LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Kings didn’t want to abandon their defensive foundation, but also believed they needed a head coach that could get their players in better scoring positions.
After almost two weeks of meetings with associate coach John Stevens, the Kings believed he had come up with a plan to get their players into the middle of the ice and crash the net more to give them a better shot at scoring goals. At least that’s what general manager Rob Blake and Stevens said Monday at a news conference introducing Stevens as the Kings’ new bench boss. Los Angeles had officially announced the hiring of Stevens on Sunday and Blake said Stevens was really the only coach they looked at in their search.
Stevens replaces Darryl Sutter, who was fired along with general manager Dean Lombardi on April 10. Stevens has been on Los Angeles’ coaching staff since 2010 and was a part of the Kings’ two Stanley Cup teams over that stretch in 2012 and 2014.
“I think part of our identity as a hockey team has to be that the LA Kings are a team that goes hard to the net, and quite honestly, if we lead the league next year in coach’s challenges for goalie interference, I’d be really happy about that,” Stevens said.
Stevens said he noticed some flaws with Los Angeles’ offensive gameplan through advanced stats. Too many scoring chances were occurring from the side, where there was less net to shoot at.
“Everyone talks about analytics. Analytics tells you we don’t get enough scoring opportunities up the middle of the ice,” Stevens said.
Added Blake, “We were at the bottom of controlled entries and goals off of controlled entries. We were near the bottom of getting the puck to the slot, whether you were skating or passing it so there were a lot of things with the way goals were being scored now that we weren’t having success in.”
Stevens pointed out that while the team has historically had strong possession numbers, this didn’t equate to wins in two of the last three seasons when LA missed the playoffs. Overall, they had to go back to the drawing board to come up with a new plan.
“I don’t know if I can tell you if there’s a button we’re going to push and it’s going to change everything. I think we do an awful lot of good things here and I do think the game has changed a little bit and we’re certainly paying attention to that,” Stevens said. “The mobility of the defense in the game now – the speed at what teams transition with the puck is certainly what we’ll get better at and we do want a team that attacks hard to the net. It’s not that we haven’t done that before but it’s something that we’re really going to focus on.”
Stevens was asked if these issues were brought up in the last year and why they weren’t corrected sooner. He noted he will be put more emphasis on this moving forward.
“I think there were times this year – and we were aware of it – I just think we have to find ways and we have a staff together, we’re going to really look to find ways to take a guy like (Anze) Kopitar who has the puck a lot in the offensive zone to make sure he ends up in scoring position or getting the puck to scoring position,” Stevens said. “It’s something that is prevalent in the league and something we certainly had focused on prior to now. It’s not something new. It’s just something we’re going to put a real focus on in trying to get better.”
Though Stevens doesn’t exactly bring a new voice to Los Angeles, he adds somewhat of a fresher outlook to the dressing room. Sutter was known as a coach who could wear on players and Stevens doesn’t have that same reputation.
“I think Darryl is one of a kind. He’s an awesome man and an awesome coach. He has a tremendous amount of experience both playing and coaching in the league for a long, long time. They didn’t hire me to be Darryl or not be Darryl. I’ve been here for seven years and they know my personality. I think everybody’s personality is different. It’s just the way it is,” Stevens said. “You’d be really hard to find two coaches that are exactly the same but I think we have a lot of similarities and we’re really driven to win. We both put the team first in a lot of ways but I think the fact that we’re different personalities – I have two kids and I love them both dearly and they’re really really different but they’re really really awesome kids. I think they’re hiring me to be John Stevens because they know who I am. They know my personality and how I interact with players.”
While Stevens was hired because he has a different approach than Sutter, the two believe in similar defensive strategies, which was important for the Kings. Though they want more offense they don’t want to give up on their current defensive structure completely.
Part of the reason why Stevens was hired as an assistant initially was so he could help create a foundation to keep the puck out of the net.
“The success here and the success in the NHL comes from teams that defend,” Stevens said.
He also has NHL head coaching experience – with the Philadelphia Flyers from 2006-07 through 2009-10 where he had a 120-109-34 record and made the 2008 Eastern Conference Final. When Blake was promoted he said this was important in the Kings’ next bench boss.
Stevens believes he has become a better coach since his last time as the main guy behind the bench. This should help him in this latest endeavor in trying to guide the Kings back to Stanley Cup level prominence.
“I think you learn a lot from all the people you work with. I know I really try to be a student of the game and that’s why I was so excited to work with Darryl and the experience and success he’s had. I think early on as a coach I was a real X and O guy. I was gong to teach the game and I saw it on the board and I soon realized relationships are probably just as important as Xs and Os and the spirit of your team,” Stevens said. “I think through all the coaches (I’ve worked with) and certainly with Darryl (I saw) just how important it is to push your team emotionally, keep them in a good place and that’s probably a part of the game I pay more attention to today than I did 10 years ago.”
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