LOS ANGELES AND EL SEGUNDO, CA — The Los Angeles Kings put in a highly uninspired, sloppy performance (and that is putting it mildly) in an embarrassing 3-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils in front of a disappointed, and, in some cases, a bitter and angry crowd on October 25 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The embarrassing loss generated a perfect storm of sorts for some who claim that the sky is falling, and that head coach Terry Murray demonstrated gross incompetence and should be fired for giving Jonathan Bernier the start in goal, rather than the white hot Jonathan Quick, who was coming off his third straight shutout.
Yes, as unbelievable as it is, you read that right. Some are already calling for Murray’s head, despite the fact that the Kings are off to a solid 5-2-1 start.
Some are also placing the blame for loss to the Devils squarely on the shoulders of Bernier, saying that he played poorly.
Just like those demanding Murray’s firing, those blaming Bernier for this loss are badly mistaken.
“To play at an optimum level, we have to have our compete there, and tonight it wasn’t there the whole game,” said right wing and team captain Dustin Brown. “We didn’t generate a whole lot of chances, but we had a few that [Devils goalie Johan] Hedberg made some good saves on. But, ultimately, especially tonight, we were out of sync offensively.”
“Our system and our [puck] support was off, and if we’re going to be in tight, one-goal games that aren’t high scoring—we take pride in our defensive zone [play],” added Brown. “We’ve got to find a way to generate more pucks to the net. I think, sometimes, we get a little too cute, and the result is not enough shots. If we can get pucks and bodies to the net—it’s just something you’ve got to work at.”
But the problems were primarily caused by the careless play, resulting in clear-cut giveaways all over the ice.
“The game tonight was about turnovers,” Murray stressed. “All three goals that New Jersey scored ended up being plays where we have possession of the puck. We just don’t execute, and they come right back at us.”
“The bottom line is that you’ve got to compete, you’ve got to play hard every night, and I think the way we showed, with our first half [of the game], it’s just not good enough,” Murray added. “If we want to be a top team in the league, we’ve got to go out and earn the right to win every night. Our best players have to be better if we’re going to win in this league. We just weren’t on top of it.”
His starting goaltender on this night agreed, but also accepted his share of the blame.
“Like Terry said, I don’t think we came out and played hard tonight,” Bernier lamented. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make those big saves, and keep us in the game. Next thing we knew, it was 3-0.”
Actually, Bernier accepted much more than his share, since he really wasn’t responsible for any of the goals he allowed, including the third Devils’ goal, the second goal of the game, and of the 2011-12 season by forward Dainius Zubrus, one that some believed was a soft goal allowed by Bernier.
In fact, Murray bristled at the suggestion that Bernier should have made the save on that shot, one that capped off a two-on-one break after yet another Kings turnover.
“Oh no…you get a guy walking down the slot—that’s not an issue [with not being aggressive enough],” Murray emphasized. “Zubrus may not be a goal scorer, but he’s a guy who can really shoot a puck a ton, and he just blew it by him.”
Indeed, Zubrus’ slap shot came from about four feet below the top of the left circle, inside the left face-off dot‚ an area considered to be part of the prime scoring area. Bernier came out to challenge Zubrus and cut down the angle, but Zubrus was able to pick the top right corner. To top it all off, Zubrus had the added advantage of being a right-hand shot coming down the left side of the slot.
In other words, you just have to tip your hat (or would that be your helmet?) to Zubrus for a great shot.
“Bernier was fine,” Murray noted. “I thought he made some big stops in the early going—we gave up some quality chances in the first period, and he played well.”
“This was not about the goaltending,” Murray added. “This was all about managing the puck, and giveaways that ended up being very easy goals against.”
But then there’s that question of whether or not Bernier should have been given the start against the Devils with Quick being so hot lately that he has been leaving a puddle of blue water in his crease every time he plays.
Sure, one often rides the hot hand in goal. But what if Quick doesn’t cool off until, say, late December? Do you keep playing him until then, risking fatigue and heavy wear and tear, factors that played into his poor second half of the season in 2008-09, when he played a whopping 72 regular season games?
Another factor is that Bernier had not played in 17 days, and was getting increasingly rusty as the days passed.
“Look, he’s got to play,” said Murray. “Quick can’t play 82 games. We’ve got 17 games here in front of us until the end of the month, and 15 are [Western] Conference games. What do you do, wait until December when we’ve got five Eastern Conference games, and get him in then?”
“If I don’t show confidence in him now, when does he play?”
Murray pointed to Bernier’s hot second half of the 2010-11 season, giving him his vote of confidence.
“He’s got to play,” Murray stressed. “He’s a good goalie, and he played great for us in the second half of the year last [season]. We’ve got a lot of big games right in front of us [after the loss to New Jersey], so it’s time to start putting him into some games.”
“The decision was made on Saturday morning [October 22],” Murray added. “It’s not like it was after Quick’s third shutout. It was fair to give [Bernier] the opportunity to think about it over the weekend, the day off on Sunday, and then come in, ready to work hard, yesterday in practice.”
“There’s no second guessing on this one for me. It’s just time for him to get [back to] playing again.”
Murray was not second guessing himself, even though Bernier was not at his best in a 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on October 8 in Berlin, Germany.
“He gets into [his] first game, and I just felt that he wasn’t [moving out to] challenge shooters as aggressively as he did during training camp, and things happened as a result of that,” said Murray. “[Goaltender coach] Bill [Ranford] spent a lot of time with him—a lot of work, a lot of drills. He’s been pushing it in practice, working very hard.”
In that game against the Sabres, and in last night’s loss to the Devils, Kings skaters played poorly in front of Bernier, raising questions about the differences between the way they play with him in goal as opposed to when Quick gets the start.
At the very least, the skaters are saying the right things.
“[Having two goalies like Quick and Bernier] is a nice problem to have,” said center Mike Richards. “You don’t change your style of play. You keep it the same—you play the right way to win hockey games. But when we do need him, we have confidence, knowing that he’s back there, able to make the save—both [Quick and Bernier].”
We will see if they put their money where their mouths are the next time Bernier gets the start in goal.
Raw Audio Interviews From The LA Kings Morning Skate on October 25, 2011
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)
Mike Richards (2:05)
Terry Murray (6:55)
Jonathan Bernier (2:24)
Raw Audio Interviews From Devils vs. Kings
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)
Jonathan Bernier (2:18)
Dustin Brown (2:27)
Terry Murray (2:44)
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