Although Darryl Sutter hasn’t coached in the NHL since the 2005-06 season, he didn’t need much time to get back into the swing of things on his first day with the Los Angeles Kings.
Sutter ran his first practice Wednesday morning at the club’s training facility after a meeting with the players, then was introduced to the media during a news conference at a nearby hotel and said: ”I feel like I coached yesterday.”
A stern, no-nonsense coach known for his confrontational demeanor and perpetual scowl behind the bench during his 12 previous seasons with Chicago, San Jose and Calgary, Sutter has been known to criticize his players in postgame sessions with the media. He did it once with Flames defenseman Andrew Ference after a 4-1 loss to the Kings in Los Angeles, referring to him as ”a borderline competitor for us for a number of games.”
”Hopefully it jump-starts them,” Sutter said. ”One thing that hasn’t changed in the game and never will is (the importance of) hustle. It’s men playing a boy’s game, and there is some emotion involved in it. I mean, I don’t think there’s a lack of emotion here at all. But you have to get a consistent pattern of it. That’s what I have to get out of them, and I know I can.”
The Kings are one of six teams to make a coaching change since the start of the season, and the only one that needed an interim coach to bridge the gap until the replacement came on. John Stevens was 2-2 after the dismissal of Terry Murray, who was one victory shy of 500 when he got the boot on Dec. 12.
Sutter’s debut will be Thursday night at Staples Center against Anaheim. The Ducks fired Randy Carlyle immediately following their game on Nov. 31 and replaced him with former Washington coach Bruce Boudreau, the only one to be fired this season and hired by another club.
”Now that Terry’s gone, we have to move on,” captain Dustin Brown said. ”Some of us have been together four, five, six years — and Darryl’s coming in brand new and doesn’t know any of us. But I don’t think it’s going to be that difficult.
”It’s one thing if you’re going to bring in a new coach and he’s going to bring in a whole new system. Then it could be really difficult, because then you’re thinking about what you have to do on the ice – as opposed to reacting,” Brown added. ”As Darryl said to us, everything’s going to be the same in terms of our system and our personnel. It’s our attitude that’s going to have to be the difference-maker.”
Brown hasn’t had enough time to do any advance scouting of his own on his new coach with other players around the league, but did have a chance to talk with one of Sutter’s former players — teammate Scott Thornton — after scoring the deciding goal in Monday’s 3-2 shootout win at Toronto.
”Scott said he hated him when he played for him. But looking back, he said it was some of the best hockey he’s played as a professional,” Brown said. ”I don’t really know the man very well yet and I haven’t spent much time with him, so it’s hard for me to comment on what he’s going to bring. But there’s some renewed excitement here.”
After watching the Kings’ previous five games on television and videotapes of previous games sent to him by general manager Dean Lombardi, Sutter acknowledged that he had a feel for the team and what it was lacking – aside from the obvious, which is scoring.
The Kings, whose 72 goals are tied with the New York Islanders for the fewest in the league, are currently on a streak of 12 consecutive games scoring two goals or fewer in regulation.
”The team has played without Mike Richards for the last couple of weeks (concussion), Drew Doughty missed training camp (due to a contract holdout), and we’ve got Justin Williams coming off major shoulder surgery. So It’s not as easy as it sounds to score goals and play well,” Sutter said. ”We’ve got a lot of work to do. We want it to happen in a hurry, obviously, but we’ll get there.”
At 53, Sutter inherits an underachieving 15-14-4 club that entered Wednesday three points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference after four-game road trip that included a 3-0 loss at Boston and an 8-2 defeat at Detroit.
”The power play is important, and you have to get results at some point,” he said. ”We just need to be better, that’s all. Getting Richards back will help. But what’s going to have to be there in the end is that they all have to defend really well and that they all play hard. We’ve got really strong leadership, and I think we can manifest that and pull that out of that here.”
The Kings were 24-19-5 with five ties against teams coached by Sutter, but finished lower in the Western Conference standings than Sutter’s clubs in seven of his nine full seasons behind the bench. The last time Sutter coached a game at Staples Center was April 2, 2004, when the Flames clinched a playoff berth with a 3-2 win.
This is the ninth time in franchise history the Kings will finish a season with a different coach than the one they started with. They made the playoffs on three of those occasions – 1982 after Don Perry replaced Parker MacDonald, 1987 after Mike Murphy took over for Pat Quinn, and 1988 after Robbie Ftorek succeeded Murphy.
Sutter will coach against all three of his former teams within the next 3 1/2 weeks, starting with the Sharks on Friday night at San Jose.
This is the second time Lombardi has hired Sutter to coach. When they were together in San Jose, the Sharks increased their point total every season that Sutter was behind the bench. But they were eliminated from the first round of the playoffs three times, and from the second round twice.
Sutter has a career record of 409-320-131 in the regular season, and a 47-54 mark in the playoffs. He has won a division title in each of his other three stops and his teams have made the playoffs 10 times — including 2004, when the Flames reached the Stanley finals and lost to Tampa Bay in seven games.