LOS ANGELES — For many, December is time when their thoughts turn to family and friends and celebrating the holiday season with them. But for long-time fans of the Los Angeles Kings, December often means dread, doom and gloom as their team goes into their traditional, inevitable December Swoon, a month filled with many more losses than wins.
Indeed, in forty seasons on the ice, the Kings have had a winning record in December just eleven times, their best December coming in 2005-06 when they earned a 9-4-1 record, good for 19 out of possible 28 points, a .679 percentage.
But that leaves 29 seasons when they were at or below the .500 mark in December and even then, they reached the .500 mark only five times in those seasons.
To be sure, December has generally been quite unkind to the Kings, who have a 182-227-70 record in December, earning just 454 out of a possible 958 points, a .453 percentage.
Yet when you look at how the Kings have done overall, the December Swoon turns out to be mostly a myth.
Indeed, if you look at the Kings’ overall record through the 2007-08 season, their winning (points) percentage is only .472, just slightly higher than their December percentage.
So…while Kings fans wish their team, which is currently in the midst of a 1-3-1 December slump, could skip the month of December, history has shown that the Kings’ December won-loss numbers are not significantly different from their overall record.
Although it’s not much of a holiday gift, especially since the Kings are currently mired in a 1-3-1 slump as of this writing, Kings fans can take a bit of solace in the knowledge that their team’s December Swoon is more perception than fact.
Doughty Getting Early Calder Consideration
Rookie defenseman Drew Doughty has exceeded all expectations with his strong play, both on defense and in the offensive zone. The just-turned-19-year-old blue liner is a smooth, fast skater, is a gifted puck handler, has a hard shot from the point and never seems to panic under pressure, showing maturity well beyond his years.
Doughty has been the Kings’ best player so far this season and has the confidence of the coaching staff, which has him playing in all situations.
“He’s played well, he’s improved his game since the start of training camp,” said Kings head coach Terry Murray after his team defeated the Chicago Blackhawks on November 29. “He does play a lot of minutes on our team. He’s a 18-year-old that’s playing an important part of our hockey club.”
Indeed, Doughty is playing at even strength, on the power play and on the penalty-kill. As a result, he is leading the team in ice time with an average of 23:27 as of December 10.
“Whenever we talked about our team in the late part of August, Doughty was a player who we talked quite often,” Murray explained. “If he was not going to be a player who was going to play a lot of minutes on our team, he would be better served back in junior.”
“When the decision was made that he’s capable of making the step to the NHL, there was an understanding from all of us that he was going to play a lot of minutes in all situations.”
Doughty has not only handled the responsibility of being relied upon in all situations, but he has thrived under the pressure.
“The coaching staff has given me every opportunity and that makes me very comfortable,” said Doughty. “After I gain that experience I just feel like I can play the way I did back in the [Ontario Hockey League]. Even though the NHL is a step higher and so much harder I feel that as long as I play my game, I can play at this level.”
Even though some in the media have him as an early favorite to win the Calder Memorial Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s rookie of the year, Doughty and the Kings are not looking at that at all.
“We have a team right now that’s playing some pretty good hockey in the last ten games,” Murray said on November 29. “We’ve done a pretty good job in our team play. He’s a part of the team and he’s going to get some recognition because he’s an 18-year-old.”
“The Calder Trophy is a long ways away—I can’t even believe I said that,” Murray added.
“I’m trying not to think about that at all, it’s so early in the season,” said Doughty. “It would be awesome to win that award, but there are so many good rookies in this league so all I’m focused on is the LA Kings and playing my best every night.”
After a slow start by goaltender Jason LaBarbera in the first ten games of the season, Murray went to Erik Ersberg, who was very solid until the end of that ten-game stint when his numbers slipped a bit. Then his game completely collapsed against the Edmonton Oilers on December 5.
In that game, Ersberg looked totally out of sorts, giving up three soft goals in the first period. LaBarbera came on in relief in the second period, allowing one goal in what ended up as a 5-4 loss.
What happened after that game has been the subject of discussion, as Murray was highly critical of Ersberg.
“The first period…the goaltender was changed because the goaltender wasn’t good enough,” Murray lamented. “That was the problem. We were outshooting them 9-3 and we’re down in the game. So Ersberg didn’t have it tonight and it ends up 3-0 at the end of the first period because of not stopping the puck.”
When asked if Ersberg’s performance in the game would jeopardize his playing time in the future, Murray gave reporters an abrupt, one-word answer.
Murray’s comments have been discussed at some length on various web sites, with some questioning his motives, some going so far as to accuse him of having a double standard when it comes to how Ersberg and LaBarbera are treated because Murray has not been as blunt about LaBarbera’s shortcomings.
Was he simply trying to light a fire under Ersberg, or was he throwing him under the bus?
The educated guess is that Murray does not seem to be the type to abandon a player, especially a young one, so the former is the far more likely scenario than the latter.
LaBarbera was named as the team’s number one netminder by Murray before the season began, only to see Murray backpedal on whether or not he had a hierarchy for his netminders while Ersberg was playing well. Now, LaBarbera is back in the driver’s seat among the Kings’ goaltenders.
“I don’t think [LaBarbera] had to re-establish himself,” said Murray. “I think, at the time, Ersberg had moved pretty confidently in the right direction with his game and was getting some wins.”
“It’s a hard thing, playing goal in this league,” added Murray. “Ersberg comes in, he played only fourteen games before the season and to have expectations of clearly grabbing the ball and running with it were not founded at all, it just was not possible.”
“LaBarbera keeps himself ready. He’s a hard-working guy, he’s got a lot of pride in his game,” Murray said after LaBarbera shutout the Columbus Blue Jackets on December 6. “He came out and showed great things tonight. He was really under control. He was a real asset to us tonight.”
Purcell Heads Back To Los Angeles
The 24-year-old native of St. Johns, Newfoundland currently leads the Monarchs in goals, assists and points with nine goals and ten assists for 19 points in 23 games.
Purcell, who is 6-3 and weighs 202 pounds played in ten games with the Kings last season, scoring a goal and adding two assists for three points, making his NHL debut on January 15, 2008.
With the Monarchs last season, Purcell scored 25 goals and added 58 assists for 83 points with 34 penalty minutes in 67 regular season games, leading AHL rookies in assists and points and tying for second in rookie goal scoring. Purcell also led AHL rookies in power play assists and points.
Purcell was named AHL Rookie of the Month for November 2007 and was a starter for the Canadian AHL All-Star team and was named the Most Valuable Player for the game.
Purcell was signed by the Kings as an unrestricted free agent on April 27, 2007.
Frozen Royalty by Gann Matsuda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Frozen Royalty – Licensing and Copyright Information.