NEWARK, N.J. — If you ask certain players and coaches on the Los Angeles Kings to reflect on previous organizations they played or coached for, you’ll encounter a range of willingness to divulge moments in their past that in their opinion isn’t necessarily applicable to their current standing.
Jeff Carter and Mike Richards have always humored reporters when instances from Philadelphia or Columbus are referenced, even if there’s the sense that they’d prefer to move on. Darryl Sutter isn’t one to speak at length about serving as a general manager and coach in Calgary despite leading a Cinderella Flames team to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2004.
Rob Scuderi will willingly recall his experience as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, with whom he appeared in back to back Stanley Cups and won hockey’s ultimate prize in 2009.
Just be careful when dusting off his infamous nickname “The Piece”.
“I tried to leave that in Pittsburgh, but thank you very much for bringing it up,” he said to one reporter after Friday’s practice in Newark.
“I made a pretty brutal quote a couple of days ago,” Scuderi explained at the time. “I was supposed to say, ‘a’ piece to the puzzle, but instead I said, ‘the’ piece to the puzzle. So, it’s not Sid, it’s not Geno. Apparently it’s me.”
So did the nickname accompany the veteran defenseman when he signed a four-year, 13.6 million dollar contract with Los Angeles that subsequent offseason?
“No, no one’s called me it here,” he said. “Every once in a while someone says it, and I’ll kind of make a shush remark. It was funny. It’s not like I said it on purpose. It’s more of a funny thing that we can all laugh at.”
One development that isn’t a laughing matter is his ability with partner Drew Doughty to evolve into one of the league’s most effective shutdown pairings in the twilight of the 2011-12 NHL season. In a Game 1 victory Wednesday night, he and Doughty combined for a plus-three rating while helping limit New Jersey superstar Ilya Kovalchuk to zero points and only one shot on goal.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer, who also shared positive Ontario Hockey League recollections of coaching Justin Williams while with the Plymouth Whalers and Mike Richards with the Kitchener Rangers, offered high praise of the Doughty/Scuderi tandem, comparing them with the effective duo of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers,
“As shut-down defensemen, I would put those two in the class of Doughty and [Scuderi], yes,” DeBoer said. “Doughty, in an individual class, is in a class by himself. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. As a shut-down pair, you know, those two, you ask around the league in the Eastern Conference, those two are as tough a shut-down pair as there are on this side.”
Scuderi articulated the challenge of seeing abundant time against a player as dynamic as Kovalchuk.
“He’s got a lot of skill, and he’s able to just hold the puck for an extra second to get him in position to take that shot, which is probably his best asset,” Scuderi said. “It’s something that we’ve tried to focus on. You just don’t want to let a guy like that off the leash, because he can really hurt you.”
“He’s kind of like Ovechkin that way. Even though they’re big guys, they’re very good at just putting themselves into space, especially on the weak side of the net.”‘
As a 33 year old, he’s the next-oldest player in the Kings dressing room after 35-year old Willie Mitchell, and like Mitchell, he’s a member of the experienced leadership core that has helped bolster the team’s palpable focus this postseason. He’s also one of four players — Dustin Penner, Simon Gagne and Justin Williams are the others — who have won a Stanley Cup, part of the reason he was sought after by the club shortly into the 2009 free agency period.
Despite changing jerseys and coasts, it wasn’t a difficult transition for the Long Island native.
“I didn’t think it was hard, just because I had talked to Dean and Hextall I think one of the first few days I had arrived in Los Angeles with my family, and they pretty much just told me ‘we want you to be the same player. We want you to be the same person that we’ve heard about,'” Scuderi said. “It really took the pressure off, because you get a big contract. I don’t mind the expectations that come with the territory, and that’s fine. But I thought I was real glad those guys came in and said that they didn’t want you to do anything different than what I did in Pittsburgh.”
It’s a sturdy approach that hasn’t wavered since he was selected by Pittsburgh in the fifth round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. Richards, who played against him as a divisional and playoff opponent while the two were in the Atlantic Division, insinuated that it was more than just his defensive attributes that stood out as he called to attention Scuderi’s proficiency in efficiently advancing the puck up the ice.
“I can’t stress that enough how much better it is as a forward when you have the puck on your stick in the right position every time, and is quick, and you have that extra second to make plays obviously helps out a lot,” Richards said.
He also chuckled when asked whether Scuderi’s Penguins background made him “automatically despised” when he entered the L.A. dressing room.
“I think you have to when you’re in Philadelphia, to Pitt,” Richards joked.
“He’s one of those players that you might not recognize until you play against him, and then when you play against him, you definitely know who he is.”