The offensively-challenged Los Angeles Kings have by no means completely shaken their goal-scoring woes, and the difficulty to mount an attack will only intensify in the second round against the stingy St. Louis Blues.
The Kings scored an average of 2.4 goals a game in their five-game first-round series against the Vancouver Canucks. Among the eight teams that have advanced, only the Washington Capitals (2.29) and New York Rangers (2.0) had lower goals per game averages.
But at a time when goals are harder to come by the Kings have increased their production in the playoffs compared to the regular season, when they finished 29th in the 30-team NHL at 2.29. One of the reasons for this slight increase may be the work of former Kings goal-scoring machine Bernie Nicholls.
The 50-year-old Nicholls is not listed on the Kings coaching staff. He was brought aboard by new head coach Darryl Sutter after Christmas and he is on the ice for most practices, trying to sharpen the Kings scoring skills. During games he sits in the press box and journeys back down to talk to the players during the intermission.
"I've wanted to get back in the game for a long time now," said Nicholls, whose final NHL season was in 1998-99, a decade after he scored an incredible 70 goals in 79 games playing with Wayne Gretzky and the Kings.
"I mentioned to [Kings general manager] Dean [Lombardi] a while ago that I'd be willing to help out the power play in any way I could. Then when Darryl was hired, I phoned him and he told me come on out and help."
Since he retired, Nicholls had spent the fall at his family's hunting and fishing camp near Algonquin Park (2 1/2 hours north of Toronto), working as a guide with his two brothers. But for the past four months, the self-confessed "country boy" has moved back to suburban Los Angeles, stayed in a hotel a few steps away from the Kings practice facility in El Segundo, Calif. and provided counsel and feedback to the Kings.
Even when the Kings are off, Nicholls can be found at the Staples Center, watching his friend from the celebrity golf tour, Vinny Del Negro, coach the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers.
"He's updated the coach's wardrobe," was Sutter's response, when asked how much Nicholls has influenced the Kings since his arrival. Sutter later added in a more serious tone that Nicholls has been a "resource" for the young Kings draw from.
Nicholls played for Sutter in Chicago and San Jose. Even though, Sutter scored 40 goals in his rookie season and passed the 30-goal mark one other time in his seven-year NHL career, Sutter never was considered an offensive player. So when he became a coach, he never wanted to stifle his offensively talented players.
Nicholls recalled once when in Chicago, Sutter summoned the first power-play unit - Chris Chelios, Gary Suter, Nicholls, Joe Murphy and Tony Amonte - for a meeting. Sutter encouraged the group to use their own creativity and to figure out a their own game plan in man-advantage situations because they were much better at scoring goals than he was in the NHL.
"I'm just trying to give these guys information now," said Nicholls, in describing his role with the Kings. "It's important for the guys to have a sounding board, have a person that can pass on some knowledge."
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