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Sutter pushing the right buttons in L.A.

by Curtis Zupke

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Talk to the Los Angeles Kings long enough and eventually each will have a story about Darryl Sutter's obsession with focus and preparation.

Drew Doughty found out during Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Vancouver Canucks.

"I went in, between periods, to grab a drink and we had our TVs on in there," Doughty said. "I just grabbed my drink and took a peek at the TV, and he happened to catch me in there when I was looking at the TV. I got in trouble for that, and he yelled at me, so I made sure not to go in there anymore."


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Sutter is known to reprimand players for laughing and joking around in the locker at the morning skate, nine hours before a game. His blunt, down-home honest personality was seen as the antidote to the Terry Murray era, and it's become a big part of the story of L.A.'s dominance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"He pushes the right buttons," captain Dustin Brown said. "I think one problem we had as a team was, before he got here, was getting emotionally attached to games. He brought that emotional level up. You can do all the X's and O's right, but if you're not emotionally attached, it's really hard to win in the League. And he's brought attention to that. Again, that comes with pushing guys and patting guys on the back at the right time."

Sutter has typically downplayed his influence on the team, but he very much still thinks like a player and is in tune with the dynamics of a locker room. Specifically, the captain and other veterans must lead the way.

"It's a big part of the game is the emotional part," Sutter said. "They're not machines. There's a way to draw that and it comes from the leadership group more than anything. They can find that themselves and pull guys along with them.

"When teams have success, that's the biggest reason why. The top players do that. It doesn't matter if it's regular season or playoffs."

Sutter prefers to have one-on-one talks with players but said it's also necessary to talk to the team with his staff. There was a strange feeling-out period when he arrived as players had difficulty understanding his mumbling voice, and reporters found themselves struggling to decipher Sutter's meandering non-sequiturs.

Sutter often will reveal big truths in his chats, and his players found that out quickly. But as far as understanding instruction in those first weeks?

"I couldn't understand anything he was saying when he first got here," Doughty said. "I always made sure, when drills were happening, to be at the back of the line. But now that he's been here for a while, it's pretty easy to understand him now."

Sutter denies it but this team resembles the 2004 Calgary Flames team that he took to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. It doesn't have many superstars and a lot of grinders that fit the Sutter mold. The one team so far that was thought to match the Kings, the St. Louis Blues, has succumbed to L.A. in surprising fashion.

The Kings are one victory away from reaching the conference finals for the second time in club history, after their 1993 run with Wayne Gretzky. They can do it with a sweep in Game 4 of the semifinals Sunday at Staples Center (3 p.m. ET; NBC, TSN, RDS).

Sutter, though, said "Every team's different. I thought about that, too, to be quite honest. You look … at all different types of teams – teams that are veteran teams, teams that are less skilled, teams that are more skilled, bigger, faster – it's so different. But it always comes back to, on good teams, it's your leadership group. It always is. It starts to go back to that whole thing. It's what you bring to your locker room."

Sutter said he would like to stick with having their game-day morning skates at Staples Center, as he did for Game 3, but it is largely dependent on the availability of the ice.

Staples Center also hosts the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, both of whom are in the playoffs, so the Kings have their morning skate at different venue. That has bothered Sutter since he came here because he wants players to get acclimated to the game-day environment.

"You know what? Young guys … don't get to go and skate. They go there at night and play the game and they're there for three or four hours," Sutter said. "You don't get to experience the whole atmosphere of it. When you look at it, you'd like to do it all the time. It's the only chance we've had to it. You've got three teams and you can't do it. You've got six days here. If the Sunday game was an afternoon game we could actually do it twice."

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