Saturday, April 2, 2011

Ontario Reign Coach on Poor Season - 'It's All On Me'

Last night was another sellout crowd at Citizen's Business Bank Arena in Ontario. And on the ice, the Reign lost another game.

Wait...they won 3-1.

Losing has become such a frequent thing for the team this year it's easy to assume it happened again. However, it didn't. The goaltending - which has been a point of concern all year long - was strong and the offense came through when it needed to.

Prior to the season starting, the Reign had high hopes of returning to the playoffs after just barely missing out last year.

On the eve of game one, their President Justin Kemp was on MayorsManor and emphatically said coach Karl Taylor was "not on the hot seat."  Fast forward 71 games and they have 38 losses, tops in the league.

They'll play their final home game tonight, before another sellout crowd.  But, where do they go from here?

Some thoughts from Taylor after the game last night...

Jarret Stoll Gets Physical with the Dallas Stars

Things aren't always as they appear.

Prior to the season staring, a number of guests stopped by MayorsManor to weigh-in with their thoughts on the coming 82 games.

During one such conversation with John Buccigross of ESPN, he said "This doesn't seem like a team that is expected to go anywhere," when talking about the Dallas Stars.

They led the Pacific Division for most of the season.

Statistically speaking, if Jarret Stoll is on your team, you're counting on him to score some timely goals, win a lot of face-offs and flat destroy the other team's goalie in a shootout. But, lead the team in hits?

Yes, he's third on the Kings this season - albeit, it's a distant third.

Entering play this afternoon, the usual suspects are at the top of the board, Dustin Brown with 280 hits and Matt Greene with 225 hits.  Then, it's Stoll with 151.

However, his top target has been the Dallas Stars.  He has 22 hits against them this year and more hits vs. the Stars than any other team in his career.

What's the story?

MM: Your hit counts are almost always up against the Stars.  But, what got into you the last time the two teams met up (in Dallas on March 13) - you led the Kings in hits that night...

Dustin Penner's Special Relationship with the Dallas Stars

On November 23, 2005 the Kings were spending a day off in Nashville, caught between playing days on a brief two-game road trip.

Nearly 700 miles away a young left winger was about to suit up for his fourth different team in less than two years. More importantly, he was about to make his NHL debut against the Dallas Stars.

They say everything's bigger in Texas, so how appropriate that 6-foot-4, 245-pound Dustin Penner played his first game with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks (which they still were back then) in Texas.

He had five shots, zero points and two penalty minutes (goaltender interference) in a 3-1 Ducks loss.

Over the next 418 regular season games he's played the Stars 26 more times and picked up 16 points (nine goals, 7 assists).

Due to the circumstances of his season - read: being traded - this will be the seventh time he's faced them in 2011, having played them four times with Edmonton and twice already with LA.

I caught up with Penner to talk about memories and the 'new' Dallas Stars...

MM: You made your NHL debut against the Stars, so is it still special to play them or have they become just another team at this point?

Friday, April 1, 2011

POLL: LA Kings Player of the Month for March 2011

It's that time of the month again...

After climbing back into the Western Conference playoff race with a record of 8-2-3 (19 points) in February, the Kings followed that up with a 9-3-2 record in March and the 20 points were their high water mark for the season.

Last month, Drew Doughty was the Player of the Month, just barely beating out Anze Kopitar. This time around, he's not even a real contender - with only one goal and four assists. However, another defenseman made a strong case for himself, as did one of the Kings rookies.

Past Player of the Month results (click the month to see the full article and results):

October - Jonathan Quick 51%, Justin Williams 21%
November - Jonathan Quick 52%, Justin Williams 22%
December - Dustin Brown 41%, Anze Kopitar 33%
January - Ryan Smyth 46%, Jarret Stoll 29%
February - Drew Doughty 31%, Anze Kopitar 30%

In alphabetical order, here are the leading candidates for the March Player of the Month...

Interview with Monarchs 'Man of the Year' Bud Holloway

Earlier this week, Bud Holloway scored his team-leading 26th goal of the season for the Manchester Monarchs.

While guys like Thomas Hickey (first round NHL draft pick), Viatcheslav Voynov (just announced as AHL Second Team All-Star) and Oscar Moller (currently up with the Kings) may get more press and attention, one things is clear...

Holloway has a special relationship with the back of the net.

Already a playoff hero from last year - when he tied an AHL record with six game-winning goals during the post-season - he's continued to produce on a regular basis.

The 6'0" left wing was selected by the Kings in the third round of the 2006 NHL Draft. He went on to play two more years with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, then split time between Ontario (ECHL) and Manchester during the 2008-09 season. After leading the Reign in playoff points that year, he's been in Manchester ever since.

He added to his resume last season, leading the Monarchs in assists (28) and points (47). And he's found a way to top that this season, already posting 56 points (26g, 30a) with a handful of games remaining.

A few days ago he was voted the 2011 Monarchs 'Man of the Year' for his involvement in the community and is now one of 30 finalists for the league award.

In the interview below we talk about several other Kings prospects, life in Manchester, good pranks, call-ups, the upcoming AHL playoffs and much more...

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Forget Schenn, Could Toffoli be Joining Kings Soon?

Truth be told, you can't forget about Brayden Schenn - he's omnipresent.

Prior to the WHL Playoffs staring this past weekend, Schenn stopped by MayorsManor and shared his biggest fear heading into his opening round series with the Price Albert Raiders. Forget the fact that the Saskatoon Blades finished the regular season as the best team in the 'Dub. He was concerned with the Raiders barn - saying "when it's small and it's not a very big rink size, that could be a scary part."

Adding fuel to his worries, the Blades lost last night - game three of the series, but the first in Price Albert's tiny building.

With the recent injuries to Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, Kings fans everywhere have began asking about the possibility of Schenn's return to LA.  However, as reported, he (basically) can't come back until the Blades are eliminated from the playoffs.

It remains to be seen exactly when that will be. Game four of that series is later tonight. [updated at the end of this article]

But, but, but...

Willie Mitchell on Vancouver's Tendency to 'Come Unglued'

Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell has a unique perspective on the Vancouver Canucks. Not only was a member of the team for the last four years, but he also spent the second half of last season observing things off the ice while recovering from a concussion.

As any player will tell you, hockey can be a much different game from the sidelines than it is from the bench or on the ice.

So, what does he think about the his old club as the Kings prepare to face them later tonight? Well, it's really a two-part answer...

MM: First off, any thoughts about facing your old team?

WM:  It's always fun to play against friends and always fun to play against the best team in the league. It doesn't surprise me one bit. Obviously, I was there last year and it's the majority of the same players. It was a team that was on the cusp and now they're coming into their own. It's going to be a real, real big challenge for us. They play really well at home and have been playing great hockey. So, they have confidence. Those are the teams you want to play against. Those are the teams you want to see how you match-up, it motivates you. It's going to be a lot of fun.

MM: When you say you're not surprised by their record, is there anything that's different about this Canucks team compared to the one you were part of last season?

Dustin Brown says 'It's on the players that are playing'

Last season didn't end the way the Los Angeles Kings had wanted or envisioned.

Returning to the post season for the first time in eight years - with a new General Manager, new coach and entirely new roster - they faced off with the Vancouver Canucks, a team they last saw in the playoffs following the 1992-93 season.

After splitting a pair of overtime games in Canada, the series was tied 1-1 and headed back to Staples Center. With the building as loud as it's probably ever been, the Kings offense exploded for five goals - three of them on the power play, including two by Michal Handzus - and downed the Canucks to gain a 2-1 series lead.

Vancouver took over from there, winning the next three games and closing out the series in six games.

Say all the positive things you want about 'learning to lose' and being 'a young team, they'll only get better' - yet, it was still a tough pill to swallow for a group that hoped of so much more.

Kings Take The Field For Opening Day at Dodger Stadium

Dustin Brown - captain or catcher?
Over the last few seasons, the Kings and Dodgers have developed a more-than-friendly relationship.

In fact, when cross promoting each other, the home team had a perfect 6-0 record until just a few months ago.

Later this afternoon the boys in blue will take the field at Dodger Stadium against the hated San Francisco Giants to begin their new season.

After writing many times over the last few years about the parallels of these two teams - i.e. GMs from division rivals, tons of young talent, just one key player away from a possible run at a championship, etc. - I thought I'd go a different route in honor of Opening Day.

Which Kings players would step in for the Dodgers if they took over the starting line-up? Here's a quick look...

First Baseman, James Loney is... Dustin Brown - the all around, solid ball player that is under appreciated and underrated, even in his own town.

Second Baseman, Juan Uribe is... Justin Williams - somebody who put up good numbers with a different club, but you never truly appreciate how good he is until he's on your team.

Shortstop, Rafael Furcal is... Drew Doughty - either of these players could easily be called the best players on their team and be recognized as league MVPs in any year.

Anze Kopitar on Younger Brother Gasper

Yesterday we brought you a one-on-one chat with the other Kopitar, Gasper.

Five years younger than Kings' star center Anze, Gasper is currently playing in the USHL and living the dream, as they say.

He's biding his time and honing his skills, just waiting for the possible chance to someday play in the NHL. However, at times, the conversation read more like one with a scout than a player - as he weighed in on a myriad of Kings prospects, including Brayden Schenn and Jordan Weal.

Gasper also never appeared shy with his feelings or opinions...and went so far as to say that, sure, his older brother gives him advice on how to become a better player - but, that he returns the favor by advising Anze on how to play better.

Is this possible? Plausible? Pretend? Or just preposterous?

Here's how big brother responded to little brother's claims...

"Well, he was a great partner this past summer" Anze said. "We were working out together, skating together back home. So, he was a great partner. He's getting bigger. He's getting a lot stronger too. Soon, I'm going to have my hands full, even though he's five years younger. He's definitely matured a lot. He's definitely... again, challenged me to work even harder because if he works harder, I still want to beat him at every thing. So, it made me work harder and it was fun times."

As noted in Gasper's interview, he and the Des Moines Buccaneers have six games left in their regular season and are trying desperately to qualify for post season action. Only two spots remain unclaimed in their conference.

Once that plays itself out, should Anze need some help this off season while recuperating from his ankle injury, little brother Gasper is just a phone call away and he'd be happy to push him along.

The Mayor


Interview with Gasper Kopitar

Anze Kopitar Undisputed - full, extended version

Interview with Brayden Schenn - hockey's #1 prospect

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

One-on-One Interview with Gasper Kopitar

Gasper Kopitar (Bryce Loshman photo)
Anze Kopitar had scored five goals this month. Gasper Kopitar just one.

Last Saturday, Anze went on the shelf. Thousands of miles away, younger Gasper was skating in a junior game with the Des Moines Buccaneers, probably trying to go top shelf (and adding to his nine goals on the season).

While it will be many more months before Anze steps on the ice again, Gasper is playing out his first full season in the USHL - the top junior hockey league in the United States.

However, when your older brother is the first player from your home country to make the NHL - and a first round draft pick to boot - the comparisons are inevitable. Unfortunately.

Gasper spent many years growing up in Southern California and even played for the Jr. Kings. After he moved on the WHL, things just didn't work out as planned. But, he's back on track now, as he'll tell you below.

And even though he went undrafted last year, he still has dreams of the NHL. If things don't work out though, we may have just discovered a second calling for him during our conversation.

From Jesenice, Slovenia to Manhattan Beach, California...then, Oregon and now Iowa. It's just your typical hockey story...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

One Small Step For Kings, One Giant Step By The Captain

Earlier today we looked at famous old sayings about the importance of defense in team sports.

Then tonight, Dustin Brown put 'if you want something done right, do it yourself' front and center.

In his pre-game interview on MayorsManor the Kings' captain said "we need him to contribute more offensively" when talking about his new linemate, Trevor Lewis.

The rookie center responded by providing two beautiful assists on Brown's pair of goals against the Oilers - which must have been encouraging for Lewis, who felt he needed to be "a little bit more of a creative player" prior to the game. So far, he's backing up his words.

Ryan Smyth picked up an additional assist on the first goal, giving him points in three straight games - the first time he's done that since early February.  Encouraging.

(Oh yeah, Brown was also the guy Kings fans voted as most likely to 'seize the opportunity' in today's poll - results here)

Given the injuries to Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, the above trio will get most of the post-game attention. However, the play of Jonathan Bernier shouldn't be overlooked. He stopped all 32 shots, posted his third shutout of the season and pushed his record to 7-1-3 in his last 11 starts.

On the defensive side of things, coach Terry Murray recently said he's been impressed with Alec Martinez all season (article here) and called him a "contributing player every game." Additional life was breathed into those words when the rookie blueliner took five shots (!) in the first period.

Even while mired in last place, the Oilers' young guns have been the talk of the NHL this season. However, it was a trio of Kings newbies that would have been responsible for dubbing this game 'The Rise of the Rookies.'

And a final note...the win gave the Kings a sweep of their four-game series this season, marking the first time since the two teams began playing each other in 1979-80 that the Kings have been able to accomplish such a feat.

It's just the latest in a string of firsts for the Kings, all while they continue inching closer to the playoffs.

Check out the highlights...

Kings Coach Terry Murray Sizes Up His Defense

Alec Martinez (photo by M. Zampelli)
While much is being made - and rightfully so - about the gaping holes created in the Kings' offense now that they'll be missing Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, never forget that old sayings often become old sayings because there's some truth to them.

Ever heard of the best offense is a good defense?

Or defense wins championships?

In hockey you could add 'goaltending' to the equation and that would probably be just fine for Kings coach Terry Murray - because he looks pretty solid there, with Jonathan's Quick and Bernier.

Yet, what about LA's defense this year? Murray recently weighed in with a report card, of sorts, on three of the key components to his defensive line-up - guys who will be counted on heavily for the balance of the regular season and into the playoffs...

On Jack Johnson - "His game has been OK, it's been OK. It needs to be better. And he was very good at the start of the year. There's pockets in the games that we've played so far this year where he's been right here (raising his hand high), very good, and there's other pockets where his game has dipped. To me, it's a young defenseman, of learning to focus and concentrate and give that part of it the best effort every night, every game. Whenever you lose that concentration for a moment you end up like a goal that was scored with Calgary. It's a line change, it's a breakout from behind their net and you're just not quite, maybe, focused enough to see that guy coming - although he's coming about 75 miles per hour. But, that's your responsibility. That's the read you have to make as a defenseman. So, he's been great on the power play at times this year. A lot of his points have been special teams. Again, there's a dip. We need him to get back and we need that part of our game to be better and he's a big part of it."

Dustin Penner and the Compounding Pressure

Stanley Cup Finals his rookie season - pressure.

Playing under the weight of signing a five-year free agent contract in Edmonton - Pressure.

Being traded by the last place Oilers to the playoff bound Kings for three assets at the NHL Trade Deadline - PRESSURE. (and slightly presumptuous on the playoffs)

Point is, pressure is nothing new for Dustin Penner.

Then, early last week he lost his right wing, Justin Williams. A few days later, his center, Anze Kopitar.

Already part of an anemic offense, how much more burden will the injuries add to the pressure weighing on his broad shoulders?

Johnson and Handzus on Kings Playing the Oilers

The Road Kings are back to the comforts of living out of a suit case, taking their traveling carnival to Edmonton tonight for a game with the Oilers.

Pick your poison, the story could be about the Kings hot play on the road (winners of five straight). Or about Dustin Penner's first game against the club that traded him to LA last month. It could easily be about the injuries to Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams too.

Or, even though they have the fewest points in the NHL, the story could just be the Oilers.

Here are some thoughts on the game from the Kings new top line center and a view from the blueline...

Michal Handzus - "It's going to be a tough game. They're a good team. They have a lot of skill and a lot of young players. So, they're excited to play in the NHL. They go after teams. We've seen it before (this season). So, it's going to be a tough game and we need those two points. But, we can't expect an easy game. It's up there (in Edmonton) and they skate fast. We'll need to be on top of our game.

Jack Johnson - "It's always fun going into Canada, where the spotlight's on you a little bit more. Edmonton is a team right now with a 'don't have anything to lose' attitudes. Those are tough teams to play against because if a couple of bounces go their way or something, they're tough to stop, for sure. They still have a lot of talent on paper. It's also fun to go up to Canada and play on some fast ice, some good ice. I'm looking forward to it."

So far, the first three meetings of the season were all won by the Kings.

If they can pull out another one tonight, it might calm some of the fears hanging over the team in the wake of recent injuries. More importantly, it would take them two points closer to their current goal - qualifying for postseason play.

The Mayor


POLL: Who Will Seize the Opportunity?

Dustin Penner on Returning to Edmonton

Dustin Brown Remembers When Kings Were Spoilers

POLL: Who Will Seize The Opportunity?

With Justin Williams and Anze Kopitar out of the line-up for the final seven games of the regular season (and longer), nearly every Kings player is talking about guys needing to step up.

And although that seemed to be the theme of the day at practice yesterday, coach Terry Murray was stressing opportunity...

As in, "an opportunity for players to show what they can do on that side of the game now.”

Also noting that several guys will be placed "in a higher situation, more important situation and they’ll grow immensely through this opportunity.”

Specifically, he's "looking for a couple young guys to step up here and take advantage of this opportunity.”

Regardless of age, the Kings need to somehow, someway replace the goals lost by Kopitar and Williams. So, what do you think - who will have the most goals over the final seven games?

Before you vote, here's a quick look at the how the new Kings lines may impact a player's performance:

Monday, March 28, 2011

Dustin Brown Remembers When Kings Were Spoilers

Saturday afternoon the Kings passed their latest 'trap game' test with flying colors, beating the Colorado Avalanche 4-1.

However, the season ending injury to Anze Kopitar will have a ripple effect throughout the team, as nearly every player will be asked to step up and take on more responsibility - maybe none more than rookie Trevor Lewis, who has been bumped up to the second line with Dustin Brown and Ryan Smyth.

After practice today, the captain spoke about his new center and the possible danger waiting for the team in Edmonton:

MM: Thoughts on playing Edmonton tomorrow night, a team at the bottom of the Western Conference...

DB: They're there, but they're kind of going through that transition of rebuilding and they have a lot of good, young, skilled players. I remember it wasn't too long ago, maybe, that we were that team and tried to be spoilers. They definitely have the one-on-one skill and high-end skill that, if we're not ready to play, they can beat us.

MM: As the captain and a veteran on the team, what type of advice are you giving Trevor Lewis (who sits next to him in the locker room) about his expanded role with Anze Kopitar out?

Dustin Penner on His Possible Out-of-Body Experience

Dustin Penner has played 417 regular season games in the NHL. However, none of them have been against the Oilers since March 9, 2007.

A few months after that game he signed an offer sheet (restricted free agent contract), which the Ducks didn't match. Meaning he was moving to Edmonton.

Over the next several years he played his former Anaheim team several times per season. More recently though, now as a member of the Kings, he played his first game vs. the Ducks from the other side of the SoCal rivalry - something he talked about here.

Tomorrow night will be another first, as he'll play the Oilers in Edmonton - the team that traded him to LA just a few weeks ago.

Here's what he's thinking as the game approaches...

MM: Prior to the game with Anaheim you told us about the Penner Cup. I was thinking, with you here in LA now, is the Penner Cup still between you and Anaheim or has it shifted to you versus Edmonton?

DP: I think we just threw another team into the fray. It's like a three-way tournament now.

MM: How about playing Edmonton, a team you were part of just a month ago...

Kings Prospect Report - Round 1 Playoff Updates

While the Kings and nearly all of the Western Conference teams are still fighting for their playoff lives in the NHL, this weekend marked the beginning of post season play for the Canadian (Junior) Hockey League and the NCAA.

As noted last week, all of the Kings top prospects - with one exception, Jordan Weal (who is now in Manchester) - had qualified for the 'second season.'  Here's an overview of where things stand...

Brayden Schenn - his Saskatoon Blades entered the weekend as the #1 seed in the WHL and won both of their opening round games over the Prince Albert Raiders. Schenn had a goal in the first game and a pair of goals in the second. The series resumes Wednesday in P.A. Schenn stopped by MayorsManor last week, the article is available here.

Linden Vey - the 2011 WHL Scoring Champion picked up a goal in each of the first two games for his Medicine Hat Tigers. However, their series with the Brandon Wheat Kings is tied 1-1. Game three will be tonight in Brandon. Vey was a guest on MayorsManor last week, the article is available here.