As of this writing, the Kings have a 3-6-1 record, good for seven points. They are ranked last in the Pacific Division, already eleven points out of first place, and in the Western Conference standings, the Kings are also dead last—both are right where they were last season.
Against the rest of the league, the Kings are ranked 28th in the thirty-team NHL, just two points ahead of the last place New York Islanders.
The Kings ended the 2007-08 season in 29th place, tied in points with last-place Tampa Bay.
In short, the Kings are right about where most people expected them to be, showing no significant improvement in the standings over the previous season so far. But if you think the Kings have not improved over last season, guess again.
Although consistency is a problem that continues to plague them, that is to be expected of the third-youngest team in the league. But there have been both tangible and intangible improvements over the Kings we all were used to seeing.
One area of improvement has been on the defensive end, with the team having allowed 31 goals in ten games. At the same point last season, they allowed 36, an average improvement of half-a-goal per game.
If that trend continues, the Kings could end the season improving their goals against by 41 goals, dropping them from 266 goals against last season to 225.
That would be a tremendous improvement on defense and could still turn out to be little more than a pipe dream. Nevertheless, it is something Kings head coach Terry Murray has focused on since he was hired this past summer and the defensive system he has installed appears to be working.
“The big thing is that we’ve simplified our game plan,” said Kings defenseman Tom Preissing. “There are situations that are easy where you know where you should be and from those you can just react instead of over-think about [where you should be].”
“You know there are basic positions where you need to be and then it’s more of a reaction as opposed to over-thinking the game,” added Preissing. “As athletes, if you over-think the game, a lot of times, it doesn’t work out in your favor.”
Despite their youth and inexperience, the Kings have shown, at times, that they can play with the best.
Indeed, they faced the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings on October 27 and despite losing the game, they were not completely outclassed the way the 2007-08 Kings often were by the better teams in the league.
“After the first five or ten minutes we settled into our game and we saw that we were going to be able to compete with them,” said Kings left wing Patrick O’Sullivan. “We gave them a pretty good run.”
“You see that our team is capable of playing with the best team in the league,” added O’Sullivan. “It’s got to give us a little confidence. Nothing’s better than game experiences like that one. Those are situations we’re going to be able to go back to when we face a team of that quality, so there’s a lot to move forward with.”
In fact, the Kings played well enough to hand the Red Wings an embarrassing loss, but the champs pulled out a 4-3 shootout victory.
“We were real close to getting the two points,” O’Sullivan lamented. “It’s disappointing, but at the same time, that’s a really good team and we’re happy with the one point. They’ve got some pretty good players who they can put out for the shootout.”
“I think right now, we’re a little frustrated with how it ended,” O’Sullivan added. “It’s tough not to pull something out of this game and realize that we did a lot of positive things. We have to build on this. We have to continue to grow as a team and continue to improve on the mistakes, understand them. Games like tonight are going to make this team better.”
In a rather similar game, the Kings skated right with the Calgary Flames on November 1, outworking and outplaying the Flames despite losing the game, 3-2.
“That was a good hockey game tonight, we played very well,” said Murray. “We played, maybe, from the dots to the boards, as good as we’ve played this year with competitive play, coming up with pucks.”
“We’re starting to figure out and understand the importance of that kind of an effort,” added Murray. “The way to be competitive every night are these little things you have to do along the boards.”
His players saw things much the same way.
“I think we played a pretty good game tonight,” said Kings right wing Dustin Brown. “There was one funny goal for them, one on the power play and then we miss one check and it’s three goals on less than twenty shots and [Kings goalie Jason LaBarbera] played pretty good at the same time.”
“It’s one of those games I felt like we should’ve won,” added Brown. “I felt like we dominated the play. It’s a tough loss.”
“We deserved to win that game,” said LaBarbera. [Calgary goaltender Miikka] Kiprusoff stood on his head tonight. It was one of those games where we just couldn’t buy a break and they got one at the end and we just didn’t pull it out.”
After their shootout win over the Kings, the Red Wings left Staples Center impressed.
“I think the coaches have come in and have instilled a system and the guys seem to be buying into it,” said Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart, who played for the Kings last season until he was sent to Detroit in a trade deadline deal on February 26, 2008. “They’ve got a lot of good, young players and they seem to be responding well to the new coach. It’s a good sign. Their future looks good.”
“I think Terry Murray and his staff have done a real good job here,” said Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock. “They’ve got six forwards up front that any team would love to have and they’ve got’em spread out over three lines.”
“The Doughty [Kings rookie defenseman Drew Doughty] kid looks like a real good player,” added Babcock. [Kings defenseman Jack] Johnson’s not here. They’ve got a lot of pieces here and they’re going in the right direction.”
But the road heading that direction is going to be a bumpy one as the youthful Kings learn on the job, and their lack of consistency has been a problem.
“I think that’s something we’ve got to work on,” said Murray. “That’s what the good teams in this league do. They have consistency. That’s what we have to work towards. We have to bring the same effort every night.”
A good example of their inconsistency came on October 30 in a 4-0 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, a game where the Kings did not put forth the same effort they did against Detroit or in a 4-3 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes on October 17.
“Tonight, we just didn’t do it,” said Kings defenseman Matt Greene. “We didn’t have the same grit, the same drive we did against Detroit and in the other games we played leading up to that. If we could figure out what it was then, obviously, we’d fix it. But it’s just something we have to learn through growing as a team as the year goes on if we want to be successful.”
“I think the energy wasn’t there tonight as it was against Detroit,” said Kings rookie forward Oscar Moller. “We just have to regroup tomorrow and come out with a better attitude. We just have keep pushing each other and come out with the right energy.”
Another good example came on November 1 during a 3-2 loss to the Calgary Flames, a game in which the Kings outplayed the Flames. But often times, all it takes is one bad shift to turn the tide, and that is exactly what happened against the Flames.
After Moller tied the game, 2-2, at 14:04 of the third period, the Flames took advantage of a defensive lapse by the Kings, with Flames center Daymond Langkow scoring an easy one just 1:18 later to give the Flames their margin of victory.
On the play, Doughty had fallen down along the right wing boards, allowing Langkow to make an uncontested beeline to the front of the net. Meanwhile, Kings center Anze Kopitar did very little to check Flames winger Todd Bertuzzi in the right corner. That allowed Bertuzzi plenty of time and space to backhand a pass to Langkow, who scored from just outside right crease.
Murray was not happy with Kopitar’s effort on that play.
“There has to be more dig-in there,” Murray lamented. “That’s the stuff that the good teams do. They don’t give up goals late in the game. They’re able to protect in their defensive zone. Whether you’re looking at a tie game there or a one-goal lead, you have to get the job done.”
“There has be a greater dig-in, a more competitive situation—stick on the puck, two hands on the stick and really playing aggressive in the one-on-one situation,” Murray emphasized.
Boyle Still Learning How To Use His Body
After coming into the Kings training camp back in September with a job to lose according to Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi, rookie center Brian Boyle looked to be a lock to secure, at the very least, the Kings’ fourth-line center spot on the roster.
But after the first three games, Boyle found himself watching from the press box instead of playing for five games because he was not the strong, physical presence that was expected of him, especially since he is truly imposing figure at 6-7, 248 pounds.
“At times he shows that he’s using his size and strength to his advantage, digging in and really being competitive along the boards,” Murray explained. “I think he’s going to get much better at it—he’s got to get much better at it in order to be a player in this game.”
“He’s got to use that size and strength, an advantage he has against most players,” Murray stressed.
Boyle finally got back onto the ice on November 1 against Calgary and showed some improvement.
“[Boyle] was pretty good,” said Murray. “He played in a fourth line situation. He’s not up against the top players or anything like that, but he took advantage of his minutes. He was determined.”
“I was a bit nervous at first, a bit jittery with the puck,” said Boyle. “I just tried to do what coach said—battle as hard as I could.”
Extra skating after practice and watching games from the press box helped the young center.
“I was in pretty good shape because coach was skating me after practice,” said Boyle. “It was good because I got to watch some games to see what I needed to do better.”
“Defensive zone, offensive zone…be harder on the puck,” Boyle explained. “In the defensive zone, knock a guy down if he’s got the puck because I can lean on him harder than I was. There’s a time for stick on puck, holding your stick out there, and there’s a time when you can really give it to the guy in the corner and I need to do more of that.”
Boyle acknowledged that the coaches are dead on about what he needs to do out on the ice—play with a lot more grit and punish opposing players when the opportunity presents itself.
“It’s not too complicated, it’s not as complicated as I thought it was in the beginning,” said Boyle. “You just have to have an attitude going into one-on-one battles. It’s me or the other guy and it can’t be the other guy if you want to stay in the lineup.”
“I think I’ve learned my lesson pretty good,” added Boyle. “The only way to stay consistent with that is to keep that mindset every day, no matter what, practice, games. It’s most apparent in games, but practice especially, you have to incorporate it into your daily routine—make it a habit.”
“You’re never going to lose a puck battle. That’s what you’ve got to think. You’re going to outmuscle guys, you’re going to be bigger and stronger.”
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