Textbook. That’s the only way to describe the way the LA Kings took the Minnesota Wild apart on Saturday night. It was the perfect showing to honor the coach, Terry Murray, who was behind the bench for his 1000th game.
Afterwards, Murray was a bit shy to talk about milestones. He paused when the question came. “Hmm. Never had one before,” he smiled. “Uh, it doesn’t feel any different and special really. It was a game that was really important for us to win. I really liked the focus coming into this game tonight. The players came in with attitude and intensity. . . . That’s what I liked about the milestone—the team winning the game tonight.”
Meanwhile over on the other side of the arena, the Wild’s Mike Yeo was fuming, though politely. “You have to show up. If you don’t show up, forget it. You have to show up, pay the price. You do what you have to do, and the rest of it is, the rest comes along with that.”
Murray, with his more positive comments, might have been describing the play of his fourth line when he beamed his praise at his team’s effort. On goal one, Trevor Lewis threw the puck down low, Ethan Moreau went behind the net to get it and shove it out to the crease, and Colin Fraser jammed it in. It was his first goal since March 26th, in just his second game as a King.
He commented on the relief at getting on the scoresheet. “It feels like a big weight is off my shoulders. It’s been since late March or early April last year [last season], and the foot thing is nice to put behind me and put one home.” Fraser came to the Kings from Edmonton injured, and he had foot surgery in the summer. There’s a dispute going on between the two teams about the matter.
He continued. “Obviously scoring goals anytime felt good, but this one felt extra special because of the foot and the whole saga. We talk about it all the time, getting the puck down low and creating chances. Ethan gave me a pretty nice pass. He pretty much did all the work for me.”
A further textbook play came on the team’s fifth goal, scored late in period two. Jarret Stoll won the faceoff at the Wild’s left dot. It went to his right wing, where Trent Hunter put it back to the point. Matt Greene slapped a one-timer past the goaltender, by this stage backup (or main guy backing up) Niklas Backstrom.
In between, Dustin Brown had scored a beauty, bursting in and taking the puck to the net, then staying with it by skating across the top of the crease to put in his own rebound just as his skates went out from under him and he flew from left to right. It was made possible because he is a right-handed shot.
Much of the difference on the night came because the Wild spent nineteen minutes shorthanded (actually seventeen, since one penalty was offset by that of a Kings’ player). How so, since neither seventeen nor nineteen divides by two? Because Warren Peters went for five minutes for boarding Alec Martinez. It was a terrible call. Martinez was after the puck, he was not chest-first towards the boards, and he didn’t hit that way. Peters threw what looked like a legal check. Two minutes for boarding, maybe, would have looked OK. Five, no. But they calls what they sees, right? So the Wild had to deal. They failed.
After being one of the best defensive teams in the league early, and after going long stretches without giving up a goal shorthanded, the team imploded on penalties Thursday night in San Jose. It was just the same in Los Angeles.
Against the Sharks, the team gave up two power play goals. A couple of nights before that, they had allowed Calgary seven chances with the extra man and stymied them on all of them. The Kings were allowing no such breathing room. LA got just one with the extra man, but a crucial one in the coach’s opinion. Coach Murray commented on their record shorthanded. “In San Jose, that’s the first time they’ve given up a power play goal I think this year. In fact, if you go back with Jacques Lemaire there, they’re one of the better special teams teams in the league.”
He then turned to his own troops: “I was kind of worried about our power play there. That five minute penalty, we were kind of messing around with it and time was going off the clock, at the end of the period. We got a chance to regroup in the locker room and talk it over and [say] ‘Here’s what we need to do’ and finally, then you score on it. To me, that was a critical time in the game. You give them a lot of momentum off a five-minute kill.”
But it wasn’t that which killed the Wild. It was simple lack of preparation, a point asserted and repeated by Yeo. In the first period, his team had just three shots. They barely had the puck over the LA blueline for the first ten minutes. There was never a moment of danger, or even pressure. Their first shot came with 8:31 left in the period. Things got better later, and Jonathan Quick of the Kings had to make some amazing, acrobatic saves, but it was never in doubt, and the closet the score was was a at the end, 5-2 LA.
Speaking of tomorrow’s game against Anaheim, Yeo said, “I said what I had to say. Don’t need to say [more]. I shouldn’t have to motivate. You should be embarrassed. I’m embarrassed, and when that happens, you come to the rink next day, and you have to be better. My biggest concern is how’s our team going to come out at the drop of the puck tomorrow? Are we going to be ready to play?”
Meanwhile, Coach Murray had looped back to the question of his historic game late in his press conference. “This is what I do. . . . I’m very grateful for the opportunity to get back into it [with LA] as a head coach. You’re forever grateful to people who give you another chance. . . . We’re a pretty good hockey club, and this team can be a good hockey club for a lot of years because of the youth.”
He finished by talking about his first game. “I remember everything. It’s like it happened two years ago. Time goes too fast, doesn’t it?” Murray has coached in the league since 1990 with the Caps, the Flyers, the Panthers, and LA. His regular season record is 494-377-129 over fourteen-plus seasons. He replaced his brother, Bryan, to get his first game behind the bench in January of 1990.
He explained that day: “It was hard. I was there for six years as an assistant behind the bench, and so I was prepared for an opportunity. When I got the phone call from the GM, he said, I just want you to know that this decision [to let his brother go] was made three hours ago. A chance has been made already. So here’s the deal. If you want to be the head coach, I want you to have the job. If you say know, this has already taken place, and somebody else will get the job. That’s what you’re working for, an opportunity. The great thing about a brother, Bryan, is he supported me. He was totally on board.”
Ditto tonight, when the lessons Murray has taught his Kings paid off in execution coaches probably spend their nights lying awake wishing for, or, when it happens, in their most pleasant dreams.
Dustin Penner of the Kings injured a finger and will be out around two weeks.
Brian’s new book, My Country Is Hockey, is out this coming week. Look for it at bookstores, ask them to order it, or buy online.
The newest issue of The Fourth Period magazine is on newsstands now. Check it out at thefourthperiod.com and become a subscriber. It’s hockey, lifestyle articles, and more hockey. You’ll love it.
Happy 50th, Charles. Hope you enjoyed that Stanley Cup cake. Cool.