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Los Angeles Kings Almost Perfect On Three-Game Trip

LOS ANGELES — Just one week ago, the Los Angeles Kings were in free fall, having lost three straight games and eight of their previous twelve, plummeting out of the playoff picture.

Indeed, the Kings found themselves seven points out of eighth place in the Western Conference and that light at the end of the tunnel marked “playoffs” was growing dimmer with each passing day.

From the players and coaches to the assistant equipment managers, the Kings all knew that they had to turn things around. There was not a moment to lose and with a three-game road trip against teams ahead of them in the standings next on their schedule, they had a huge challenge in front of them.

“These next three games are our season, really,” right wing and team captain Dustin Brown said before the Kings started the trip. “We’re right there. We need to climb the hill or we’ll fall down the hill.”

“This is a huge test for us, going on the road against three solid teams [Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche],” Brown added. “This is where teams start separating from each other. This will be the test of the year for us. I think it’s a chance we should be excited about as a team. We need to respond.”

“It’s do or die time for us.”

Fast forward back to the present and despite the odds being stacked against them, the Kings are not dead. Rather, they ended the three-game road swing with a 2-0-1 record, earning five out of a possible six points in the standings and scoring thirteen goals over the three games.

In short, although they only gained one point in the standings, now six points out of a playoff spot, the Kings still have a pulse. Prior to the road trip, they were on life support with a power outage imminent.

On the trip, the Kings got back to many of the things that were working for them prior to their recent slump, but most importantly, they regained their lost work ethic, and as a result, got bodies in front of opposing goaltenders with regularity and they actually shot the puck for a change as opposed to constantly making several extra passes while searching in vain for the perfect play.

The result, as reported earlier, was thirteen goals over the three games: a 3-2 shootout loss at Dallas on January 17, a 5-2 win at Minnesota on January 20 and a 6-5 victory at Colorado on January 21.

In the three games, Brown led the way with three goals and two assists for five points. Alexander Frolov was not far behind, tallying three goals.

Kyle Calder was a surprise contributor, scoring two goals with two assists for four points. Anze Kopitar scored a goal and added three assists for four points.

Center Michal Handzus put up three assists, but was far more valuable in the face-off circle, on defense and parked in front of the opposing goaltender, where he contributed to several goals over the course of the three games.

Among Kings defenseman, Drew Doughty led with three assists while Kyle Quincey added two.

The trip also saw the return of defenseman Jack Johnson, who had missed all but the first two games of the season with a torn labrum in his shoulder. Johnson scored his first goal of the season at Colorado on Wednesday night.

On the downside, the Kings found themselves in the penalty box far too often, a problem they have not been able to shake since their slump began. During the three games, they allowed four power play goals on eleven times shorthanded, a rating of just 71.4% and when you combine poor penalty-killing with taking too many penalties you end up with a recipe for disaster.

Despite that, the bottom line for the Kings is that five out of a possible six points on the trip, while not perfect, is enough to keep them going and will have them thinking positive going into the All-Star break.

The Kings’ next game is on Thursday, January 29, one week away, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks at Staples Center and it will be very important for the Kings to win that one because they head right back out onto the road for what looks to be a brutal, five-game road swing against the Montreal Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators, the Washington Capitals, the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders.

Although the Senators and Islanders would appear to be teams the Kings should beat, Montreal, Washington and New Jersey will be huge challenges.

Whatever the case might be, nothing has changed for the Kings over the last week, except that they are playing better than they were before they hit the road. Indeed, their backs are still up against the wall. If they are unable to keep their heads above water with at least a 3-2-0 record on the upcoming road trip, they are likely to find themselves, for all intents and purposes, eliminated from playoff contention once again.


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13 Responses to Los Angeles Kings Almost Perfect On Three-Game Trip

  1. Bob Bobson says:

    5 out of 6 points is pretty good for the Kings especially considering their road record so far this season. I am still not thinking playoffs but I hope that St. Louis will keep things close so the Kings have a good chance at both a playoff spot and lottery pick.

  2. Gann Matsuda says:

    Five out of six on the road is good for ANY team.

    Good luck on the draft lottery pick hopes. Don’t see the Kings getting close enough to the top pick to have a shot at it.

  3. cristobal says:

    Gann,

    The team is too Jekyll/Hyde to know where we’ll be. The 5 points of 6 is good for playoff hopes, but last night’s affair was a little bit “bad” in terms of improving. Too many little mental mistakes by Terry Murray but hoping he works those out with time. He learns at a snails pace, though. At least that’s how it looks from outside.

    Who knows where we’ll be after the break. Will the momentum of Johnson’s return and the 5 of 6 points last or will we be a little “off” like we were around the Christmas break.

    On a side note – I think they should combine the Christmas week, All-star break, and Winter Classic into a 5-7 affair. Too much “breaking” one right after another. Just my “O.”

    Oh yeah, 5 out of 6 is good, but Labs won 6 of 8 points just after being traded. Just a reminder. : )

  4. Gann Matsuda says:

    You see a lot more in LaBarbera than anyone else does, including the Vancouver Canucks.

  5. cristobal says:

    No, Gann, just less in 5 out of 6 points. Comparison, not complaint.

    I’ll try to explain my Labs fascination one more time. I DO NOT feel that he is a No. 1 goalie in the NHL. I feel he should have been sent to Manchester instead of traded for a 7th. I feel that if he gets claimed going down that the Kings lose nothing but salary and that the other team who claims him loses it’s right to claim, helping out the Kings in the cycle of claiming rights.

    If Labs makes it to Manchester, he possibly stays there for 4 or 5 more years backing up any young goaltender we want to groom. If there are injuries he can spell they prospects, OR, he can move to another team where there is an injury and allow the skaters to keep working on their game rather than protecting a “green” goalie.

    If Labs wants to stay in our system at that point, he takes a pay cut and makes more than the average hard working american professional by sitting around in Manchester and playing a game for a living.

    Does that explain why I think a player like Labs can still be of value while not being the team’s NHL No. 1 goalie? Its a matter of managing the pawns in a chess match.

    Gann, could you give some of your impressions of Murray? I’m doubting his ability some, but I’m not privy to what really goes on and how his methods come across to his players.

    Could you give a somewhat candid view of his pro’s and con’s? I thought last night he really knocked the Kings off balance and turned a blowout into a white-knuckle-affair. Is my assessment in opposition to what is really happening?

    cheers

  6. Gann Matsuda says:

    cristobal: Here’s where your desire for that “hybrid” rebuild becomes quite evident…why does keeping LaBarbera help the Kings in any way? Fact is, he was useless to the organization at any level. Putting him on waivers would be silly…the Canucks would’ve snapped him up and the Kings would’ve gotten zilch in return. By trading him, they got SOMETHING for him.

    There is no value regarding the Kings moving up in the waiver claim pecking order…not where they’ve been in the standings.

    And even if he did clear waivers, all he would be doing is taking ice time away from younger goalies who need to be playing to develop. That would be a HUGE mistake. LaBarbera playing in Manchester would be a waste of a roster spot and detrimental to the rebuilding plan.

    The Kings, overall, are a young team that, as Jim Fox and Bob Miller said last night, are still learning how to win. That showed last night after they went up 6-2. They clearly let down, thinking the game was in the bag. That’s the players, not Murray. Coaches can only do and say so much. After that, it’s up to the players to execute.

    Murray is the best teaching coach the Kings have had that I can remember and that’s exactly what they need at this time. Can he take them to the promised land? Who knows. His record doesn’t support that, but anything’s possible. But for now, he is the right man for the job.

  7. cristobal says:

    I disagree, Gann.

    How is it not beneficial to move up in the waiver-pecking-order. How is it not beneficial to the Kings playoff hopes if Vancouver doesn’t have a capable backup goalie to get them 6 of 8 points when their starter and their backup is injured. How does it not benefit the Kings to have Labs backing up in Manchester when they have Zatkoff in the ECHL and Taylor wherever he was starting in every game because they’re the starter?

    Contrarily, I think having a young prospect as a starter and an experienced veteran backing them up is a great idea. I’d love to have vets backing Zatkoff and Taylor up at their respective clubs if it’s not too expensive. Since the trade of Labs we’ve moved Taylor to Manch, Zatkoff to Manch and back, and Bernier from Manch to LA and back again. Plus, Ersberg is hurt AGAIN. I’m not saying its a world changing move, I’m just saying I think the weight of the benefits is bigger than the detriments. As I said, its a chess match and every pawn is important. Plus, if Vancouver hadn’t gotten those 6 points Labs won, we’d be tied in the standings.

    I also disagree on what happened last night. You’re much closer than I to what is going on, but from where I sit it appears that Murray changed tactics in the game and made a whole lot of mistakes himself.

    1 – He played a green-horn goalie 2 nights in a row and the mental fatigue was evident. I don’t know if you’re familiar with what happens to the brain when the body is drained of nutrients and you’re under physical duress, but I’ve been there and mentally it impairs decision making abilities. Clearly Quick made a big mental error on the Willsie goal.

    2 – Murray has spoken about rewarding strong, dedicated play but who better displays those qualities than Harrold? Why does one of the most recently steady performers get left out of this game? I’m not a Gauthier hater by any means but it’s there for all to see that he was on the ice a few times when Colorado scored.

    3 – Somebody pointed out on Inside the Kings that when we got up 6-2 its a perfect time to throw out the 4th line more and get physical with a team on the ropes. I saw that Ivan took a penalty, but he WAS backchecking and trying to do what he’s supposed to do. Westgarth had 2:50 in ice time on the night. I just don’t understand that after all the talk of toughening up and supporting your mates.

    4 – Instead of pouring it on Colorado in the 3rd (if not with a 3 goal lead, when?) the Kings backed off and started to concede the center-red. I know Colorado was flooding forward, but with a 2-3 goal advantage that’s the time you counter their many mistakes and make them pay again and again, until they submit. I thought we got out-muscled and out skated in the 3rd. Why? Because Murray wanted to shut the game down, rather than choke the life out of them like we did in St. Louis earlier this year.

    Like I said, this is from a distance. So I have no idea if the players are simply processing the information poorly. Maybe they are the problem and it just takes time. I definitely loved the way they started the season, much as I loved the first period and a half last night. I want to see the Kings play a full 60 minutes that way. I think they have the legs and the size and the skill to play that way for the full 60, rather than trying to tactically play a scoring period, and even period, and a hang on period.

    But, I think that the play of the last 2 months, and in last night’s 3rd, is down to Murray and the coaches. Too little consistency (though he’s stuck with consistent lines the last 2) and not enough creativity on PP’s or 5 on 5. Again, however, I’m admittedly on the outside looking in.

    What do you think?

  8. Gann Matsuda says:

    Who is going to be available on the waiver wire? It is highly unlikely that a young, talented player who fits into the Kings rebuilding plans (like a Quincey) is going to be available again. You’re placing way, way too much importance on this. It’s really inconsequential.

    And you still place way too much confidence in LaBarbera. So what if he helped the Canucks win a few games? He isn’t capable of helping the Kings now…they’re not as good as the Canucks, which made him look better than he really is. And again, having him on the minor league roster takes away valuable ice time from the kids who should be playing and developing. LaBarbara is a LOST CAUSE in terms of being an NHL goaltender. Besides, the Kings have enough young goalies where they can afford to dump him and make room for the younger ones to get more ice time. It’s ridiculous to even think about keeping him around unless Ersberg and Quick were unable to get the job done and right now, they’re both better goaltenders than LaBarbera.

    On Willsie’s goal, a young, rookie goalie made a rookie mistake. Let’s not over-analyze what happened.

    Given the Kings’ recent history against Colorado, my guess is that Murray was looking for more physical play from the defense, something that Harrold does not provide. Gauthier is still a very marginal defenseman, but at least he takes the body.

    Westgarth, to me, has no skills. It’s really just to see what he can do and if he can help set the tone for the rest of his teammates.

    The third period was not only because Murray wanted to shut down the Avs. It’s because the players failed to execute. They stopped playing their system and began to run around in their own zone. That happens when you think the game is in the bag, a mistake the players made. Same thing over the two months you refer to. The coaches can only do so much. It’s up to the players to execute the game plan and the system, something they failed to do during the recent slump.

    Again, I think you’re over-analyzing here.

  9. cristobal says:

    We have inherently different perspectives. I don’t think the Canucks are any better than the Kings, and I think it’s coaching mistakes that are hamstringing this club. I know I was tough on Lombardi, but I’m amazed at times at how dynamic this team can be. I think you underestimate the players and overestimate the coaching. Think back to how many crucial goals against came with the 4th line and 3rd defensive pairing over the past 2 months. Murray continually sets his players up for failure in my opinion. Perhaps its a routine that ultimately the players are responsible for discovering. But you can see the frustration on a face like Kopitar’s or Brown’s when they’re bossing the game and watch from the bench as the 4th line and 3rd defensive pairing give away goals and ruin all the hard work.

    Rookie goalies do make mistakes, but they are especially prone to them in the back-to-back situation. That’s why coaches usually alternate keepers. I admit it can be called over dissection, but that’s what blogs are for, right? Besides, in my opinion Murray is over-thinking things. It’s a simple game. It just takes 60 minutes of work and the right balance of talents. “Murray’s Lines” has almost become an epithet. He’s only now rediscovered a modicum of balance. Prior to the Minnesota game we’d won only 10 of the last 30 games. I attribute most of that to Murray, but I admit young teams are difficult.

    I still find it hard to believe you don’t see the benefits in not trading Labs. I’d just say that Garon was traded last week for MUCH more than just a 7th round pick. Vancouver got a bargain. They’ve already got a solid, solid No. 1 and Labs may turn out to be one of those go to backups that make a career of sitting most of the time. There have been plenty – Weekes, Sanford, Reddick, Terreri, etc…I’ll agree to drop this issue, however, because it’s taking on Tukonen-like dimentsions. ha!

    BTW, who was the backup in Manchester while Bernier was here in LA?

  10. Gann Matsuda says:

    You accuse Murray of over-thinking? Has it ever occurred to you that you might be the one doing that, especially since I haven’t found anyone around who is supporting LaBarbera. You equate him to Garon. Sorry, wrong. Garon was actually Edmonton’s #1 until he faltered. Garon is quicker and has more skill. He’s just not a #1 goalie. LaBarbera is slow and not as skilled. That’s why Garon fetched more in the recent trade.

    Sorry cristobal, but if you can’t see that Jason LaBarbera is worthless to the Kings as a goaltender in any capacity and at any level, respectfully, I believe you just aren’t seeing the reality of the situation.

    Manchester acquired someone on an ECHL team…didn’t bother to find out who it was.

  11. cristobal says:

    “Sorry, wrong. Garon was actually Edmonton’s #1 until he faltered.”

    As was Labs, here.

    Sorry, Gann, you just don’t get it. Garon was a horror-show in LA. Labs was never as bad. Maybe more inconsistent, but that’s because Garon went downhill and stayed there until he left.

    I also can’t believe you think Labs is worth a 7th, but Garon is worth a pick and two players. You’re wrong.
    Gerber placed on waivers yesterday and not claimed.

    Kings forced to acquire MORE goalies to backup all the injuries and movement of the goalie prospects. Seems as though we’re scrambling around a bit when there is no reason to.

    If I’m overthinking things with this team, I should get a paycheck. If Murray isn’t capable of seeing the things a california kid can see, I seriously doubt his ultimate value to our club.

    I’ll continue to believe that this team could be capable of a miracle, but I seriously doubt it’s possible with a non-believer like Murray. I think he has little respect for the talents and dedication of anyone under 30. Too bad for us because Lombardi has actually stocked a competitive team with the least spending in the NHL. And Taylor got some crazy talent here to make me believe it’s possible.

    Call me crazy, but I believe it’s possible…

    PS – I’m dropping the Labs thing. I’m sure you’re ok with that too. Unless we could sit down over a pint and a chess board and actually talk, I don’t think you’re going to understand what I’m talking about.

    cheers.

  12. Gann Matsuda says:

    OK cristobal…you’re crazy!

    That should teach you not to say things like “call me crazy” around here. :-)

    Seriously, you’re alone on an island regarding LaBarbera. You really should consider the reasons why.

  13. cristobal says:

    I prefer Island living, Gann. heehee. The city is the real ‘crazy’ place. I’m glad to be alone in my ideas about Labs. It only helps reinforce my belief in my thinking. Now, if I were in support of Cloutier, or if I had extended his multi-million dollar contract, I guess I would think I’m the bad sort of crazy.

    As it is, I just keep playing the chess game in my own head and sit back to laugh as the Kings fly goaltenders all over the country and stock the league with talent on the cheap.

    I’d bet 500 bucks that the 7th round pick we got for labs will not play more than 10 nhl games – AND, we’ll (aeg) spend hundreds of thousands of dollars grooming him for the scrap heap.

    Nice…
    Cheers. :-)

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