Coming off back-to-back wins over the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday night, LA bench boss Darryl Sutter didn’t mince words when asked about the Kings’ next opponent.
“Dallas kicked our ass here last time,” said the always quotable coach.
True, and the Stars were without forward – and known Kings Killer – Ray Whitney at the time.
He broke his foot just eight games into the season, after signing a multi-year contract with the club as an unrestricted free agent last summer.
“I would say I need a few more games under my belt, and being around the club for a little bit,” Whitney said, when we asked him that morning if he felt like a real member of the Stars yet.
“The team was on the road while I was injured for most of that month in February. So, I spent a lot of time back in Dallas, just training and in the locker room by myself. I didn’t really get to be around the guys and feel part of it. Getting to know their personalities and their tendencies on the ice takes a little bit of time. And I just haven’t had that time here yet. So I would say, by the end of March hopefully I feel that way.”
My, how time flies when you’re having fun.
Fast forward two weeks and Whitney’s produced five points in the five games since his return, two goals and three assists.
He scored last night against Colorado and tonight he’ll be looking to do the same against Los Angeles – something he’s done 15 other times in his career, third most against all teams in the Western Conference.
However, he thinks any luster from the Kings’ Stanley Cup run of 2012 has long since faded.
“It’s been so long now, from the time that they won it, it doesn’t seem like the hangover lasted nearly as long as the league would have liked,” said Whitney. “They had a little speed bump there at the start of the year and now…it’s kind of the team that’s built for March on. You can tell their game now is where they want it to be - and at the right time, the last 20 games and going into the playoffs. They’re a big team that’s very structured and plays very hard and heavy. It’s always a challenge coming in here and play them, but what better way to gauge your own team than playing them right now?”
The old proverbial ‘litmus test,’ eh?
“I think it is every time you play them,” Whitney explained. “They’ve had a process, and I’ve watched over the last few years how they’ve built their team, and how they’ve brought in the necessary people. The biggest thing I noticed last year is bringing those two kids up from the minors, King and Nolan. It was a nice gift for them, they didn’t have to go find somebody. All of sudden, it was right there for them - home grown, big, heavy, tough; kind of the way they wanted to build their team for the playoffs. For us it’ll test us on how well, or how hard we want to compete because anyone who knows hockey knows, (Darryl) Sutter teams, if anything, will compete. If they don’t, they’ll hear about it. So it’s good to gauge how willing you are to compete, or how hard you want to compete, because they are going to every night.”
Sutter would probably argue his team didn’t compete the last time they played the Stars.
And the Kings’ players are likely prepared for a different level of effort this time around.
Or, as Whitney says, they’ll surely hear about it.
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