LA Kings Earn Split Against Phoenix Coyotes in Rookie Tournament
September 11, 2009 5 Comments
EL SEGUNDO, CA – After the first game of their 2009-10 Rookie Tournament, a 6-1 blowout loss to the young prospects of the Phoenix Coyotes, one might think that the Los Angeles Kings’ prospects should have stuck with the drills they were working on during the first three days of their rookie camp.
Indeed, the Kings prospects were a step slow from the opening face-off on Wednesday night at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California. They were outworked and outhustled throughout by the Coyotes prospects who seemed to be intent on skating on, over and through their counterparts.
In that first game, the Kings took some early penalties, immediately putting themselves at a big disadvantage. The Coyotes were all over the Kings from the start and things quickly spiraled out of control from there.
“You get four power plays in the first period, that really set the tone [for Phoenix],” said Kings head coach Terry Murray. “We were outshot 17-4 in the first period. It gets to be an easier game once you get a 2-3 goal lead.”
“They’re good, young players,” added Murray. “They’re talented guys. They’ve got to start playing more together. There was a lot of individual stuff. Whenever you get behind by a couple of goals you want to try to do too much by yourself and, as a result, it goes the other way.”
“Especially in that first period, once you get behind the eight-ball like that it’s really tough to chip away when you’re down,” said Kings defenseman prospect Thomas Hickey. “That’s was the biggest problem. Tomorrow, our focus will have to be on starting [our] game early and getting more shots because they really outplayed us in the first and that set the tone.”
“That’s where the young guys need to manage the game better,” said Murray. “When you’re playing against a team that’s going to line up at the blue line, like they did when they had a 2-3 goal lead, the open ice is what’s behind them. Again, that’s where you get into too much individual stuff, stick-handling, over-thinking and trying to create something that’s not there.”
The Coyotes prospects were intent on taking the game to the Kings physically, and it was evident that Hickey was their primary target. But Hickey did not help himself in that regard, either.
“I was really anxious to make some plays and I took a few hits to do that where sometimes you’d probably be more conservative,” said Hickey. “But I was just really excited to make some plays. I took some hits for it but that’s all right.”
“I was putting myself in that position a few times,” added Hickey. “I’m a guy who can take a beating, but I understand that if you want to play this game for a long time, you can’t do that.”
Nevertheless, the Kings needed to win more of the physical battles.
“They had some big bodies out there,” said Hickey. “They’re a big team. But at the end of the day, it’s not about the size. You’ve got to win those battles because a lot of it is with your stick, so that’s an area we have to be better at.”
Murray said his team did not play with composure and made poor decisions.
“That’s what it’s all about when you get to the pro game,” he said. “It’s composure, handling the puck, making the right decision, passing the puck better than we did here tonight. A lot of passes were made where they were not necessary. Somebody’s on the other side and they were covered and it ends up on a turnover situation.”
“[The Kings needed to make] better decisions with the puck, a little better support for their teammates,” he added. “I thought they were spaced out a little too much—one guy battling in the offensive zone for the puck—we need that second guy there. I think we were looking for the loose puck to pop out and make a great play. You have to go get it. You’ve got to make the decision to support your teammates faster.”
Many of the Kings prospects were also looking to make a big impression on the coaches and scouts. But that impression was usually too big and not the impression they wanted.
One such case came in the third period when center prospect Brayden Schenn nailed a Coyotes prospect with a big hit in front of the Kings bench. But in doing so, he took himself out of position, leaving his wing uncovered. That allowed the Coyotes to attack the Kings zone with speed on that wing and the puck wound up in the back of the Kings’ net in very short order.
“We got a little reckless,” Murray lamented, “Physically, we were taking ourselves out of the play looking for some big hits and then everything opens up. That’s just part of the process of learning.”
Jones got virtually no help from his teammates, but he refused to point fingers.
“It was a tough game,” said Jones. “It’s hard to bring a bunch of guys together and try and get them game-ready in a week, trying to get chemistry going.”
“I don’t think I helped myself too much,” added Jones. “In a game like that, you need your goalie to make a big save to keep you in it early and I don’t think I did that tonight.”
Hickey said that Jones should not be hanging his head.
“I said to him after the game, ‘keep your head up,’ said Hickey. “With the amount of penalties we took he was probably a little flustered, especially after that first period.”
“If you look at the goals, there were some screens, some back door plays where he didn’t have much of a chance,” added Hickey. “But he definitely battled. He didn’t give up. I’m sure he’ll keep his head up because he should.”
Murray noted that Jones gaining experience from this game was the important thing to focus on.
“I’d like to see us play better in front of him,” said Murray. “But again, he’s a young kid who’s a junior player. It was a great opportunity for him to play against guys who have played pro hockey for a couple of years.”
“There was a lot of action around his net, a lot of big guys in front of his crease,” added Murray. “On the power play, they were right in front of his face and he’s learning how to look through and find his way around those kinds of situations.”
Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford said that the young netminder needs to work on his positioning but also pointed out that this was just one game and does not mean a whole lot in Jones’ development.
“He did a lot of good things,” said Ranford. “There were some goals he’d like to have back but I think the whole team was nervous. I don’t know if he was nervous, but I’d like to see his positioning better. He was deep [in his crease] at times. I know that his positioning can be better.”
“He hasn’t played since his team got knocked out [of the Memorial Cup finals] so he didn’t play any games coming into camp here so that was his first hockey and we weren’t a very good hockey team so it makes it tough for your goalie to shine,” added Ranford.
“[There were] a lot of bad giveaways, we weren’t very good on the defensive side of the puck. It’s one of those things. It was a tale of two games. The big thing [was] to get a look at him. Now we have something to build off of.”
To his credit, Jones appears to be keeping things in perspective.
“I’m still here and I want to stay here as long as I can so I think the main thing is to [go into Thursday’s] pre-game skate or practice and work hard,” he said. “That’s the only thing you can do. Work hard, work your way out of it. It’s one bad game. It happens. That’s life. You have to deal with it and I’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”
“At the end of the day, it’s good experience and I’m going to learn from it.”
The best player for the Kings was defenseman prospect Nicolas Deslauriers, 18, who showed a lot of poise, kept himself in good position and made good decisions with and without the puck.
“I think I had a so-so game,” he said. “I tried to adjust my game after the first because when you come from junior to here, you see that the game is a lot faster. I think I had a good second and a good third period.”
Murray had a higher opinion of Deslauriers’ performance.
“Deslauriers is a good, young player,” said Murray. “He’s a great prospect. He kind of jumped out at the Development Camp in July. He’s got a good head on his shoulders. He seems to play that gritty game. He’s got skill, he can move well.”
After a serious stinker of a performance on Wednesday night, the question now was how would the young Kings prospects come out for Thursday’s matinee?
“It’s going to be a test for these young guys,” Murray explained. “It was a tough first game. There are things they need to talk about amongst themselves—managing the puck better, getting it in and how are they going to rebound? That’s going to be the challenge.”
“Compete hard, stay with the compete attitude,” Murray elaborated. “There’s lots of guys who jumped in whenever the going got a little rough. You have to show the determination and keep pushing on. There’s going to be games where you’re going to have a tough time, pucks aren’t going to bounce [your way], you’re going to end up playing in your end more than you want. But they’ve all been through it before. They know how to turn things around.”
“It’s [an] opportunity,” said Hickey. “I don’t think you can afford to be down. This could be the last shot for some guys. You never know what’s going to happen at main [training] camp. This could be your last audition so just get ready for tomorrow and make sure you don’t leave anything out there.”
They didn’t. Indeed, the Kings prospects turned things around completely, shutting out the Coyotes prospects, 4-0, while dominating play in all three zones.
“They got their feet wet yesterday,” Murray noted. “They felt more relaxed. They showed more confidence, more composure. They felt good within themselves and that translated into better team play.”
“For a young group of guys, they moved the puck pretty well,” Murray continued. “There seemed to be much better [puck] support all through the game and there was speed generated because of that kind of support. It was a good bounce back game for them.”
“As you get behind, that’s the tough part for young players because you do get to dangle a little bit with the puck and it backfires all the time. It really snowballed on them last night. But today there were a lot of good decisions.”
Schenn, who was one of the goats on Wednesday night, was the hero on Thursday, scoring two goals and contributing an assist—he was the best player on the ice for either team.
“I think [today] was just a [day] where you get those breaks,” he said. “We worked harder [today] and we weren’t so scrambly. We played a more consistent game.”
“Last night was pretty scrambly,” he added. “There were a lot of nerves. It was our first taste of pro hockey, even though it was only a rookie game.”
“Last night, I had some chances, created some offense and had some hits. But today, I wanted to make more plays. I got some breaks and the puck went my way.”
Murray was pleased with Schenn’s improvement.
“He’s a pretty gifted player,” said Murray. “He’s a very competitive guy and he wants to be where the action is all the time. You’re going to see a young guy take himself away from the play sometimes to leave an impression. But he was in the right place at the right time [in Thursday’s game]. He made a couple of really good plays passing the puck. He sees the ice very well. That line was good and he was good in particular.”
“You look at [our] top picks and they played well,” added Murray. “This year’s draft picks…Schenn, [left wing prospect Kyle] Clifford…they were really good. Deslauriers was very good in both games. A young guy who sits there and reads and knows when to attack with the puck. I like [forward prospect Michael] Pelech. He’s got a good stick and a good understanding of the game.”
Jean-Francois Berube, 18, went all the way in goal for the Kings, earning the shutout.
“After this game, I felt pretty happy,” he said. “The guys did a pretty good job in front of the net and made my job easy. The guys kept the [front of the net clear]. I could see the puck very well.”
The coaching staff liked what they saw from Berube as well.
“I was very impressed with Berube today,” said Murray. “He had a good game. He made some tough plays in tight situations. He’s following the puck. It was a good game for him.”
“I really liked the composure of Berube,” said Ranford. “He just kept it simple and stopped all the shots.”
More On The Goalies
Although goalie prospect Jeff Zatkoff participated in the rookie camp, the focus for the Kings was on Jones and Berube, since Zatkoff played last season down the road with the Ontario Reign, the Kings’ ECHL affiliate.
“The biggest thing with junior style goalies [Berube and Jones] is to see if they can remain playing their game with the better shooters and that’s the thing you look for—as long as they don’t try to change their habits,” he explained.
“It’s going to be better shooters, faster,” he added. “The movement of the puck is going to be better. Are they able to elevate their game? That’s the big thing you look for.”
Berube and Jones now need to heed what Ranford is preaching to them about their technique.
“I think for the two of them, we want them reacting from their feet instead of their knees because as you move up to a higher level of shooter, if you go down too early, the big shooters, the NHL style shooters, will expose you up high,” said Ranford. “So it’s just teaching these guys to be more patient on the shot release and you want them to adjust.”
“His big goal, if he does end up in the American Hockey League, it’s to prove that he can play consistently at that level,” Ranford stressed. “He proved it at the ECHL level now he’s got to prove it at the next level.”
“He’s really moved along at his game and worked on his game,” Ranford elaborated. “He’s a little bit stronger but still has a ways to go with that. He’s a skinny-type kid and we want him to get stronger and as his body matures, he will get stronger.”
“When I look at our six goalies, I’m excited. We’ve got a fine future with our guys right now. We’ve got very little NHL experience, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing because we can grow as a group.”
A nice problem to have for a change.
Training Camp Opens Saturday
The Kings open their 2009-10 training camp on Saturday, with off-ice meetings and physical testing. The first on-ice sessions begin on Sunday morning (click here for the training camp schedule).
All the prospects at the rookie camp will participate in the main training camp.
“Everybody in this camp will start [in the main camp],” said Murray. “The date we’ll look at [making their first roster cuts]—we have two games in that one day [September 15]. Once we get those two under our belt then we have to take a look and evaluate a little bit to see where we are.”
Rookie Tournament (Day 2) Raw Audio Interviews
Jean-Francois Berube (1:39)
Brandon Kozun (2:01)
Brayden Schenn (1:11)
Terry Murray (3:58)
Bill Ranford (5:34)
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