MINNEAPOLIS – Due to a Monday night concert at Xcel Energy Center, where Los Angeles will face the Wild Tuesday night at 5 p.m. CST, the Kings wound up “dressing and driving” from their St. Paul hotel to a suburban rink about 15 minutes away.
Watching the team arrive in nearly full gear, sans skates, but with some players all ready to go with their helmets on, one couldn’t help but think of how the experience must have taken them back to their youth hockey days.
Once inside Parade Ice Garden, the Kings zipped through an hour practice, focusing largely on up-tempo drills, with some work on the power play addressed toward the end.
Over the course of four games, the power play has not converted in 24 attempts. Still, according to Kyle Quincey, who leads the team with 14 power play assists, the Kings aren’t ready to tinker with anything.
"I think you go for longer and longer streaks without scoring if you start panicking," he said. "We’re getting chances, so I think we should just stay with it. It’s nowhere near time to panic."
Quincey said, in keeping with the team’s objective, the man-advantage will continue to revolve around shooting the puck and looking for rebounds.
"I think our main goal is to skate five-on-five and make teams take penalties," he said. "When we get out there, it’s the desperation to get to the middle of the ice, get to the net and make things happen. When you’re putting the puck in the right spot and guys are in the right position, the chances are you’re going to score."
Patrick O’Sullivan, drafted by the Wild in 2003, still enjoys playing in the Twin Cities of Minnesota and remains appreciative of the organization that made him the No. 56 overall pick. "You always feel connected to the team that drafted you," O’Sullivan said. "For me, it was a great team to be picked by. They gave me a chance to become a better player and try to play in the NHL. Even though I never got the chance to play here, I think they did a lot for my development."
O’Sullivan went on to star for the Wild’s American Hockey League affiliate in Houston, where he scored 47 goals and 93 points in 78 games during the 2005-06 season. That following offseason, however, he became the property of the Kings in the trade that sent Pavol Demitra to Minnesota.
Since, O’Sullivan, thanks in large part to one of the quickest releases his opponents see, has scored 36 goals and 95 points in 169 career games for Los Angeles. Now in his third season with the franchise, the three-time U.S. National Junior Team standout, looks forward to what’s next with the young Kings.
"It’s a great place to play," he said. "It’s really starting to go in the right direction. This is my third year, and it’s come a long way. It’s great and I’m really enjoying it."
JACK'S BACK TOO
Jack Johnson is also making a return in a way, as he once played high school hockey at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, which is located in Faribault, Minn., about an hour south of where the Kings will play Tuesday.
In fact, said Johnson, he remembers playing at Parade back in the day.
"For sure," said Johnson, motioning toward one end of the rink. "I played a couple high school games [at Parade]. Scored at the far end there."
Johnson’s team at Shattuck included both Sydney Crosby and Drew Stafford, and, by his count, at least a dozen players who went on to Division I NCAA careers. For Tuesday’s game, he’ll have a few friends from those days in the stands. Johnson, of course, is also returning to the ice after an extended stay on Injured Reserve.
While he had been skating with the team, Jan. 17 marked his first game back since suffering a shoulder injury during the season’s second game.
"It was nice to get the first game out of the way," he said. "For the first game, they eased me into it, playing five-on-five. I felt good, though, when they asked me, so they might start feeding me more and more each game."
While on IR, said Johnson, he worked on as much lower body as he could, while focusing on maintaining weight and strength.
"I’m starting to feel like a hockey player again, so it’s nice."
DRESS AND DRIVE
While there is an inconvenience factor with the "dress and drive," it happens infrequently enough that players mostly slough it off.
"We don’t really do it a whole lot in the NHL," O’Sulivan said. "But at any international tournament, it’s almost all the time. It’s not a big deal."
Said Johnson: "I feel like a kid again. It’s nice. It’s one of the more fun sides of the NHL."
Forward lines included Anze Kopitar, Wayne Simmonds and Alexander Frolov in burgundy; Dustin Brown, Kyle Calder and Jarret Stoll in gray; O’Sullivan, Michal Handzus and John Zeiler in white; and Raitis Ivanans, Derek Armstrong and Westgarth in purple.