Before I get any further in this post, yes, I am aware of the reports that the Kings could very well be making a coaching change very shortly. I think I’ve made it known in the past that I certainly wouldn’t be against a coaching change, but until a coaching change is made official (if one is made), I’m not going to comment any further on the situation. Don’t worry, I will definitely make a post with my full opinion, feelings and thoughts about it if a coaching change is made. For now, the Kings still have hockey games to play. Terry Murray’s fate may or may not already be sealed, and who knows, he may or may not even be behind the bench when the Kings take on the Bruins on Tuesday. However, for now I am just going to focus on that game with the assumption that Murray will be the head coach for that game. If the players want Murray to stick around, they better bring their best for this one, because this game could go a long way to determining whether he does or not. So if you can still focus on the fact that the Kings still have hockey to play, rather than the potential coaching change, then please read on. In fact, read on anyways.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Kings will kick off a pivotal four-game road trip. For the reeling Kings, the team they’ll face on Tuesday is probably the last team that they would like to face right about now.
You see, the Boston Bruins may have lost two consecutive games before their 5-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night, but before that, were on an unbelievable stretch that saw them go 14-0-1 since the start of November. After a 3-7-0 start to their season, it appears that their Stanley Cup hangover is over.
The Bruins are the defending Stanley Cup champions for a reason, and combine that with their incredible play as of late and the Kings’ very poor performances lately, and it doesn’t look good for the Kings, looking to avoid a fifth straight loss as well as a ninth consecutive game of scoring two goals or less.
So, quite clearly, this a match up of two teams headed in opposite directions. One team is frustrated and has very little confidence right now, while the other team has confidence and swagger to spare. The Kings may have the talent to play with the Bruins, but right now, this game has the appearance of one that could get ugly if the Kings don’t wake up.
As I said before, I think it’s very possible that this four-game road trip could determine Terry Murray’s fate. According to this report by Helene Elliot and Lisa Dillman of the LA Times (http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-1212-kings-murray-20111212,0,3653815.story), it looks like I might have been right. If the Kings don’t turn this around on this road trip, it appears almost a certainty that Murray will be fired. If the players don’t want to see their coach fired, they’d be wise to do everything in their power to start this road trip off on the right foot by somehow finding a way to get a win in Boston.
If the Kings have anything going for them (other than the fact that Zdeno Chara is injured and won’t play), it’s that they’ve owned the Bruins recently. Ok, well maybe they haven’t owned them. The Kings may have won five straight games against Boston, but three of them were in shootouts, another was in overtime, and the only regulation win over that span was by just two goals. But, they’ve always seemed to find ways to come out on top against the Bruins recently, and I’ll certainly take two points any possible way at this point. The last time the Bruins beat the Kings was back on October 12th, 2007, an 8-6 win at Staples Center.
However, make no mistake. The Kings are the lowest-scoring team in the NHL, they look awful right now, they’ve lost four straight games and have scored just six goals in that span. To put that in perspective, the Detroit Red Wings, who the Kings will play on this road trip, scored more goals on Saturday than the Kings have in this four-game losing streak. With the way things have gone in LA lately and the way the Bruins have been rolling, for the Kings to escape Boston with a win would be nothing short of miraculous, so I have my expectations set pretty low right now.
As far as the Bruins go, they do just about everything well. Their offense is ranked third in the NHL, scoring an average of 3.25 goals per game and will have to deal with the Kings’ sixth-ranked defense, giving up an average of 2.24 goals against per game. Scoring goals? What a concept! Meanwhile, the Bruins are showing that you can also be a good offensive team in addition to being a good defensive team, because they’re only surrendering an average of 2.07 goals against per game, ranking their defense second in the league. Good luck to the Kings’ 30th-ranked offense, averaging just 2.21 goals per game. On special teams, the Bruins’ 10th-ranked power-play, converting on 18.1% of their opportunities, will have to deal with the Kings’ penalty kill that is tied with the Buffalo Sabres for sixth in the NHL, killing off 85.8% of their penalties. The Kings’ power-play has been absolutely dreadful lately. Not too long ago it was one of the NHL’s top five power-plays, but is has free-fallen all the way to 20th, now converting on just 16.8% of their opportunities. It’s not a coincidence that they’ve been awful on the power-play without Mike Richards, but their power-play struggles started before he got injured. They’ll have to deal with Boston’s fifth-ranked penalty kill, killing off 86.8% of their penalties. This game just has the makings of an offensive explosion for the Kings, doesn’t it?
Up front for the Bruins, they’ve been led by a pair of super sophomores, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand, as well as the likes of Milan Lucic (Jonathan Quick will have to be on his toes when he ventures out of his crease on Tuesday), Patrice Bergeron, Nathan Horton and David Krecji. The Bruins are very deep up front, as their forward group is filled out by Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley, Gregory Campbell, Benoit Pouliot, Jordan Caron, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton. One of them will be a healthy scratch. Marc Savard is, of course, on the injured reserve with a concussion that has probably ended his career. It’s very sad to see what’s happened to him, he was an excellent player that I was a big fan of.
On defense, the Bruins will be without their captain, big Zdeno Chara, who is expected to miss a week with a leg injury that he suffered on Saturday in Columbus. Their defense will be made up by Johnny Boychuk, former King Joe Corvo, Andrew Ference, Steven Kampfer, Adam McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg. Matt Bartkowski is expected to be a healthy scratch. It’s a good thing the Bruins aren’t on the road, or Ference may have another glove malfunction if he scores. (For those who don’t get the reference, click here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlKggtLYecU, then click here for Ference’s bogus explanation http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYXqxgfGEc0&feature=related)
In goal, it could be veteran Tim Thomas, the defending Vezina winner, two-time Vezina winner in the last three years, oh, and defending Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe winner. Thomas is 13-5-0 with three shutouts on the season to go along with a 1.92 GAA and a .938 Sv%. It could also be bright young goaltender Tuukka Rask, who is 5-4-1 with a 2.01 GAA and a .930 Sv% on the season. Again, the Kings offense should just be rolling in this one.
For the Kings, it’s only fitting that in potentially his final act as the head coach of the Kings, Terry Murray has shaken up the lines. Dustin Penner moves to right wing, on the right of Anze Kopitar, while Simon Gagne will be on the left. Jarret Stoll will be between Dustin Brown, who moves back to the left, as well as Justin Williams. Andrei Loktionov will be between Brad Richardson and Trent Hunter, while Colin Fraser will be between Kyle Clifford and either Trevor Lewis or Kevin Westgarth. One of Lewis or Westgarth will be a healthy scratch.
On defense, the pairings remain the same. It will be Rob Scuderi with Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell with Slava Voynov, and Jack Johnson with Matt Greene. Alec Martinez and Davis Drewiske will be healthy scratches.
In goal, it’s expected to be Jonathan Quick.
In an enormous game for them and their coach, the Kings are in tough against the reigning champions. Can the Kings find some way to shock the Bruins and potentially save their coach’s job, or will they continue to struggle, possibly sealing Murray’s fate?