LOS ANGELES AND EL SEGUNDO, CA — The Los Angeles Kings are struggling unexpectedly following their off-season moves to improve their team, earning a very poor 2-5-2 record over their last nine games.
A big reason for that in their most recent games has been undisciplined, and sometimes lazy play, where they get caught reaching instead of moving their feet, especially in the defensive zone.
What got the Kings in trouble was a five-minute major penalty for elbowing levied against center Trevor Lewis.
Head coach Terry Murray questioned the call.
“I’d like you to look at the replay and tell me what you see,” said Murray. “There’s nothing. [The cut] was in [the Vancouver player’s] mouth, and he turned his back to Lewis. Lewis hit him back here [Murray pointed to a spot behind his left shoulder]. There was nothing in the face whatsoever.”
To make matters much worse, defenseman Drew Doughty took a rather obvious and very much ill-advised cross checking penalty while Lewis was still in the penalty box, giving the Canucks a two-man advantage for two minutes.
“The other part of it is that we can’t take that second penalty,” Murray lamented. “After you get a five-minute major, you can’t take a second penalty—that was [clearly] a cross checking penalty. You can’t have that in a game.”
“You’ve got to play around that guy,” Murray added. “He’s in the tripod [stance] in front of the net, screening the goalie. Play around it.”
Regardless of whether or not the major penalty on Lewis was right call, over their last handful of games, the Kings have often gotten themselves in penalty trouble right off the bat.
“You’re right about putting ourselves in a stressful situation early in games,” said Murray. “We go into San Jose [on November 7], we’ve got stacked five-on-threes. We can’t get out of the box until there’s a whistle. We’ve put ourselves under a lot of pressure the last four or five games here with early penalties, and last night [against Vancouver] was no exception.”
“We have to clean that up,” added Murray. “Moving your feet, the awareness of the fact that you’re bringing the referees into the game—that’s what we have to guard against, clean it up, and do the right things.”
“Our penalty-killing is very good, but it’s hard to get through a five-on-three for that length of time.”
After practice on November 11, Murray indicated that a factor in the Kings’ recent offensive woes may be failing to get the puck up ice and onto the sticks of their forwards quickly.
“Passing the puck, not in the sense of [being tape-to-tape, was something they worked on in practice],” Murray explained. “Just more of a ‘let’s get it going north’ attitude.”
“There’s times in all of the games that we’ve played to date where I feel that there’s missed opportunities to get the puck into the forwards hands and on the attack a little bit faster,” Murray elaborated. “That was the focus here today, and, as you saw in the drill, there was a counter in there, too. That short-counter look—we want to get back on the hunt, get back on the forecheck immediately. That’s the responsibility of the defensemen to recognize where the forwards are, and then, make a hard play up [ice].”
Doughty Heating Up?
After a slow start, likely due to him missing training camp due to his contract holdout, not to mention a right shoulder injury that knocked him out of the lineup for five games, Doughty has scored two goals in the last two games.
“It was about time,” Doughty said after scoring his first goal of the season during a 4-3 victory over the Nashville Predators on November 8. “I’ve had a bunch of chances, but pucks just weren’t going in for me.”
“[Center Jarret] Stoll made a great play on that goal tonight,” Doughty added. “He found me in the high slot, and I just fired it on net with a screen, and hoped for the best. Luckily, it went in.”
If the Kings expect their offense to pick up, Doughty must contribute in a consistent manner from the blue line.
“Very good to see Doughty picking things up,” Murray beamed. “He’s hungry to score. He knows that’s part of his responsibility, and he’s shooting the puck much better.”
“In the second half of the game [against the Canucks], I really liked the way he was starting to carry the puck, move the puck, getting it up to the forwards and joining [the play],” Murray added. “That’s the kind of game that he has to build on and bring to us every night.”
Doughty has been getting pucks to the net more often to this point in the season, and a big reason is that he has, so far, abandoned that super-high, show-off wind-up on his slap shot that he consistently used last season. That gave defenders all the time in the world to get in the shooting lanes to block his shot, or worse, forcing him to give up the shot and pass the puck instead, essentially eliminating him as a scoring threat.
“That’s really gotten better, hasn’t it? That goes back to [Doughty’s] year one,” Murray noted. “That’s a habit that a lot of kids [develop] in juniors. They have more time to get shots away, so they feel they need a bigger wind-up.”
“It’s tough to break a habit,” Murray added. “It’s been worked on since the first day he got here. Lag time is what it’s all about, and now you’re starting to see that shorter [wind-up]. Just get pucks through, get it through the first layer to the net, and good things will happen.”
“He’s got a heavier shot. When you go back to year one, his shot is harder, heavier, faster [now because] the [wind-up] is shorter. There’s a lot of good things that are happening for him on that side of it now.”
Fraser Solid In Kings Debut
Center Colin Fraser was acquired by the Kings, along with a seventh round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, in the deal that sent left wing Ryan Smyth to the Edmonton Oilers on June 26, 2011.
But since the trade went down, Fraser, 26, has been in a sort of limbo due to what was initially believed to be just an ankle injury, and that he would be cleared to play within one week of the date of the trade. However, Kings doctors discovered that Fraser also had an unhealed fracture in his foot, along with other problems, that would prevent him from playing.
The 6-1, 191-pound native of Surrey, British Columbia required surgery, and was not yet ready to go by the time training camp began.
The Kings filed a grievance with the league, claiming that the Oilers misrepresented Fraser’s condition. A hearing is scheduled for November 16.
Fraser skated on his own for much of the Kings’ training camp, and did not participate in full contact workouts until just before the Kings closed their training camp and headed off to Europe to begin the season.
Since that time, Fraser has been practicing with the team, but remained a non-roster player. He finally got his chance, on November 10 against the Canucks, centering the fourth line.
“It was a sigh of relief,” said Fraser. “It’s been a long time since I last played, dating back to the end of March, or early April of last year. With the saga of the foot in Edmonton and LA, it’s good to put it behind me and begin playing again.”
With the grievance still pending, as the player involved in the case, Fraser remains in limbo, in a manner of speaking.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “I’m just the man stuck in the middle. At first, it was, ‘are they going to go through with the trade, or not? Am I going to be in LA, or not?’ [He also thought] it’s going to be hard to fight for a spot when I’m not ready for camp—I’m not even ready for the season.”
“I made the team, but I was just bag skating [during training camp], always wondering what was going to happen to me,” he added. “But they gave me a chance. Hopefully, they like what they saw, and I can continue to be in the lineup.”
They liked what they saw.
“I liked our fourth line here with Fraser,” said Murray. “That was his first game with the LA Kings. Not only did he play a determined game, he make a couple of plays there in the third period that gave us a look, anyway.”
“I thought Fraser played pretty good,” added Murray. “He gave us some time on the penalty-killing, he showed his side of the game on different shifts—determination and grit. He made a couple of plays, showing some skill when he found a line mate for a scoring opportunity. That was good stuff for his first game, and that was a very difficult game to jump into, since [the Canucks] are one of the premier teams.”
For Fraser, it was almost like he was making his NHL debut.
“I felt good,” said Fraser. “I was pretty excited, so getting the first period out of the way was good. I was almost too excited, where you’re trying to do too much, if that makes sense—no nerves, but I was trying to make things happen by forcing [them].”
“Once I settled down, relaxed, and played a little smarter, I felt better in the second and third [periods],” added Fraser. “I just tried to get in on the forecheck, finish checks, and get pucks to the net when possible. I think we did a good job of that the last two periods. We didn’t have any luck putting one in, but I think we will if we keep doing what we did.”
Murray said that pending their morning skate, Fraser, a third round selection (69th overall) of the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, will play again on November 12, when the Kings host the Minnesota Wild.
“He’s a Flyers’ draft pick,” Murray noted. “I know him pretty well from rookie games during his first couple of years as a Flyer. He’s a very gritty guy, in that he’s very competitive, he’s going to be a player who gets in those battles, and in those hard areas all of the time. He’s a good special teams player [on the] penalty-kill.”
“He’s going to be very involved in the game,” Murray added. “He’s very active, very connected to what’s going on on the bench, watching things, and he’s a very encouraging guy. I see him on the ice during practice, and, emotionally he’s there every day.”
“He always brings a team-first attitude. He’s a good skater. He’s not going to show blazing speed, but he’s a good skater. He’s intelligent, he reads the ice, cuts the ice well, takes good angles, and he’ll finish when the opportunity is there.”
Now that he has made his Kings debut, Fraser can focus on playing and seizing the opportunity to lock onto the fourth line center spot.
“It was a big load off of my shoulders,” Fraser stressed. “I was really excited. I feel I had a tough season last year, and I want to have a better season this year. I think I can do that. I’ve played enough games, and the coaches have seen me play before. I just hope to do more of the same of what our line did last night. I thought we worked well together. Hopefully, we can get [a goal].”
“I want to continue and help the team win. I’ll work hard every day.”
Raw Audio Interviews From Vancouver Canucks/Los Angeles Kings on November 9, 2011
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)
Matt Greene (2:11)
Justin Williams (1:40)
Terry Murray (4:32)
Raw Audio Interviews From Los Angeles Kings Practice on November 11, 2011
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)
Colin Fraser (2:47)
Terry Murray (7:35)
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