Farmer Sutter plants seed in L.A.

Kings head coach Darryl Sutter talks to his players during a timeout against the Canucks in Game 4...

Kings head coach Darryl Sutter talks to his players during a timeout against the Canucks in Game 4 of their NHL Western Conference quarterfinal series at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Calif., April 18, 2012. (DANNY MOLOSHOK/Reuters)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:07 PM ET

LOS ANGELES - What do a 53-year-old straight-talking farmer at heart and some 20-something California millionaires have in common?

A good shot at a Stanley Cup.

Nobody would have predicted this when Crusty and the Kids first teamed up. The Los Angeles Kings were stuck in a season-long malaise, out of a playoff spot and unable to generate anything even closely resembling offence while Darryl Sutter, last we heard, had watched the new-age NHL pass him by in Calgary with the Flames.

A few months later the union seems unstoppable. It powered through the Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the playoffs like they weren't even there and is poised to make even shorter work of the second-seeded St. Louis Blues.

This has the feel of a Morgan Freeman movie, where an uncompromising disciplinarian arrives at the school and whips his delinquent home-room students into math champions. The Kings are seeing the game through his eyes now, playing it his way and, with the size and skill at their disposal, it's a frightening new look.

"He pushes the right buttons," 27-year-old captain Dustin Brown said. "One of the problems we had before he came was getting emotionally attached to games, he brought that emotional level up. You can have all the Xs and Os but if you're not emotionally attached it's really hard to win in this league."

Added 22-year-old Drew Doughty: "He's so hard on you it's almost scary to not be ready. If he catches you off guard you're going to be in trouble. He does a great job at that, and that's a huge part of our success."

The Kings, with 34 points in their first 33 games, were spinning their wheels like a tractor in mud under coach Terry Murray. Under Sutter, they've lost just five regulation games in their past 26 starts.

According to Matt Greene, the team just needed a tough guy at the helm.

"Darryl brings a different style of coaching," the veteran defenceman said. "Definitely more intensity, more in-your-face attitude. I think what a lot of guys needed in here was somebody to be on them and ride them a little harder than Terry did."

To suggest Sutter simply walked in and started yelling at everyone until they played better isn't at all how it went. He's doesn't like to yell, for starters, but he doesn't BS, either.

"The best coaches I've ever played for or worked with weren't (screamers)," Sutter said. "But they were straight up and straight shooters. They'd look at you and tell you the truth."

He can't imagine doing it any other way.

"I'm still an honest guy," Sutter said. "It's what's best for the team, not always what's best for what the player thinks. That's a good way of doing it. I wish that would be how everybody always approached me."

The players admit there was an early adjustment period, starting with trying to understand what Sutter, who usually sounds like Rocky Balboa caught somewhere between whisper and mumble, was even saying.

"The first couple of weeks there were a lot of practices where we didn't know what the hell we were doing," Brown said with a grin.

Doughty said he couldn't understand anything Sutter was saying. "I always made sure when drills were happening I was at the back of the line."

They laugh a lot in Kings camp these days. Sutter is king of the dry humour, master of sarcasm, both of which are used with great effectiveness in communicating his message.

"In video, whether he's saying something about the other team or about us ... there are times when he's sarcastic and we all get a laugh out of it," Doughty said. "He's great on both ends, he likes to have fun at the right times but for the most part he's serious and wants you well prepared."

The humour is so dry sometimes Doughty doesn't know whether to chuckle or cringe.

"I kind of catch myself," he said. "I kind of wait for him to smile after he says what he has to say because I don't want to be laughing when he's serious."

No, you don't.

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ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@Sunmedia.ca


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