Saturday, November 21, 2009

Revisiting a Rivalry - Flames vs. Kings

For fans that have only been following the Kings since their move downtown to Staples Center, today's game doesn't mean much. It's just one of those annoying Saturday afternoon games. For long time fans, a game versus the Flames stirs emotions from nearly 20 years ago when Calgary vs Los Angeles was a game that everybody circled on their calendar.

After the Kings traded for Gretzky in '88 things really started to heat up - even though Calgary fans already had issues with the Great One from his days in Edmonton and the scars left by The Battle of Alberta games. Once the playoffs rolled around after Wayne's first season in LA...well, it was on. The Kings were fresh off their first round win over the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Oilers, in 7 games. Unfortunately, the Kings lost to Calgary in the second round that year - while the Flames went on to win the Cup.

With a rivalry now in full swing it was inevitable the two teams would meet again in the playoffs the following year. Once again, the Kings defeated the reigning Stanley Cup Champions in the playoffs, dispatching the Flames and any thoughts they had of a repeat run. Perhaps even more memorable was Mike Krushelnyski's overtime goal in game six. It's one of those goals that will replayed forever...

The Kings went on to win the Smythe Division in 1990-91 and then made their own run to the Cup finals in '92-93. Along the way there were plenty of other memorable games vs the Flames, with lots of penalties...and some fines and suspensions too. There was the game where the penalty boxes were so full that Sandstorm had to sit on Luc's lap. In March of '91 Kings coach Tom Webster was suspended 4 games for an altercation with the Flames' Doug Gilmour. But, he was just getting warmed up. The following season Webster was suspended again, this time for 12 games, and fined $10k for throwing a stick at referee Kerry Fraser.

Then, there were the players. Long before there was ever a Sean Avery, there was the original pest - a diminutive man in height with a heart and drive like no other. Theo Fleury was the guy that everybody loved to hate. And then hate some more. If you went to those games at the Forum, you have to remember the lady that sat near the penalty box with her cowbell. If only she could have suited up for a game or two.

Today the Flames arrive in town with two of the best defenseman in the league - Jay Bouwmeester and Dion Phaneuf. That's a blue line tandem the likes of which the Kings hope to repeat themselves in a few years with Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty.

Lastly, let's not forget Olli Jokinen. In 1997 he was the Kings first round draft pick and supposedly the future of the franchise. Just two years later - with the Kings about to move into Staples Center - he was sent packing for Ziggy Palffy. At the trade deadline last year Jokinen was again on the move, this time from Phoenix to Calgary.

Plenty of memories between two teams that are searching for a return to the playoffs this season. Perhaps come Spring, they'll meet again.

The Mayor

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hextall on NHL Live

Kings Vice Presidnet and Assistant General Manager Ron Hextall joined NHL Live hosts EJ Hradek and Deb Placey for about 15 minutes this morning. Given all the jokes about the Kings becoming the Flyers West (see yesterday's article), it was a little comical when they introduced him as an executive of the Flyers. Oops!

Below are the other highlights:

* Dave Tippett told EJ that Hex liked to talk during the games, sometimes even announcing the game while in goal. Ron said he tried to talk to his forwards and defenseman as much as possible. They always use to say 'make ears eyes'. Any advantage you can get you want to use it.

* At the recent GM meetings there was a lot of talk about goaltenders playing the puck and the area they can move around in. Ron said: "I don't prefer the trapezoid. However, it's a happy medium to not letting goalies play the puck at all. The idea is to create the forecheck. Yet, it exposes your defenseman against hard hits. So, there are two things I dont like about it - no interference, plus the trapezoid where the goalie cant go out and move it in the corners. I'm also not sold that it creates the forecheck. Smart dump ins by players are underrated. I'm not sure coaches stress them enough. Cross corner dumps or soft dumps, I'm not sure players do it right. I would take it out if given a vote, but it wouldn't be one of the first issues I would go after."

* Re: Jonathan Quick - He's very athletic, a good kid. We fast tracked him last year and he did a good job for us. This year he has been inconsistent. He's played a lot of games this year and will continue to do so. He's our guy. He has a chance to be a top 10 goalie, we're very excited about him.

* Re: Frolov - We want to see more urgency in his game, he needs to step it up. On a lot of nights we want to see more from him. He's a very good hockey player, could be great if he'd improve his consistency. We've made no secret about wanting more from him.

* You scored a goal against the Bruins and you used to play for the Flyers. Any thoughts on the Winter Classic? Well, not a lot has changed; both are big strong physical teams. The guts of the organization haven't changed and the identity of the teams haven't changed. Quite frankly, that's the kind of team I prefer. I think that's how you win and go far in the playoffs, with teams like that. It's going to be a great game.

* How about the Kings in a Winter Classic? That would be great. They was an outdoor game in Vegas many years ago with the Kings. (note: I wonder if he knew the NHL Network is replaying that game several times next weekend, nice plug Ron)

* Talk about the battle for positioning in the Western Conference: It's going to a battle all the way to the end for sure. You see teams like Vancouver, Nashville - even St Louis, Edmonton - you expect them to pick it up beyond even where they've been so far. It's going to be a battle all the way to the end. Even Anaheim will get it going at some point and they'll be in the mix. That whole theory of the playoffs starting the first day of the season, I'm not so sure it's not true anymore.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Philly East vs Philly West?

In the early 90s the big joke was how the Kings had become Edmonton-South. Of course you had Gretzky; but then came Kurri, Coffey and a gang of others. Heck, Grant Fuhr even stopped by for a cup of coffee.

More recently the jokes have turned into Philadelphia-West given CM Dean Lombardi and coach Terry Murray's links to their former team. So with the Flyers in town tonight to take on the Kings this is another of those "big games" early in the season.

Here are seven things you should know before the puck drops at 7:30...

* Dieter Ruehle is doing the National Anthem. I'm not sure if they couldn't find a singer for tonight or they just wanted to push his name out there to remind long time fans of the Fabulous Forum days. Either way, sounds good.

* The Kings and Flyers have been rumored to be trade partners a few times in recent months - and for good reason. Yet, if there was any type of player swap to occur this season the one guy that sure would be PERFECT for the Kings is Scott Hartnell. There aren't too many guys like him in the league.

* On paper, these are two pretty evenly matched teams. When scoring first Philly is 11-2-1, the Kings are 10-2-2. When leading after two periods the Flyers are 10-0-1, the Kings 8-0-0. In OT the Flyers are 3-1, the Kings 3-2. In November the Flyers are 5-1-0 (10 points), the Kings are 5-3-0 (10 points).

* You want balance - look at the Flyers shot totals by period: First 189, Second 183, Third 188. LA continues to take the majority of their shots in the second, their fewest in the third.

* The difference in this game will likely be the power play. The Kings PK has been dismal this year to say the least. They rank 27th overall and 28th at home. Meanwhile, the Flyers power play is first overall, 9th on the road. For the Kings to win they need to stay out of the box and/or have strong kills if they take any penalties.

* With Ryan Smyth out for the next month there will be several line-up changes tonight. The Flyers will provide a big test for the revamped Kings. LA will need continued production from Kopitar, even without his linemate and BFF.

* While the Flyers are no longer the bruisers they once were, three different players each have three or more fighting majors this season. Who leads the team with six? Ian Laperriere, the former Kings fan favorite. It would be a little surprising if he dropped the gloves tonight though. He tends not to do that when playing the Kings the last few years. We shall see.

The Mayor

Interview (podcast) with Ian Laperriere

Interview with Dave 'the Hammer' Schultz - former Flyer and King

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hugging the Post w/ Kelly Hrudey

Goaltending has historically been one of the weakest parts of the Los Angeles Kings. Current GM, Dean Lombardi, has often talked about the need to build a team from the net out. Hence, the organization's current focus on developing goaltenders.

After Rogie Vachon left the team in '78 it's been a revolving door of netminders for most of the past 30 years, with a few exceptions. Since the Gretzky trade in '88 Kelly Hrudey has been one of the lone bright spots in the crease. He's the guy that fans point to when asked about the last time the Kings had a great goalie.

Kelly played in LA for eight years, including the run to the Finals in '93. These days he keeps up with the NHL through his work at the CBC in Canada. We sat down with him recently to look back at his career and a few other hockey related topics...

You grew up in Edmonton and the Oilers came to town as part of the WHA when you were fairly young. Was that your team growing up?

I certainly was a fan of the Oilers. But I was a die hard fan of the Canadians and the Leafs. The NHL was the real game to me. Although the WHA was important, as it allowed me to see many games in person - I thought the real stars were the guys in the NHL.

The draft is always a special time in a player's career. Yet, the draft wasn't the big deal back then that it is now. What memories do you have?

Well we weren't a sports family, so we didn't know a lot about the draft. I was in my second year with Medicine Hat. I'd been told I might be drafted around the third round. Like you said, there was little fan fare associated with the draft. If you were a first rounder, maybe you would go. But, I was home in Edmonton, playing ball hockey downstairs with my brother when Jimmy Devellano (Islanders scout) called and said I was drafted by the Islanders in the second round. I had no idea what to expect from that point forward. It was a short call, I remember that. He had other things to do. So, when we hung up I went back downstairs and finished playing ball hockey.

I was lucky enough to go to training camp the following season. I even played in an exhibition game at old Chicago Stadium. That was certainly a thrill for me at that point. But, what I remember most was the flight home. We flew commercial and I sat in the middle, between Mike Bossy and Brian Trottier. I don't think I said one word the entire flight, I just listened.

Any other memories from that first camp?

I remember landing at LaGuardia the first time. a shuttle bus picked me up and it felt like we made 25 stops dropping other people off at their residences before I finally got to the Holiday Inn...I think it was in Hempstead. That night I was really intense, I knew I had to go take a physical for the Islanders the next day and didn't know exactly what to expect.

I also remember thinking very early on in training camp that I had a lot of work to do to make it to the NHL. There was one play, where Tom Lysiak came down the wing and scored on me. It was so easy for him he didn't even want to raise his hands and celebrate. It was more like he was embarrassed how easy it was. Things like that really showed me how far I had to go.

For Islander fans probably the greatest memory they have of you is the '87 playoff game with four overtime periods. That game, the Easter Epic, has been called by some the greatest game 7 of all time. What memories do you have of that night?

Well, in the locker room between periods we were pretty loose. There wasn't much talk about strategy. We were proud of the game we were playing and felt things were going well, even if the score was tied. We kept telling each other to relax, don't get too excited and be prepared for the first two minutes of the period and the last two minutes of the period. I remember after Pat scored I stood in the crease for what seemed like a few minutes in disbelief. I didn't want to mentally let down for fear they might say the goal was disallowed or something. It was a good 5 seconds or so until it finally set in. Then, when I went into the dressing room - you know the goaltenders weren't allowed to have water bottles back in '87 - so when I took my gear off my toes just curled under from dehydration.

Any other memories of your time on the Island?

My fondest memory is probably when Bill Torrey told me I had made the NHL. When I was a kid playing ball hockey, watching Hockey Night in Canada and all the NHL games, I never would have dreamed I had what it would take to make it the NHL.

The pivotal point in your career was the trade to LA. Can you talk about finding out you were headed to the West Coast?

Well, I have different feelings now than I did at the time, 20 years ago. I was disappointed to be traded to LA. I was like every player, I thought I was going to be drafted by a team, play there for 20 years, win championships and then retire...all with one team. Like Steve Yzerman did. It didn't work out that way for me.

But LA was exciting. It felt more like my team. In New York I had my good friend Billy Smith. In LA I felt like it was my team though. And the city was fantastic! I feel the biggest growth period of my life were the 10 years in LA. I just loved the people. Believe it or not, it reminded me a lot of western Canada where the people are so laid back. It was a great time for me on and off the ice.

The Kings won the Smythe Division in '91 with a very powerful team. How close was that group to going all the way?

I thought we were real close. We just didn't know how to win. The Oilers had so much experience and they just knew how to win. Every time we ran into those guys, it just seemed like we didn't have enough to beat them. Tom Webster coming on as our coach added a defensive element to our game. But, still, we just couldn't beat Edmonton. I really believed if we could just beat those guys we would have won a championship. We'll never know though.

In the first half of '93 Wayne was hurt, yet the team played well without him...

We knew it would be a real challenge without him. You can ask players to rise up in a situation like that, but fact is you're not as good of a team without Wayne. Everybody did pick up their game though and played to their highest level. That was very rewarding for the group. Unfortunately, soon after that was also when I went through the worst slump of my career.

You mentioned that at HockeyFest. How did you get though it?

It was late November, early December and I went on about a two month slide. It was the worst slump of my career. I made it through that dark period because of two people in my corner...and I tell them 'thank you' whenever I get a chance...Cap Raeder and Barry Melrose. I was able to play five more years in the league because of their support during that stretch.

Robb Stauber played pretty well that year. Was that adding pressure to what you were already going through?

Robb deserved to be in there. I remember when I knew I was going to be OK though. It was a game on January 28th. I played my best game in awhile. We lost to Calgary 2-1, but I felt like I was back. I had a few bad games down the stretch, but then there was a game where we beat Philly 3-1 in March. That's when I knew I was going to be OK. I wasn't 100%, but when we won I was real emotional in the locker room. I thanked all the guys for sticking with me because they could have easily given up on me.

But Robb had played so strong he deserved the action he was getting too.

When Stauber replaced you in the playoffs he won three in a row against Calgary. Did you start to worry, did it mess with your head at all after what you had been through that season?

Well we started the playoffs against Calgary. We were awesome in game one. Then, awful in game two. We lost game three, but neither team looked like world beaters. We were down 2-1 in the series. Robb played in game four and we won 2-1 to even the series. Barry stuck with Robb in games five and six; one them was like an 8-5 shootout. He won the series, so he got the start in game one against Vancouver...and rightfully so. We lost that first game. I think it was an afternoon game. Immediately following the game Barry called me into his office and told me I was going to start game two. Fortunately, we had a couple days off until game two so I had plenty of time to prepare for them.

I felt that was really when we got on track. To me that was the best series we ever played. Personally I felt that Vancouver was on the cusp of something at the time. And I guess I was right, they went to the Stanley Cup finals the next year. But at the time, that was a real test for us. The Toronto series was different. The intensity was the same, but our level of play started to drop. I think the travel was starting to get to us.

It's easy for people to heap praise on Melrose now, but what were you thinking at the time he was announced as the new coach? Here was a team that was damn close the previous two years - including winning the Smythe - and they just hired a rookie head coach. Were you nervous about that hiring?

Well, I was established in LA by that point, so I wasn't too worried. Of course, I wanted to make a good first impression on my new coach. But, I was lucky to have Cap Raeder. As time went on I think I endeared myself to Barry. The slump I mentioned took our relationship to the next level. I wish all players could have a guy like Barry around them. Like an Al Arbour. It's such a good feeling when you go home after practice or a game and that's your coach.

You've talked about the frank conversation Dean had with you during your time in San Jose. Talk about going to play for the Sharks.

I knew I was leaving LA that summer, but prior to July 1st I was unsure where I was going to end up. I hit it off with Dean right when I met him. I remember my agent calling me and saying the Sharks wanted to meet with me. The following Friday my wife Donna and I flew into SFO with our daughters. Dean and (assistant GM) Wayne Thomas were there at the airport when we landed. I knew at that moment I was signing with the Sharks. It was one thing that Dean was at the airport to pick us up. But more importantly, he had brought a bunch of Sharks memorabilia for my girls. To bring gifts for my kids, I knew that was the type of guy I wanted to play for.

The next day though when we actually had our meeting he asked me two questions that have always stayed with me. First question he asked was "Why do I want to sign a 35 year old goalie who wants to be a broadcaster?" Then he asked me "Why did the Kings trade for Grant Fuhr when they had you?" They weren't hurtful questions. He just spoke honestly and I had so much respect for him because of it.

That's why later it didn't bother me when he called me into his office and said "Kelly you look scared to play." He was right and I knew my career was about done.

Looking back on your career, you finished with 271 wins. Do you think about being so close to the magical 300 number?

No. Not at all. I don't live that way. I did as best as I could and I loved playing the game of hockey. I wasn't lackadaisical and got a ton out of my career. I approached every game the same way. I thought I was better than the other guy. That's what I told myself when I looked down at the other end of the ice.

Let's talk about the current team. Who is your favorite Kings player right now?

Dustin Brown. He's a pure hockey player and as fierce of a competitor as you'll ever find. Plus, I was real impressed with his speech at HockeyFest. At that age, to speak so clearly about that moment on the plane...and with no notes...very impressive.

From your perspective, who is the most underrated player in the game right now?

Duncan Keith in Chicago. Or coming into the season I might have said (Wojtek) Wolski of the Avs.

Here's what I look for - we're all memorized by talent...but, I look for elite thinkers. There are only five or six guys like this on each team. Kurri was like that on the Kings. He understood the game way more than most guys.

Then, how about when you were playing - who were some of the most underrated guys you played with?

Tim Watters, Charlie Huddey, Steve Konroyd, Pat Conacher, Todd Gill, Tony Granato. Those are guys that all competed every night and gave everything of their body. Todd Gill was a mediocre, skinny player but he was tough and communicated exceptionally well. Very underrated.

You mentioned valuing elite thinkers and then when listing underrated players most of those guys you rattled off have gone into coaching. Do you think there is a coincidence there?

Wow. I never thought about that. Hmm.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Thanks Kelly. Hope to see you back in LA for more Alumni events moving forward. Best of luck with the broadcasting.

Kelly Hrudey wore #32 while minding net for the Kings. Now, LA has another goalie wearing the same number - Jonathan Quick. Perhaps, the coincidences don't stop there.

The Mayor


High / Low: Hrudey on Duty - get Kelly's thoughts on the other teams in the West, plus which players he would take if starting his own NHL franchise

Interview with Robb Stauber - the man who battled Hrudey in net during the Kings '92-93 season

Interview with Rob Blake - the most controversial player in Kings history stops by MayorsManor

20 Questions with #20 - Luc stops by MayorsManor a few days before entering the Hall of Fame

Interview with Gary Shuchuk - Kings playoff hero in 1993

Reflections of a Cup - Roy, Melrose and Blake comment on the Kings vs. Canadiens

IN DEAN WE TRUST - show your support for Kings GM Dean Lombardi


Monday, November 16, 2009

Trying to Make a Point

Do the Kings have what it takes to finally make their return to the playoffs this season? The coaches talk about getting more offense. Some fans talk about getting better goaltending. Others talk about it taking a trade for this or that. However, the bottom line is it's only going to take one thing - points. It doesn't matter how the Kings get them. A 2-1 win get you the same two points as an 8-0 blowout. Losing a game by a goal hurts just as much as that shellacking the Kings took in Hotlanta the other night. Two points is two points. And even one point is...well, a point.

After Friday night the Kings had played 20 games. Earlier this season, in an article published HERE, we looked at how the Kings can reach the postseason and breaking down the season into eight 10-game sections. For each 10 game chunk of the season the Kings needed to average 11 points. After the first 10 games they had 12 points. After Friday's game #20 the Kings had accumulated 24 points.

So, overall, a little ahead of the pace needed.

Can they keep that up for the next 10 games? Again, just take it 10 games at a time - no need to get ahead of ourselves. Let's look at the game log:

Game 21 - at Tampa Bay: 2 points earned in a shootout win
Game 22 - at Florida:
Game 23 - home vs Philly:
Game 24 - home vs Calgary:
Game 25 - at Edmonton:
Game 26 - at Vancouver:
Game 27 - home vs Chicago:
Game 28 - at Anaheim
Game 29 - home vs Ottawa:
Game 30 - home vs St Louis:

Pretty balanced, with five games at home and five on the road. With one game at Anaheim, that's a lot of home cooking. Philly and Calgary will probably be two of the toughest games in this stretch.

The scariest game? Anaheim. As predicted in our season preview article (click here), the Ducks aren't the same team as in year's past. Yet, somehow these two always play each other tough. So, which ever squad gets two points that night will probably earn them in a dogfight.

The most important game? There's four. After just raw points, one of the other ways teams make the playoffs is by beating the teams in their own conference. Four games in this stretch (Edmonton, Vancouver, Anaheim and St Louis) are all currently below the Kings in the standings. That makes those four games the most important. Win those and it widens the gap, creating a separation that becomes very important in March and April.

Yes, the Kings are going to need continued solid production from the top line. Yes, the Kings need Brown's line to be more consistent. Yes, Frolov's line needs to score more goals. Yes, the fourth line needs to do something. Anything! Yes, the defense needs to play 60 minutes a night. And yes, Quick needs to play better some nights. But, you know what? The Kings have been getting it done so far, both after 10 games - then, again after 20 games.

Stanley Cups aren't won in November...or even December. However, the two points you earn at this time of the year count the same as the two points you can earn after the All Star break. For now, the Kings need to just keep averaging 11 points or more for each 10 game section of the schedule and the return to the second season will come soon enough.

After all, isn't that why we're all here? Which reminds me, where's my t-shirt?