A tale of Two Games

In a modern-day miracle, two NHL games were played at
Staples Center on Saturday night, rather than the one that was on the schedule
with Dallas in town. One was the
game that had the Kings losing 4-1 and had Kings players deflated and angry
afterwards. 

The other game, well,
please read on.

The Kings failed in every statistical and momentum category. They gave up a lead and
lost. They gave up four unanswered
goals. They gave up four power
play goals.  They were outhit. They gave away more pucks than the
other side, and took fewer from them. They only two areas they won in were faceoffs (61%) and shots (30-26).

Need I say more?

“Everyone in
here has to look in the mirror,” said Kings captain Dustin Brown. “We
can’t be expecting to play like this in a couple of weeks. Obviously, our goal is to make the
playoffs, and if we play like this it’s four and out. Again, we need to take a look in the mirror as a team.

“We need urgency from every aspect of
this team. Coaches, players,
trainers, we all need to get that mindset. Ultimately it lies on the players, but as a group, as a team
here, we all need that mentality, that urgency, and we haven’t had it.”

“I
don’t know how to answer that,” Added Kings coach Terry Murray. “I
don’t have an answer. You’ll have
to go talk to him some more. Did
he explain any more to you?”

Murray then went on to
explain that the first period was good, a period in which the Kings were ahead 1-0.  

“Everything is good,” he said. “Let’s not over-evaluate here. Our special teams were no good tonight. Penalty killing was no good. Power play was no good. We don’t score on the opportunity. That’s it. Don’t over-evaluate. Don’t
over analyze here guys, cause you’re going to go the wrong way.”

Now, give Murray two things.  He must have been frustrated at what had happened. And he was unfailingly polite in his
replies. And let’s throw in that it’s
a lot easier to sit up in the press box and “diagnose” a team’s problems than
it is to lead 20-plus guys in playing effectively or to be one of those
guys out on the ice.

Still, you have to wonder, when a team gets booed off the
ice three times in a week and a half, whether something’s wrong.

Are the fans really not seeing the game
as it is? Is the press watching a
different game than the coach?

One guy in the cheap seats yelled near the end of the game,
“You’ve got people in the stands talking about baseball—what’s going on?”

Murray went on after the above-cited remarks to talk about
the tight officiating (again, he was not being critical), and then he repeated
his earlier assertions. 

“You guys
are going a way the wrong way here with this game tonight,” he said. “Everything was good. We started fine.”

But is it? 

The
Kings are now 5-6-1 in the last two weeks plus. They haven’t played a good game at home for a couple of
weeks. Something is not
happening. To be more negative,
something’s wrong, and that can be read in three or four ways. 

First, Murray is overplaying his
goalie. Jonathan Quick has never
played as many games as this in his life. He’s in the territory of Martin Brodeur now with 67 games under his belt. That’s fine for Brodeur,
but Quick is unproven at this point. Granted, the goals that went in Saturday evening were not all to his
charge. One hit a skate and went
past him. All four were on the PK
where he’s obviously more vulnerable than with his team at even strength.

But it’s got to be on the players’ minds that Quick may be
tired. And with Murray not going
to the backup (Ersberg) even in back-to-back situations, even when playing
weaker teams, there’s a message in the air: we can’t trust this guy. 

That’s wrong. Ersberg is capable, and would hold his own given the chance. But for some reason, Murray keeps going
back to the number one, and it just isn’t working at this point.

Second, the top line has not gelled around Justin Williams,
recently returned from a long stint on IR. This is a problem which might remedy itself soon enough,
however.  Williams was tentative in
his first couple of starts.

Nine days ago against Chicago, he poked at the puck from a
distance. But against the Stars,
he played his best game since he came back. In fact, he was by far the best offensive player other than
Brown. Williams had four shots on
the night, Brown six, and Williams was buzzing, going in behind the net for the
puck, moving easily through the slot to pick up a pass at one point. 

Third, the defense is weak without Matt Greene. One way to measure that is to say that
when you’re not noticing Randy Jones for his mistakes but the D is still awful,
you know there are problems. Jones
was getting beat earlier in the week, often a few steps behind the play. Saturday, he held down nearly 18 minutes of ice time without any miscues.

Greene is hurt, though he has practiced late in the
week. He’s not been cleared for
contact yet, however. Taking over was Peter Harrold. He was innocuous Saturday night, with the mistakes coming from other
quarters. Drew Doughty was caught up
the ice once or twice, but that’s just because he’s trying to do a lot, perhaps
at times too much. Jack Johnson was
solid, with a good rush thrown in to an otherwise decent effort. 

Murray’s right about one thing: the power play was
awful. The Kings had eight of them
to Dallas’s eight. The Stars, as
was cited, got four goals with the man advantage. The Kings got one, their only. 

But their problems were simple—they didn’t control the puck
in the Dallas end. On one PP, for
instance, they went into the zone three times only to see Dallas get the puck
back.  The fourth try, the puck
went down low, and the Dallas D got it back. The fifth try, it went all the way around the net from left
to right, to the point, and then was broken up by Dallas. Finally, the Kings got one shot, from
the point, by Frolov.  It wasn’t
dangerous.

Brown sat at his locker with a black eye and four or
five fresh stitches in his cheek Saturday night and said it’s time things
changed. 

But how does the squad remedy this lack of intensity? Brown said that there’s no need to have
any more meetings, and no time left for talking.

The real question, however, is who is going to fix the problem?  Or is there one at all?  If the coach and the captain disagree
on such a fundamental matter, who is it who will lead the team into the
post-season?

The Kings, as a whole or in fragments, need to find the
answer to this question this week, when they go on the road for back-to-back
games.

But that’s the key right
there, isn’t it: will this group become whole again, or has it fragmented in a
way that is impossible to fix?

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