EL SEGUNDO, CA — When the Los Angeles Kings signed rugged, checking winger Ethan Moreau to a one-year, unrestricted free agent contract on August 20, 2011, the expectation was that he would bring energy, physical play, solid forechecking and strong defensive play to the Kings’ third and fourth lines.
But so far this season, Moreau has played well in spurts, but has not given the Kings anywhere near enough of what is needed or expected.
“His role is basically to be that fourth line left winger—grit, size, experience, and to give us that harder game, and that’s been there…in and out,” said head coach Terry Murray. “But there’s been times that it’s been very good, and I think, in the last couple of games, I’ve seen more of it [from him while playing with right wing Kevin] Westgarth and [center Colin] Fraser, and that’s stuff that we need.”
“Looking back over the past couple of years, we’ve had a little bit more of that on a consistent basis, and we seem to have moved away from it with different looks on that line,” added Murray. “Right now, I’m comfortable with it. They bring experience, they give me a pretty good comfort level, playing against most lines.”
The Kings need aggressive forechecking, physical play, and solid defense from Moreau and his line mates on a much more consistent basis. But, at least for now, Murray likes the look he’s getting from the line of Moreau, Fraser and Westgarth.
“I really like the fact that they’re harder, they’re grittier, they’re more physical, they’re getting hits, they’re creating a little chaos in the crease with some scrums,” Murray noted. “That’s important, because I think it sends a message to your hockey club, whenever you’re starting to get involved in those things, that we’re here to play, we’re here to compete, no matter what building you’re in. That’s an important trait to have, as a group, [if you’re] going to be a good hockey club.”
Moreau has been most noticeable in recent games for the wrong reasons, especially because he has taken several ill-advised penalties during key situations, including penalties taken late in games with the outcome on the line.
His latest faux pas came on November 23 at Dallas, when he took a minor penalty for slashing at 17:39 of the third period.
Although the Kings killed the penalty, the Stars tied the game just as the penalty box door opened when Moreau’s penalty expired.
Indeed, Dallas Stars forward Loui Eriksson scored at the 19:39 mark, but Moreau had just been released from the penalty box, and was nowhere near the play when the goal was scored. For all intents and purposes, Eriksson’s goal was a power play goal.
Two days later, Murray was still upset about that penalty.
“He took a horse-[expletive deleted] penalty,” Murray fumed. “That’s horse-[expletive deleted]. That’s ridiculous. You can’t take a slashing penalty with two minutes left in the game [against] a veteran player. Just come out and run over that guy. You don’t slash.”
“I don’t like those penalties,” Murray added. “The ones in the crease, where you’re grabbing ahold of a guy, giving him a face wash once in awhile, or cross checking a guy, I don’t mind those. We’ll kill those off. Those are hard-nosed penalties. It’s a part of the game and a part of our team that we want to stay.”
Murray has spoken with Moreau, who owned up to taking a bad penalty.
“You have to be conscious of it, and you have to take responsibility,” said Moreau. “That was a bad time to take a penalty, to say the least. I was just trying to go through the defenseman, but you can’t give the referee an option on that play.”
If that comment strikes you as being a bit odd, you are not alone. After all, slashing an opposing player’s stick does not qualify as “going through” said player. In fact, Murray indicated that Moreau may not have chosen the right play—to hit Stars defenseman Sheldon Souray, because the two are friends from their days in Edmonton.
“That’s his buddy,” Murray lamented. “He didn’t want to run into him, I guess. I don’t know.”
“Penalties have to be timely,” Murray added. “You have to have awareness, you’ve got to know how the flow of the game is going. When you get into the latter part of the game, you’ve got to move your feet, keep your stick in, no slashing, no hooking. Don’t bring the referee into the game. Unfortunately, we’ve had some situations this year where we brought the referee in a little bit too often.”
By the time Murray made these comments, Moreau had already left the Kings dressing room, and was unavailable for a response.
Murray indicated that he is looking for more from Moreau, but is not ready to take him out of the lineup at this time.
“He’s trying, he’s competing,” said Murray. “It’s not from a lack of caring, or a lack of trying. It’s just one of those penalties that you have to have better awareness to. You can’t put yourself into the hands of the referee and force him to make a call like that at that time. It’s too critical, and that’s why I have him on that line. He’s a veteran guy. He’s been through all these checking roles, and that’s one of his strengths. But he’s got to be better at it.”
Murray also discussed his late-game tactics against Dallas, saying that he shortened his bench to matchup better against what the Stars were trying to do.
“I changed the lines,” Murray explained. “I went to three lines. [Left wing Kyle] Clifford and [right wing Trent] Hunter were not playing. It was Fraser with [forward Jarret] Stoll on the right side and Moreau, so I had three veteran guys who are that shut down line is what I’m looking for in critical times.”
“We were not playing the kind of game we needed to play, as far as execution, and the thought process,” Murray elaborated. “So, going with the [first and second lines, centered by Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards, respectively], and then, putting this line together to be a shut down line.”
“I knew [the Stars] were going to get away from the matchup they had all game [with Stars forwards Mike] Ribeiro and [Jamie] Benn. They were playing those guys against Kopitar and Richards the whole game. Then you get into the third period, they were trying to loosen them up to find that big goal that’s going to tie the game. They were getting away from that matchup, playing Ribeiro or Benn against our third line, which was Stoll, Hunter and Clifford.”
Rather than expose the young Clifford and Hunter, who is not exactly known for his speed, Murray chose to re-configure his third line.
“I’ve got an inexperienced guy [Clifford], and a guy playing in back-to-back games who’s not a fleet-footed guy anyway, so I put the third line together with Moreau, Fraser and Stoll on the right side, and give me a matchup I can feel good about playing against any one of their top lines,” said Murray.
Having been chastised by Murray for taking bad penalties, and now having been criticized by Murray for not playing up to expectations on a more consistent basis, Moreau needs to respond quickly to the wake-up call or he will likely find himself out of the lineup, and it could be sooner rather than later.
Raw Audio Interviews from Los Angeles Kings Practice on November 25, 2011
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)
Mike Richards (1:19)
Drew Doughty (1:29)
Jack Johnson (2:12)
Alec Martinez (0:51)
Ethan Moreau (0:57)
Terry Murray (11:19; edited for language)
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