EL SEGUNDO, CA — Eleven games into the 2011-12 National Hockey League season, the Los Angeles Kings have a 6-3-2 record, placing them second in the Pacific Division, and fourth in the Western Conference, through games played on November 3.
In other words, although things could be better, especially in the attacking zone, there are a lot of positives for the Kings at this point in the season.
“I feel good about the start of the year, very good, actually,” said head coach Terry Murray. “When I take into consideration how the schedule was for us, through the week before we went to Europe, it was very busy. [We played five games in seven nights], then, we go overseas, we had a couple of games over there, and then make the adjustment to come back to the East Coast. That was demanding in itself. That was a big test, and I was very, very concerned about it during the off-season, looking at that part of the schedule.”
“How fast do you get re-adjusted? I’ve never done that before as the coach of a team,” added Murray. “I did it as a player, but you never pay attention to it. You just do it. I’ve seen where teams come back, and have a tough time getting back on track, settled in, getting the fatigue out of the way, and start to play the game at the right pace again. But I really like the way we handled the schedule here. Emotionally, the players understood what it was all about, and prepared themselves very well.”
Although the Kings only managed to break even on their last three games, going 1-1-1 on a three-game road trip to Dallas, Phoenix and Colorado, Murray was not disappointed with his team’s performance.
“Our game, going into this last road trip that started in Dallas, was high energy,” he explained. “There was compete, great pace to the game, we were playing a very good game going into Dallas, and we wound up winning it.”
“There was a nice continuation over the next two games,” he elaborated. “We only got the one point. Still, coming out of Colorado, I felt good about it. I was proud of the way the players played—three [games] in four nights.”
“I’m very pleased with how the early part of the season has unfolded for us.”
More And Less
Although the Kings have played pretty well overall, as mentioned earlier, improvement is needed, especially on offense.
To that end, Murray sure could use more from two of his forwards, in particular.
Indeed, although right wing Scott Parse has scored two goals in recent games, Murray expects more, even though he likes what he has seen lately.
“I like what Parse has given me here,” Murray noted. “I know it’s been a bit of an issue with him, and with me. I’m trying to be very understanding of what he went through during the off-season with the hip surgery, and it does take time.”
Murray indicated that Parse may not have had the right attitude while he was out of the lineup, but that he appears to have come around.
“Most important is for the player to understand his own position, and get through that,” said Murray. “Don’t begrudge your time in the trenches, where you’re out of the lineup, and you continue to work hard to get yourself back to a level of play.”
“I think he started to buy into that the last four or five days that he was out, doing all the extra work, and it’s paid off for him,” added Murray. “He scored a couple of goals, the line is starting to show a bit of chemistry.”
Parse said that he feels like he is skating better now after recovering from hip surgery.
“The injury is in the past,” said Parse. “It’s about the games now, just thinking about what I’ve got to do on the next shift. You’re just kind of in the moment.”
Parse’s challenge now is to become an impact player, rather than the perimeter player he was during the pre-season.
“He’s a player who, I think, has a great skill set, and can give us that secondary scoring that we’re constantly looking for, so it’s moving in the right direction,” said Murray.
“[I have to] make sure [I’m] skating and creating things out there,” said Parse. “That’s what I have to do to be successful.”
Parse has a lot of work to do to secure his future with the Kings, let alone as an NHL player. But after missing all but five games last season, just getting back into the lineup is a giant step forward.
“I was very excited [to return to the lineup],” he said. “No one likes sitting out. It was nice to get back in there.”
Although recovery from a serious hip injury that required surgery explains much of Parse’s situation, left wing Dustin Penner has been healthy, he is considerably stronger, and is in far better physical condition entering the 2011-12 season after dedicating himself to strength and conditioning work during the summer.
Despite that, there has been no easily discernible improvement from last season, when Penner scored just two goals and added four assists for six points in 19 regular season games with the Kings, after coming to Los Angeles from the Edmonton Oilers, in exchange for defenseman Colten Teubert and a first round selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft (Oscar Klefbom), on February 28, 2011.
Penner also scored a goal and added an assist in six playoff games last season with the Kings.
Expectations for Penner, which were already fairly high when he arrived in Los Angeles late last season, were much higher heading into this season, but early indications have been anything but good, as he has recorded just one assist in nine games after missing the first two games due to leg injuries.
Indeed, Penner has been anything but an impact player, and has been a non-factor in terms of scoring goals, the primary reason he was acquired.
“I still feel that he is sometimes looking for the perfect play to shoot the puck,” Murray emphasized. “He has to get back to that movement, the cycling [of the puck], reading off each other, a little better spacing if the offensive zone. When you work on that part of it, I think the offensive part falls into place much easier.”
After starting the season on the second line with center Mike Richards and right wing Dustin Brown, Penner has been dropped to the third line.
“He’ll play with [center Jarret] Stoll, where he was on the road trip before [left wing Simon] Gagne went out [due to what was called a middle body injury],” said Murray.
On the bright side, Penner appears to be responding better to third line duty.
“I don’t know if it was the fact that he started to play with Stoll and [forward Brad] Richardson, or exactly what it is, but there seemed to be a little more work involved on his part,” Murray noted. “There was more movement in the offensive zone, he was using his size, I liked the way he got involved in the physical part of the game in several of those looks in the offensive zone the past couple of games.”
Murray had a private meeting with Penner to address issues with his play before the team left on its three-game road trip to Dallas, Phoenix and Colorado, which began on October 27. The two also spent time discussing what Penner needs to work on the team flight to Dallas.
“His overall effort is good, his work is good, and he started to show me that when I put him with Stoll and Richardson,” said Murray. “I liked it, he liked it—I talked to him on the flight to Dallas, when we reviewed all of his shifts from the previous game.”
“When you put it under the microscope and watch the first period [at Colorado on October 30], when he was with [center Anze] Kopitar and then, in the second and third period, when he was with Stoll, there was a lot of offensive zone time,” added Murray. “In fact, on every shift when he was on the ice with Stoll and Richardson, in the second and third period, [we] were in the offensive zone.”
“When we watched it, clearly, that jumps out at you, and he said, ‘yeah, that looks pretty good, and it felt good, too.’ [If he can] keep bringing that work ethic to the game, the other things will fall into place for him.”
Switching gears, while Murray wants more from Parse and Penner, he wants less from defenseman Drew Doughty, who returned to action at Phoenix on October 29, after missing five games due to a right shoulder injury.
“Drew has played with a great deal of, ‘I-want-to-do-it,’” Murray explained. “He wants to make a difference every time he’s on the ice, and on every shift. Sometimes, you can get yourself in a little bit of a [quandary] when you go in with that attitude.”
“I understand where he’s coming from, and the importance of having him, with the puck, trying to do a lot of good things with it,” Murray elaborated. “But when you come back after being out for a little while, it’s better, sometimes, to do less. Advance the puck, get it off your stick, get it up to the forwards and let them screw up instead of you.”
“He’s got a couple of games under his belt now, and they were fast-paced games, back-to-back. His conditioning is really good, he feels confident battling along the boards, he had no hesitation whatsoever. I know his game is going to get to the level we’ve seen in the past. We just have to keep pushing here in practice, getting ready for the next game, and to do good things for us.”
Doughty indicated that the shoulder injury is not bothering him.
“It’s still back there, in my mind, but, for the most part, I’ve put it away,” he said. “You’ve got to be careful out there. You don’t want to get hit in the same spot that I got injured, so I’m trying to avoid getting hit on that side at all times, not that I can’t take it, but I don’t see the need to risk it if I don’t need to.”
“In the first couple of games, it was in the back of my mind, but I’m over it now, and I’ll be at my best on Thursday [November 3, when the Kings host the Oilers].”
Gagne Set To Return
Gagne, who missed the last two games with an undisclosed middle body injury (it was only a matter of time before they classification was added to “upper body injury” and “lower body injury,” right?), returned to practice on November 1, and is expected to return to the lineup tonight.
“I had to take it easy the last couple of days, but now, it’s good,” said Gagne. “I’m feeling better, and I’m back on the ice with the boys. Our next game is on Thursday, so I’ve got plenty of time to get back where I was before I got the two days off from the injury.”
Gagne will go right back onto the first line with Kopitar and right wing Justin Williams.
“Before [the injury], I felt pretty good,” Gagne noted. “I felt really good at the start of the season. As a team, we like where we’re at. The last two games were a little bit tough for us. It was a tough road trip.”
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