EL SEGUNDO, Calif. --
It was a different game-day experience on multiple levels for Darryl Sutter
on Thursday morning.
Besides being with a new team, Sutter wasn't quite used to having the morning skate at one venue and then playing a home game at another.
"I'm almost feeling today like we're on the road again," Sutter said.
Sutter otherwise was ready for his debut as coach of the Los Angeles Kings
, who play the rival Anaheim Ducks
at Staples Center.
Among Sutter's points of emphasis is improving the Kings' 8-9-1 record at home, and he expects energy at the puck drop in front of an expected sellout crowd.
"I think we're ready to go," Sutter said. "If you look at our season, we've struggled at home, right? We need to get out of the gate and get all our lines and all our defensemen playing well at the start. That's what I want to see."
Players almost view this first game as an audition for Sutter, and they obviously want to make a good impression.
"Everyone wants to kind of show him the kind of things they can do and maybe where they want to be in the lineup," defenseman Drew Doughty
"I think we'll have a lot of energy tonight. It's going to be a lot of fun playing behind a new coach and to finally be at home against the Ducks, it will be a lot more intense game than usual."
Sutter wasn't worried about them possibly being too amped up.
"I think we've been through that," he said. "You've got to harness it a little bit. I think, at the same time, if we can go with that group of lines that we've been using, I think we have enough veteran presence on each line that we can handle it."
Richards returns: Mike Richards
was activated off injured reserve and will return to the lineup for the first time since he suffered a head injury on Dec. 1.
"I'm excited to play again," Richards said. "It's frustrating, I think, sitting in the dressing room and not being able to do anything to help. I'm looking forward to playing tonight."
Sutter has pointed to the absence of Richards for a large portion of the Kings' offensive struggles.
Despite missing eight games, Richards is their leading goal-scorer with 11. Two of those have come shorthanded.
The Kings are 2-6-0 without Richards and 13-8-4 with him.
Said Doughty, "We miss him at both ends of the ice."
Los Angeles does not have to send someone down to make room for Richards because the holiday roster freeze allows 24 players on the roster.
Sutter changed the lines significantly by putting Brad Richardson
and Trevor Lewis
in top-six forward roles.
Richardson is with Anze Kopitar
and Dustin Brown
on the top line while Lewis is with Richards and Simon Gagne
on the second line.
With many of their top players failing to produce, Sutter is looking for consistency with the veterans and contributions from younger ones.
"I know the veterans," Sutter said. "I know they're going to come around … the younger players have struggled to score, too. You give them the opportunity. Why not? That's what your background is. Put them together, maybe it rubs off one way or the other. I think if you look at our schedule, it's pretty busy. You're not going to rely on just one or two lines. We're going to have to count on everybody."
Sutter played with Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau
on the AHL's New Brunswick Hawks (which also had Chicago Blackhawks
coach Joel Quenneville
and Toronto Maple Leafs
coach Ron Wilson) in 1978-79 and in Chicago during Boudreau's brief stint with the Blackhawks. Sutter also played with Ducks general manager Bob Murray
"I got to believe they'll play their best game of the year," Boudreau told the Orange County Register. "When they get a new coach, especially one with the reputation of being a tough taskmaster and an intimidator like Darryl is, they'll put their best foot forward."