Just in case there was any doubt, you should know by now that Darryl Sutter is a pretty darn good coach.
Of course, he'd phrase it a little differently. He'd smirk (that is a smirk, right?), or he'd call out one of his players, or he'd support one of his players, or he'd growl and grunt and hiss and huff and puff until the damn house blows down. He is, as Dustin Penner says, one of the most intense people you could ever possibly meet. And, he's funny, too.
Darryl Sutter, for all intents and purposes, is the best coach in the National Hockey League. His hand is ever-steady. He controls his players through some kind of impenetrable Jedi mind trick.
Richards, Carter, Brown, Kopitar and Doughty have all been held in check. They no longer suffer mental lapses that cause their team games and, as was often the case, series.
In the first two games of this Stanley Cup Final, it's fair to say that the New Jersey Devils should have gone back to Los Angeles with a 2-0 series lead, or at least a split.
And yet, here we are again, with the Kings leading a series 3-0 and showing no signs of letting up. This is a different squad than the pre-Sutter, 2011 version we thought we'd see in April, May or June. Suddenly, their inability to score goals seems like a benefit, because you just never know when they're going to strike and they always seem to do it at the right time, even if the game ends 1-0, 2-1, or apparently 4-0.
Martin Brodeur has never looked so frustrated. Zach Parise is invisible. Ilya Kovalchuk shakes his head in disgust at himself. Travis Zajac looks lost. Marek Zidlicky just seems upset that he's not Drew Doughty.
These Devils look eerily similar to the out-in-five-games Vancouver Canucks squad we saw go down to L.A. in April. They try and try and try. They throw everything at the net. And, of course, when they do, Jonathan Quick is there.
But Quick has never been a playoff goaltender. Granted, he only had two chances at it -- in 2010 and 2011 -- but he was, in many ways, the weakest link in the Kings' chain during those two brief, six-game appearances.
Something must have changed, and it wasn't just Quick himself. He's always been a fine regular season goaltender, but there is something different about him now. He's calmer, composed and he generally seems to have figured it out. That's coaching.
It has to be the man behind the bench, the one with the furrowed brow, the Charlie Brown pinhole eyes, and the mouth that's so inside-out it looks like it's trying to eat itself.
The funny thing is, Sutter doesn't even seem to care. His acceptance of the Kings' coaching job a few months ago seemed like charity work. One can dream he even went as so far to say "Oh, they need somebody? Sure, I guess."
In 2004, Sutter made a Cup run with his Calgary Flames, one of two prides of the province he and his huge hockey family hail from. They came oh, so close, losing to the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games, even after leading the cup finals three-games-to-two with a Game 6 hosted in Calgary's Saddledome.
But, that team wasn't this Kings team. The Flames, like the Kings, were plucky and feisty and they had character. They just didn't have enough skill. They were a sixth seed that vastly overachieved during the regular season, and then found their legs in the playoffs by finding the necessary kryptonite to down (impotent) third-seeded Vancouver, (naive) first-seeded Detroit, and then (soft) second-seeded San Jose.
They're the only team to ever knock off the top three seeds in a conference, by the way.
But, the Flames, for everything they had, just weren't talented enough. Sutter didn't have enough to work with. He had Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regher, and Miikka Kiprusoff. So, he had three players.
He had to turn Martin Gelinas into a continuous overtime hero, and he had to turn Oleg Saprykin into a North American.
When Darryl decided to resign from Calgary's coaching duties in exchange for the general manager position, all went to hell. He hired his brother as head coach, and he filled his roster with Albertans and role players in such a blind, incestuous way, you could have mistaken him for a Borgia. He placed his faith in a team that was successful in pre-lockout hockey, but that same slavish devotion to "character above all else" hasn't worked since then, and the Flames are still struggling to find their identity, and to find the playoffs.
In Los Angeles, Sutter has invested in a team that was under-achieving when he arrived. All he has to do is coach. All he has to do is harness the talent that was previously running wild like a dog who has no respect for its master.
Drew Doughty was lazy, spoiled and just flat-out not performing. Mike Richards was a curse, and the signing of Jeff Carter could have been packaged in a brown cardboard box with a large "fragile" sign on top.
With only a team to coach, Darryl Sutter is quietly running away with the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It could all end on Wednesday night. I hope you're watching.
This blog was originally posted on White Cover Magazine
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