When all else fails, try exaggerating how you feel. It’s a trick that works in relationships and when dealing with intractable bureaucracies, after all.
Maybe Terry Murray knows this. Here’s what he said after his team bombed on Thursday night against St. Louis.
“There’s nothing to explain, it’s over,” he said.
For a moment, this sounded like it could turn into a defense of his team. That changed, fast.
“There’s nothing that…there’s nothing going on,” Murray explained. “There was no energy. We were totally outplayed. We had six shots at the end of two periods, coming off an incredible road trip, the tank is empty. There’s nothing to talk about.”
Well, maybe not so fast. That still sounds like he’s standing behind his guys. The next question posed to him was about the shot count, which was cited as 24-3 against the team in the second.
“Doesn’t matter what the shot count was,” Murray said. “Actually it was 30-6 in the end of two periods. What does it matter? We had six shots on net, we had nothing going on. The game was over.”
When asked if he was thinking about pulling Jonathan Quick, he said a flat no. Quick was great in the first half of the game, keeping the team in it when they did zip to help themselves. He let in a weak goal with 6.9 seconds left in the second period, though, and a really lame fourth one, from center. By then, it didn’t matter in the least.
Murray got more strident as he got warmed up.
“It’s one of those games where nothing is happening,” he said. “The energy is low, the focus, the compete. You’ve got to play. You’ve got to hope as you get through the game that you’re still working on your game, you’re trying to get better.”
Then came the coup de grace.
“You know what the most disappointing, frustrating thing was? We were booed off the ice at the end of the second period by our fans,” Murray stated. “That is the most embarrassing thing I have ever been through. That’s the worst I’ve ever been through in all the years of coaching.
“I’ve been behind the bench almost 3,000 hockey game in the NHL, and booed off the ice at the end of the second period after what we’ve been through here, after this road trip, going 4-0, in hard places. Very disappointing.”
And with that, he stopped. It was his second shortest press conference on record (about 90 seconds in length) after the “It’s a damn shame” press conference of a couple of weeks ago.
He seemed so angry, I felt for a moment like the Kings’ disastrous effort was my fault. I was not alone. A fan who called the team’s post-game radio show about 45 minutes after the fiasco ended said essentially the same thing, lamenting that the coach had called out the fans.
Fiasco? How about 4-0, being outshot 39-17, and giving away 20 pucks to the Blues 5. The Kings also lost the faceoff battle by a couple of percentage points, an area where they generally do quite well.
That’s not the half of it. The official scorer was being generous in the third period. That frame began with a truthful 30-6 shot advantage for the Blues, as Murray cited. As the third went on, there were at least two shots on Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak which were going wide. Not by a lot, but they were credited as shots when he made saves with his pad. At the other end, a similar shot on Quick was not credited as shot 35 right after.
Statistics aside, it was, quite honestly, the worst performance the team has turned in in years, but what’s curious is what Murray is trying to do by his reaction. He’s understandably proud of his team having gone in to Detroit, Columbus, Dallas, and Nashville and sweeping the road trip.
He’s likely pleased that his plan to rotate his goalies, something that he said he would do last year but didn’t, overplaying Quick, is working. Backup Jonathan Bernier has played in five of the past ten games, winning four in regulation and gaining a point in OT. The Kings, further, had gained points in six straight, until the St. Louis debacle.
It doesn’t help that the team hasn’t beaten the Blues this year, something that Rob Scuderi took with eqanimity.
“I don’t know. They’re, there are some teams that you seem to play well against during the course of the season, and some that you don’t,” said the Kings defenseman. “You have to give them credit. I thought they really supported the puck all night. They were tremendous when it came to cycling the puck. They had periods of a minute, a minute and a half, keeping it on our side of the redline.”
Dustin Brown, sweating profusely ten minutes after the game, obviously not having had his equipment off as (one guesses) Murray chewed their hides after the game, said this: “We weren’t in the game at all, so you can’t expect. Quick made in the first period ten saves he shouldn’t have, so it could have been a lot worse than it was.”
“Tonight we just didn’t show up, and you’re not going to beat any team in this league [like that],” the captain added. “Tonight it didn’t matter if it was our first game back [from the road] or if we’ve been back four or five days. You’re not going to win games like that.”
It was so bad, press people were reaching for their handbooks, trying to figure out as the second period went on how few shots the Kings have had as a team minimum. Ever. Nobody came up with the answer, and it didn’t matter as the third went on.
But back to Murray. Three thousand games, and there’s never been a worse moment? I can’t put my finger on just when, but I’m sure I’ve heard this team booed off the ice before. Maybe not during his tenure, but I’m not so sure. And don’t tell me that his awful year behind the Florida bench (30-34-18) brought no displeasure. In fact, he described a 7-5 loss to Colorado that year as a “meltdown” and an “absolute, total embarrassment” in press reports at the time.
Maybe people don’t care down there, though. They do here. And if they think he’s dissing them, he’s in trouble.
If at least one, perhaps some, maybe many, fans think he’s telling them off, and the team plays poorly a couple of days from now when Anaheim comes to the Staples Center, then he can expect even less support and much more booing. Will it be his players’ fault? Ultimately, of course it will.
But if Murray can’t coach, punish, prod, or rally the team out of a funk that drops them out of the playoffs, then it’s not the players who will take the brunt of the anger, it’s he who will.
And it’s not going to be embarrassment he suffers. It will be unemployment.