April 09, 2010
Last summer, the Los Angeles Kings made a statement about this season when they signed defenseman Rob Scuderi(notes) from the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins to 4-year deal. Here was a coveted, veteran player that just won a championship, coming to a franchise that hadn't seen the playoffs since 2002. The statement: They were bringing in a player like Scuderi because the time to contend had arrived.
The Kings are a playoff team again this season, and Scuderi has provided the same type of defense he provided the Penguins during his breakout season in 2008-09. He plays an average of 19:20 per game, much of it with Kings standout Drew Doughty(notes) this season. He's been a steady, experienced presence on the ice and in the locker room when necessary.
We spoke with Scuderi earlier this week about the Kings in the playoffs; the differences in playoff vibe between LA and Pittsburgh; potential first-round opponents; RJ Umberger's(notes) "West beats the Capitals" comments; making the case for Drew Doughty as the Norris Trophy winner; faith in goalie Jonathan Quick(notes); not making the Olympic cut; his favorite Kings jersey; and, somewhat to our surprise, the cast of 'Jersey Shore.'
First, here's Scuderi on some playoff baggage he carried with him to Los Angeles:
Q. Did the nickname "The Piece" stay in Pittsburgh or did it travel with you to LA?
SCUDERI: No, unfortunately it did happen to travel with me. It was waiting for me when I got here. But the way it came up was all in good fun. I don't take any offense to it. [The nickname 'Scuds'] is still the majority of it. But every once in a while, someone will throw it out there. It's maybe declined a little bit, but it certainly hasn't died.
What was the celebration like the night you guys clinched?
It was weird the way it happened. Calgary lost a game, which is basically why we clinched. It was a bit different. We're excited. It's something this organization hasn't done in eight years. It's good to be excited but everyone realizes we've got some work ahead of us.
Are you seeing more celebrities yet in LA? That was always the measure of success when Gretzky was in LA.
Early in the season, we had a few come down. I remember the guys were real pumped about meeting the cast of "Jersey Shore." I'm not a big reality TV guy, so I really had no idea what they were talking about.
You didn't meet Snooki?
I saw her, but I just didn't get it. I thought, 'Well, you know, it must be a celebrity.' I'm not that good with names and faces.
The guys were pretty pumped. They all wanted to meet The Situation or whatever. I've never seen the show. They were telling me the characters' names. It seems like a pretty interesting show.
Can you contrast the pre-playoff vibe in LA to that in Pittsburgh?
It's a little different. The Dodgers are huge out here. It's a big Laker town. People want to be into hockey, but I think it's been so long since the team has been consistently good that it's been tough to get into. They've been let down for a long time.
Being a fan of the Mets, having a couple of tough last Septembers and Octobers, sometimes it can be disheartening as a fan.
As a Mets fan myself, you know true heartache, sir.
Ugh. That one time when they had they had a 7-game lead with 17 to play ... I couldn't believe that happened. As a Met and Jet fan, you're always setting yourself up for failure.
The LA Times wrote a story that mentioned how you were a veteran playoff sage to some of the younger players. How does it feel going from the guy listening to war stories from Gary Roberts(notes) and Bill Guerin(notes) to the guy telling them to Kopitar?
I'm not doing anything different than what I would have done in the locker room in Pittsburgh last year. I've never been afraid to speak up. I don't have a lot to say, but I speak up if I think I have something worth listening to. I'm not going to ram my opinion down anyone's throat. If I have something to say, it's usually going to be for the good of the team.
That's what I learned from those guys you just mentioned. They don't talk a whole lot, but when they do it's worth listening to. And the most important thing is that you practice what you preach.
What sort of advice have you given them?
I think the No. 1 thing any player should know going into the playoffs for the first time is that every play matters.
You might think it's a small play, not that big a deal, but everything is connected. A bad pass can lead to an extra 30 or 45 seconds in the defensive zone, which leads to a penalty, which then leads to a goal. Everything is connected. That's true in the regular season, but it's amplified in the playoffs.
Speaking of the regular season, you signed a pretty significant contract after last season. Does a raise like that play on your mind at all, or is it a non-factor during the season?
It's definitely on your mind. You think you have to be this different guy now. But when I got here, I thought the management was very good; that business was business, and 'we just want you to be the same player and the same person you were in Pittsburgh.' That made me feel much easier about things.
There's certainly an adjustment period about coming to a new team. But after three or four months, you're comfortable. You know all the guys, you know the system they want you to play. I'm starting to feel more at home every single month.
It's gotta be a different vibe for you in the playoffs compared to last year, when you had the free agency thing in the back of your mind.
The great thing about the playoffs is that it makes you focus on one thing at a time. So the only thing I was ever focused on what 'play the next game, play the next game.' If you take care of the stuff on the rink, then the other stuff will take care of itself. That's how I tried to handle the whole situation.
Looking at the standings, there's a still a chance you could match up with several teams. As a competitor, is there a part of you that really, really wants the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round more than Vancouver and Phoenix, because they're considered a Cup winner-in-waiting?
Yeah. Sometimes it is fun to play the role of spoiler. For me, it doesn't matter who we play. I'm just glad that we're in.
All the teams are pretty good. It could be Chicago or Vancouver or even San Jose. All of those teams have a shot to win the Stanley Cup this year. Taking down any one of those teams would be a great challenge.
Since you're singing the praises of the Western Conference, I wanted to ask you about RJ Umberger's comments about the Washington Capitals' style not being a successful one in the postseason, and that any team in the West could beat them for the Cup. Having played against that style last season in the playoffs, did he have a point?
I will agree with the part ... basically he's saying that the Western Conference is the stronger conference, and I would say that's true. I don't think that's a stretch.
We had a real competitive game against the Capitals this year. I don't know ... they push the play, they're very aggressive. They give themselves a chance to win every game. When it comes to the playoffs, you never know. Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't.
Is travel a big issue now that you're not traveling from Pittsburgh to Philly or Washington in the conference playoffs? You might have to travel to Phoenix, or you might have to travel to Chicago, for example.
I think it's part of it, but it's even for both teams. If we happen to play Chicago, we'll have to fly out there; but we're in there a day early and have time to assimilate to the time change and everything. When we come back to the West Coast, they have to make the same trip.
Looking at the team specifically, one of the few places you guys seem to struggle is on the penalty kill. Where are the areas of improvement?
When you look at the numbers on the PK, it's not that great right now, but I think a lot of that has to do with the start of the year. We really had a tough first 30 games, and we struggled. After that, we got really solid for a long time. We were at, for a couple of months, at 85-90 percent, doing a good job. As long as we've picked it up as the year went on, it's a positive thing.
I think it's one of those things. The Kings weren't a playoff team last year, but had a fantastic penalty kill. This year, we're a playoff team, and you'd think that'd be an area that you'd keep the same, but it just hasn't happened that way.
The biggest thing for us is that we give up very good quality chances around the net. It's not necessarily a rebound, but we've been letting them get way too good scoring chances recently, and that falls on everyone. Your goaltender can only do so much.
Speaking of your goaltending, do you think Quick's been overlooked a little bit this year?
I think so. Everyone sees that we're a playoff team, but to me he's been the most consistent reason why we've at this point. If you don't have a goaltender that can give you a chance to win every game, you're just not going to have a successful season. It's really tough to make up for poor goaltending. He's given us consistent games since Day 1, and he's the biggest reason why we're in the playoffs.
When I look at Drew compared to those guys, I think the one thing he does bring is more of a physical aspect to his game. Having played with him for 60 games, he's very physical. He's not afraid to get in there, to mix it up.
Besides that, they're all very good players. They break the puck out very well, they make a very good first pass. They have a ton of points because they're great on the power play and at even strength. I'm not sure who those guys play against, but Drew draws the top line every single night.
I've encouraged him to keep it because he's been incredibly hot recently, scoring goals.
As soon as it starts to get a little better, someone's going to have to sucker him to keep it going. (Laughs)
You seemed like you were right on the cusp of making the US Olympic team. Did you have any "if only I had been there" moments while watching?
You always regret not making a team. I wanted to make it, it didn't happen, and once it didn't happen you say 'well, I'm still cheering for them.' I don't think it's a bad thing to regret not making the team, but I had no ill feelings or ill will towards the people picking the team of the guys that we on it.
Was it bittersweet seeing Sidney score the golden goal?
A little bit. We were out here at Kopitar's house watching the game. We had the Canadians and the Americans. He's a good friend and a good person during my time in Pitt. If anyone was going to get it, I'm glad it was him.
In thinking about the playoffs again, with Pittsburgh last year: Is there any chance you can top the save you made in Game 6 as a moment of playoff glory?
It's one of those things where I was in the right place at the right time. I had a chance to help my team. That's all I ever tried to be as a player.
Finally, which Kings jersey do you prefer?
By far is the one they introduced last year with the black shield on the front. I think that one is my favorite. Definitely not the bright, awful yellow. I wasn't a big fan of those. My favorite one is the black shield.