The Attitude to Win [Game #47 Preview - PHX]

"You got to go into games like this and you really got to have a strong mental attitude of how you're going to win the game, what you have to do to win and we haven't had a strong enough attitude that way...it is what it is. Everybody's schedule's tough. That's not an excuse whatsoever. What you have to do is make sure you manage that in how you play, and we're not doing a very good job of that right now."


That's Dave Tippett speaking, not Terry Murray, but a common theme for both clubs this week has been the mental side of the game.  Phoenix is currently on a two game losing streak.  For the Kings, of course, it's even more pressing: they've gone from 4th to 12th in a matter of weeks.

Even if you identify that mental toughness is what you need, ensuring that anxiety never interferes with your play is easier said than done.  One of the reasons I love watching hockey is that the mental battles are front and center: players mess up and mutter to themselves, scowling; yet in the middle of a collapse, scoring a single goal or delivering one giant hit can get a team fired up and on a roll again.  As far as pressure goes, I don't think I can even come close to imagining what it's like.  That's why I love watching players battle back.

When things go horribly wrong, the fans are howling, the coach isn't happy, the voices in the players' heads are chiming in too.  What an awful play.  I suck.  We suck.  This is a disaster.  How could this happen again?  Oh no.  You start to see hesitation, over-thinking, lack of drive, poor execution, and self-defeat. 

The ideal, of course, is optimal performance no matter what the circumstances: pushing for extra energy when you're listless, calming down and regaining your focus after a bad break or a mistake.  Remembering what you did to succeed and drawing assurance from that, even when you're down on the scoreboard.  Belief alone is not enough; but ability alone doesn't cut it at this level, either. 

Many people have pointed out that the Kings have played well both before and in between these slumps, so even though there's plenty of blame to go around right now--enough to fit almost every theory about players, coaches, or management--we know that better play is possible.  They've also pulled out of a slump before.  So...shouldn't they already know how to do it already?  They're pros, right?  They're paid for this.     

The unfortunate truth is that you can see athletes at the highest level, no matter what the sport, suddenly begin to struggle.  The flip side is that you can see remarkable turnarounds as well.  It could start with one shift.  It could start with one game.  But until the Kings collectively learn to maintain the proper attitude as well as good habits, success will come in fits and starts.  Champion teams manage it consistently.  That's where they need to go.

I don't know who will take charge, or what the outcome will be.  But when learning how to deal with adversity, great challenges can be great gifts.  So this is my wish for this team: that they realize that mental preparation is equally as important as the physical, and that it's under their control.

***

Kings Roster Notes: (IN) Andrei Loktionov was recalled from Manchester and will play first line LW.  Wayne Simmonds has recovered from his leg injury.  Ryan Smyth is set to play despite being hit by a puck in practice.  D-pairs have also been shuffled: Mitchell is now with Doughty.  (OUT) Parse (hip), Sturm (knee tendonitis).  Ponikarovsky is a healthy scratch.

Phoenix Roster Notes: Dynamic defenseman Keith Yandle continues to lead the team in scoring with 37 points.  Radim Vrbata is on a five game point streak.  Ilya Bryzgalov has given up 9 goals in his last two starts.  Tippett was displeased with the top line of Upshall, Belanger, and Doan after their 5-2 loss to Nashville.

(IN) Michal Rozsival, recently acquired from the Rangers, logged heavy minutes as the partner of Oliver Ekman-Larsson.  Chris Summers and Brett MacLean were called.  Ed Jovonovski may return tonight.  (OUT) Wolski (trade), David Schlemko (injured by a headshot), Vernon Fiddler (shoulder).
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