to the Western Conference finals. All they need is a win Tuesday to put them in position to close out the series back in Los Angeles on Thursday.
"We've played better at home but we can't rest and be comfortable with being a great home team," Williams said. "We need to be killers on the road. Coming back with a 3-1 lead is something we're certainly going to do our darndest to do."