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Kings' response to playoff miss among X-factors

by Curtis Zupke

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Kings are in their first real transition period because of player movement under coach Darryl Sutter after they missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2009.

They remain a hulking presence in the Western Conference whose issues center around getting back to Cup contention while hammering out some dings in their armor.

Here are three X-factors that will impact whether the Kings can get back to elite status in an improved West:

Their response: The Kings knew nothing but playing into June for three straight seasons before the bottom fell out last spring. They are a prideful, stubborn team, and eyes are on them to see how they respond to being humbled.

"The mindset is we have to learn from what happened last year," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We've got to learn that we can't leave it to the last minute, the last few games of the season, to try and get in the playoffs.

"We were embarrassed that we didn't make the playoffs last year. We were [angry], and I haven't seen our team come to camp more determined than we are this year."

It didn't take long for recent addition Milan Lucic to read the situation in Los Angeles. His former team, the Boston Bruins, missed the playoffs last season, and it was the first time he didn't play in the postseason after seven straight appearances. He could identify with the Kings' mental state in his initial conversations with Sutter.

"Just talking with him, seeing how excited he is to get things going again, of not giving yourself a chance to play for the Cup, I think we need to use that to light a fire and a spark to get things going in the right direction right at the start," Lucic said.

Replacing Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll: The Kings certainly aren't lacking for leadership, but they've lost some considerable dressing-room presence in Williams, known as "Mr. Game 7", and Stoll, who fit in seamlessly with the Kings' team-first ethos.

It also hurt to lose Mike Richards, who was well-respected as a former captain with playoff experience.

"Certainly there's going to be some adjustments, but we're going to do that as we go along," center Anze Kopitar said.

Williams wasn't overly vocal, but it came in big doses. He gave a passionate speech before the Kings clinched the Cup in 2012 and offered candid assessments during the postseason, win or lose.

"If [Williams] ever spoke up often, which wasn't often, but when he did, everyone really listened to him because he's a champion," Doughty said. "I definitely have to step up my game.

"Everyone has wanted me to become more of a leader, and I think I've made strides every single year. And I'm going to continue to."

Sutter said it is an opportunity for others to fill the void left by Williams and Stoll, who played a combined 142 playoff games for the Kings.

"We're going to miss those guys absolutely, what they brought to the locker room, for sure," Sutter said. "But the next step is for the guys in here to take that responsibility. It always happens. That's the way teams work."

Improvement in overtime and beyond: The Kings were 2-8 in shootouts last season, and it's easy to point to those lost points costing them a playoff spot. What's worse is they failed to score on 23 of 24 shootout attempts in one eight-game span.

The Kings also were 1-7 in games that ended in overtime. They have more skilled personnel than in recent seasons, and the NHL's new 3-on-3 overtime format could help them avoid more shootouts.

"You look at us last year and how many times we were in the shootout and lost," forward Tanner Pearson said. "The shootout's kind of a skills competition, whereas 3-on-3 is kind of … game-like [situation] and you're still competing and you know what's going on."

Sutter said he likes it.

"I think it'll prove you'll get a winner, and I think that's easy for me to say, too, because the percentages have shown it at the American [Hockey] League level," Sutter said. "So now you raise the bar again because when you think about 3-on-3 at this level, it's a higher degree of skill again, so you'd think there should be more opportunities and there should be more goals."

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