FROZEN ROYALTY EXCLUSIVE: In part 3 of this series of stories based on an exclusive interview with Los Angeles Kings head coach Terry Murray, we look back on the play of defensemen Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson in the 2010-11 season, one in which both took a step backwards.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — Although the 2010-11 Los Angeles Kings made some progress, most notably, in their defensive zone coverage, penalty-killing and goaltending, they took a step backwards in their play in the attacking zone, both in terms of five-on-five play, and on the power play.
Contributing to that step backwards were the Kings’ top two defensemen, Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, whose performances dipped a bit from the 2009-10 season.
Last season, Doughty scored eleven goals and tallied 29 assists for forty points, with a +13 plus/minus rating and 68 penalty minutes in 76 regular season games.
Those numbers were well off what he posted in 2009-10, when he scored 16 goals and added 43 assists for 59 points with a +20 rating and 54 penalty minutes in 82 regular season games.
A major contributing factor to the decline in Doughty’s numbers was the Kings’ pathetic power play, which dropped from a 20.8 percent rating, ranked seventh in the league in 2009-10, to just 16.1 percent, ranked just 21st last season.
“The power play—that’s not just one player, that’s everybody,” said head coach Terry Murray. “It just didn’t get done, and that’s a big chunk of what fell in place for [Doughty].”
“I don’t think he struggled with confidence,” added Murray. “He’s a confident young man. But the numbers were not getting put up like they were the previous year.”
Indeed, after such an incredible sophomore season, one in which he was a finalist for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, awarded to the National Hockey League’s best defenseman, expectations were astronomical for Doughty. But his preparation for the 2010-11 season came into question heading into training camp when he initially failed, and then had to re-take, the V02 Max test of his physical conditioning.
“We talked about him not being quite where he was the [second] year,” Murray noted. “It was such an incredible season for a young player to start getting into the category of a Norris Trophy candidate, with the numbers he was putting up. It was phenomenal.”
After that spectacular season, especially for a second year player, Doughty became a target for every team in the NHL whenever he was on the ice.
“Last year, there was a little bit of a drop-off,” said Murray. “Maybe his preparation coming [into the season], getting on top of himself, emotionally, other teams were checking him harder, there’s no question about that. He was played harder, physically, and we saw where he missed some games because of a big hit in the neutral zone last year. That was the kind of example we saw of teams focusing in on him in the early part of the season.”
“It’s [like] the old sophomore jinx, when a player comes in with an incredible rookie year,” added Murray. “There’s always going to be more attention which you have brought to yourself through a great year.”
Doughty now has to overcome that adversity.
“There’s no doubt every team talked about Drew Doughty in their game preparations and pre-scouts, penalty-killing,” Murray explained. “That’s just the way it is. It’s not a bad thing, to go through a more difficult time. The critical part is that you learn, and now, you have to improve your hockey game in order to find a way to get it done. That makes you a better hockey player. I’m looking forward to his year this year. It should make him a better player because of the difficulties, at times.”
“Frustration is a good thing,” Murray elaborated. “Adversity is a good thing. You learn to be gritty. You become a grittier player, and more determined.”
The challenge for Doughty going forward is figuring out how to fight through the close checking and hard hitting to create space for himself. That would give him more time to make plays and get more pucks to the net from the point, especially on the power play—one of his most glaring problems last season. Added strength and better conditioning will go a long way towards making all that happen in 2011-12, and that was one of the topics Murray spoke with Doughty about at the end of last season.
“That’s a conversation we had a couple of times, certainly, in the exit meeting last year, about the importance of the off-season,” said Murray, who added that Doughty acknowledged what he needed to work on in the off-season.
“Whenever a player sits here [in Murray’s office], and we’re talking, looking eye-to-eye, the player is responding and telling me what the plan is ahead for the summertime, I believe players,” Murray stressed. “Even though he’s not signed [to a new contract], there’s a need and a responsibility on his part to get himself ready to play the game, and I believe he’s doing that.”
Although Johnson’s regular season offensive numbers are not all that much different from 2009-10 to 2010-11, like Doughty, they got worse, not better, indicating that he took a step backwards last season.
Despite that, Murray insists that Johnson has made progress over the last few seasons.
“You know what? It’s coming,” said Murray. “I really like the way Jack’s game is coming around here, over the last couple of years. He’s really bought in big time to the checking part of the game, to the defensive part of the game.”
“That area, when I go back to [Murray’s] year one, unfortunately, that [shoulder injury] happened [forcing Johnson to miss half the season in 2008-09]. But when I compare these past two years to when I first got here, he’s made great strides.”
“The offensive part of the game, to me, he’s sacrificed a little bit of that in order to give a big push on the checking part of it,” added Murray. “I think it’s a matter of time before it all starts to come together, and I hope he takes another step this year. I believe he will.”
Does that explain why Johnson, who signed a seven-year contract extension on January 9, 2011, failed to score a goal after February 2 last season, and contributed just six assists after that date, a span of thirty games?
In a word, no.
“Jack was one of the top scoring defensemen in the NHL in the first half,” Murray explained. “He had great power play numbers at the start of the year. His wrist shot was really paying off for him. He was taking a step to the inside, and just getting pucks through, missing the first man.”
“As we got into the second half, we got away from that in all areas of the ice—getting pucks to the net.”
The offensive zone was not the only area of the ice where Johnson was lacking in the second half of the 2010-11 season. Indeed, his play in the defensive zone was, arguably, lacking more than other parts of his game, leading to a glaring -21 plus/minus rating, the worst on the team, which seems to contradict Murray’s earlier comments about Johnson’s attention to defense.
In fact, Johnson’s poor plus/minus rating is even more glaring because he was the only one of the Kings’ top six defensemen with a rating in negative territory last season. That said, the plus/minus statistic is the most misleading statistic in hockey. Nevertheless, even Murray agrees that, in this case, it deserves closer scrutiny.
“It’s a misleading stat, but there’s times when you have to take a look at it,” said Murray. “I remember, going back, when I had Rod Langway in Washington. He was a Norris Trophy winner two years in a row, and we had this conversation many times, because he was the guy who was out there against all the top players, all the time. You wondered, ‘OK, this plus/minus number might not be where all the other guys are.’ But we had this discussion many times, the two of us, at length.”
“It’s a conversation that I definitely want to have with Jack,” added Murray. “I love his game when he’s playing that gritty, physical game. That’s the way he started in the first half of [last season]. He’s hard to play against because he is a strong individual. He can get some impact hits. He can close on you, and really lean on people very quickly.”
“Sometimes, you have to be careful how you look at [plus/minus], but other times, you do need to say, ‘we need to look at this. What’s going on?’”
As his numbers after he signed his contract extension on January 9 (one goal, ten assists) indicate, Johnson’s play slid most in the second half of the season, as he apparently let his foot off the gas pedal a bit in terms of physical play.
“As we got into the second half of the year, maybe post-All-Star game, I saw a little bit of a drop-off in that area,” Murray noted. “That buys that extra second for those good players, and that’s who he’s out against. If you give good players half a step, sometimes, that’s all they need to make a play.”
“When I go back and think about Jack’s game, the physical part of it can be harder, he could close a little faster, [he could be better with his] stick to eliminate those passing and shooting opportunities,” Murray added. “That can clean up a lot very, very quickly.”
“I think there was a stretch of games—it’s not an overall, 82-game thing. It was a stretch of games where things got off track. Stuff starts to happen on you, and, sometimes, it’s hard to stop it. The momentum is there against you. It does get stopped, and you get your game back together again, but now you’ve got a long way to [go to] catch up.”
Despite the step backwards last season, Johnson is a fierce competitor, and Murray has faith in his young defenseman, and he believes that Johnson will take his play to another level this season.
“He’s a hungry, young guy who wants to be the best,” said Murray. “He really wants to win a Stanley Cup very badly.”
“All the intentions are in place, and his attitude is in place to be able to take the next step.”
With the addition of center Mike Richards and left wing Simon Gagne to the lineup during the off-season, Murray now has more talent and depth in the lineup than he has ever had during his tenure as head coach of the Kings. In part 4 of this series, he talks about that added talent and depth, what it means for the team, expectations, the added pressure on him, and more. Look for that story within the next few days.
- Los Angeles Kings Head Coach Terry Murray Looks Back At 2010-11 Season
- Terry Murray Dishes On 2010-11 LA Kings’ Offensive Zone, Power Play Struggles
- Terry Murray: Added Talent Up Front Does Not Mean A New Style Of Play Is On The Horizon For LA Kings
- LA Kings Head Coach Terry Murray Talks Prospects, Goaltending, And The Return Of The Trap
- Frozen Royalty Audio: Interview With LA Kings Head Coach Terry Murray, August 24, 2011
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