LOS ANGELES — Todd McLellan was coaching the hottest team in the NHL when the season paused March 12 due to concerns about the coronavirus. The Los Angeles Kings won seven in a row following their 3-2 victory against the Ottawa Senators at Staples Center on March 11 and were 10-2-1 in their past 13 games.
“It was pointing in the right direction,” McLellan said during a conference call Monday. “The tank was as full as it’s been all year. Players were doing things the right way. We were coming together as a team. We were structurally much more efficient and less error-prone than we were in the past, which was everything we could ask of from a relatively new group.”
McLellan said he did not know if his team would have been able to continue that level of play over the final 12 games of the regular season, which included seven against teams holding or competing for a berth into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but he praised center Anze Kopitar, forward Dustin Brown and defenseman Drew Doughty for their production and leadership.
“It would have been interesting to see if we could have maintained it or if we would have begun to stray from structure, to stray from the commitment to doing things right, and often with success that begins to happen, especially with young teams,” McLellan said. “It would have been a great learning opportunity for us to go through should it have arrived, but maybe we’ll find that out in the next month or two if we can get back playing again.”
Bunkered at his home in Manhattan Beach, California, McLellan has been studying tape and holding conference calls with team executives, medical staff and coaches to prepare for the possible resumption of the season. He is trying to maintain a daily routine but said he is finding it difficult to adjust to the absence of live sports.
“I can’t turn the TV on and watch the Dodgers on (Major League Baseball’s) opening night,” McLellan said. “I would have been excited about watching that and [it] would have created an escape for me. The fans that are missing the Kings games right now, that two-and-a-half-hour period is soothing. It provides a sense of relief and escape.”
McLellan said he believes the eventual return of the NHL and other sports will represent a significant milestone in the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think that sport will be a big part of the healing process when this is done because it will start up again and it will allow people, whether they are at home watching it on TV or listening to it online or on the radio or in-person, it will allow people to get back to what they consider the norm,” McLellan said. “And once sports starts back up again, I think it will be a good signal to the rest of the world or everyday society that things are beginning to normalize.”