Kings driven by Sutter and his pursuit of perfection
LOS ANGELES -- Perfection is what Darryl Sutter strives for, what he demands.
The 53-year-old hockey lifer from Viking, Alta., who was pulled off his farm to coach the Los Angeles Kings just before Christmas, fell just short of that in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, losing four of 20 games. Instead, he will have to settle for his first Stanley Cup championship.
The Kings delivered their coach the Cup with a dominating 6-1 victory in Game 6 at the Staples Center on Monday night. The Kings, who struggled on the power play throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, scored three times during a five-minute major in the first period to put the game out of reach.
But make no mistake, it was Sutter's pursuit of perfection every single day since he took over in Los Angeles that allowed, and almost forced this team of champions to make history under his guidance. It was his pursuit of perfection that enabled him to join his brothers Duane and Brent in the fraternity of Stanley Cup champions.
"He strives to be perfect, and in hockey that is pretty tough to do," Kings center Mike Richards said. "He expects that out of you and he pushes for it."
Nothing the Kings did en route to winning the Cup appeared to ever impress Sutter. Nothing they did was good enough for him to skip the next video session. Nothing they did -- not the 10 straight road victories, the 16-4 overall record, the remarkable penalty kill, the lopsided goal differential -- meant he was going to let a player off the hook for maybe taking a wrong angle to a play or making a bad decision with the puck.
Basically, nothing the Kings did was perfect -- so until they finally raised the Cup on Monday night at the Staples Center, it wasn't good enough for Sutter, who claimed the Cup 20 years to the day after he took his first NHL coaching job.
"Every time we win a game there are always three or four things we can do to be better," Richards said. "In a hockey game you're never going to be perfect, but he's looking for it and he always pushes us. He has that way of pushing the buttons where he can get the most out of you."
If Sutter had gotten any more out of the Kings this spring, let's just say it wouldn't have been fair. It barely was without them being perfect.
"It's about being the best-prepared team and trying to find a way to play that perfect game," Kings goalie coach Bill Ranford told NHL.com. "That's his approach, every single day."
The approach could gnaw at some players, wear at their will and make them turn against their coach. It's happened before. It'll happen again.
The Kings, though, say Sutter does it with, ahem, the perfect touch.
For all of the negatives he points to in order to make the players and the team better, he makes sure to point out the positives as well. Kings general manager Dean Lombardi compared that trait of Sutter's to a great school teacher.
Sure, the teacher will tell you when you're wrong and work with you on how to get it right, but also praise the student when they get it right the first time.
"He just tells you how it is. If you're doing a good job he's going to let you know you're doing a good job, but when he does he's still telling you to get the other guys going. If you make a mistake, he's going to give it to you. That's exactly what we all love about him. He's straight to the point. He gets everything out of us." -- Kings defenseman Drew Doughty
"He just tells you how it is," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "If you're doing a good job he's going to let you know you're doing a good job, but when he does he's still telling you to get the other guys going. If you make a mistake, he's going to give it to you. That's exactly what we all love about him. He's straight to the point. He gets everything out of us."
Doughty pointed to Game 3 against the Devils as an example of Sutter's approach.
"We were up 4-0 with not a lot of time left and we started to get sloppy, and he made sure to give it to us and tell us we can't be playing like this because you can't take your foot off the gas," Doughty said. "We let them give it to us in those last five minutes and we can't let them do that."
Sutter doesn't necessarily mean to make his players fearful; it's simply the byproduct of wanting them to be perfect.
"There are times if you're not playing well he's kind of sarcastic with the way he comes across at you, and it's not funny at all," Doughty said. "It [stinks], especially with Darryl saying it, because he's a little scary at times. He does a good job at it."
"He definitely creates a cultural accountability," added defenseman Alec Martinez. "I think that's really important. There isn't fear, but at the same time if you're not pulling your weight he's going to let you know, and if you're doing a good job you're going to get a pat on the back. There is a lot of respect there, and that goes a long way."
"There is a lot of accountability in the room regardless, but he brings a lot of honesty to the room," the Kings captain said.
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That is exactly why Lombardi recruited Sutter.
"He has an identity," Lombardi told NHL.com. "Unfortunately, today it's hard to have an identity because we want to please everybody, so we become a phony and stand for nothing. If you're going to have an identity, yeah, some people aren't going to like it, but at least it's honest. It doesn't mean you're rude to anybody. This game is made to be played hard. It's not an easy game to play. But if you're going to choose to play it, you're going to play it the right way. In the end, you're going to be glad you did."
The Kings played it the right way under Sutter this year. Some would even say they played the game perfectly.
Not Sutter. Not even now. Never.
"Just because you win, it doesn't mean you played great or you played perfect," Sutter said earlier in the series. "We won two games in overtime, 2-1 [in the Stanley Cup Final]. If you lose one of them, you're looking at a huge battle. We could have easily been down 2-0 before we scored a goal [in Game 3]."