Whether you support him or not, I think most people can agree that Terry Murray’s seat has to be getting pretty hot right now.
When management and ownership decided to make the big trade for Mike Richards, bring in Simon Gagne, and give Drew Doughty that big contract, this is not what they had in mind. The expectations were that the Kings were going to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, that’s what the Kings decided they were ready for this summer. However, this team looks nothing like a contender.
The Kings have now lost five straight games, and six of their last seven, mired in 0-3-2 and 1-4-2 stretches after starting the season 5-1-1, dropping their record to 6-5-3. They’ve now scored two or fewer regulation goals in 12 of their 14 games. Although offense wasn’t the only problem last night, the Kings surrendered four goals on 38 shots, gave up 21 shots alone in the second period, and for a team that’s defense is its bread and butter, they have given up three or more goals in seven straight games, although in one game the third goal came in overtime, and in another game they only gave up two goals but the third goal was credited to Pittsburgh because of the Kings losing the shootout.
So, it’s not just the offense that is the problem right now. This entire team from top to bottom, with the exception of Anze Kopitar, maybe the goalies, and maybe a few other players such as Simon Gagne, Mike Richards, and Jack Johnson, is a disaster at the moment. They’re playing sloppy, they’re playing careless, they’re playing without a lot of confidence, and they’re playing awful. The Kings were supposed to be a contender this year, rather than just a bubble playoff team, but if not for Jonathan Quick’s red-hot start to the season, the Kings would find themselves in the NHL’s basement right now. They really have not played well all year with the exception of a couple of games, but Quick’s play overshadowed it early on. If this keeps up much longer, something has to give, and it will likely be Terry Murray’s job.
First, I will say this: Dean Lombardi has been very loyal to Murray. The Kings went through a couple of funks like this last year, and with fans calling for Murray’s firing, Lombardi stuck by his coach. But this year is different. The talent that Murray has got on this team is among the best that any coach has to work with, and he’s not getting nearly enough out of it right now. This is supposed to be the season that the Kings make a deep playoff run. Is Terry Murray the right coach to lead this team now that they’re contenders? The last few years, Murray did a good job for the Kings, taking a young team and being patient with them and teaching them how to play responsible hockey, but has he served his purpose? When Murray was hired, he was largely seen as a bridge coach. A coach who would take a last place but young and talented team and teach them a lot and teach them the importance of responsible defensive hockey and sticking to the system, and that was the right thing for them at the time. But is Murray still the right coach for this team? It doesn’t look like it.
We’ve seen under-performing teams that should be contending make coaching changes before and turn them around. In 2008-2009, the defending Eastern Conference champion Pittsburgh Penguins got off to a terrible start to their season. The season was getting deeper and deeper and the Penguins weren’t even in a playoff spot. Then they replaced Michel Therrien with Dan Bylsma and went on to win the Stanley Cup. In 2009-2010, the Philadelphia Flyers were supposed to be a contender but were struggling mightily for the first couple of months of the season, so they fired John Stevens (currently an assistant coach for the Kings) and hired Peter Laviolette and went to the Stanley Cup Finals. Does this struggling Kings team that is supremely talented and should be contending need the same kind of wake up call? Maybe. And if this goes on much longer, they may get it.
Anyways, the Kings get yet another chance to right the ship, as they’re back home tonight and will turn to Jonathan Bernier to face the Nashville Predators, but before I get you set for that game, let’s recap last night’s loss in San Jose…
1st period: The Kings outshot the Sharks 14-7 in the first period, and were in control for most of it. Each team went 0-for-1 on the power play. Dustin Penner played probably his best period as a King, and had a couple of great chances including a breakaway but was robbed by Antti Niemi on every chance he got. Penner had three shots in the first period. Hopefully this is the turning point for him… He finally looked like he cared out there, and finally looked like he belonged. Dustin Brown hit a post, and despite many chances, the Kings could not convert.
2nd period: The second period was a penalty-filled frame, and on a 5-on-3 advantage for the Kings at the 6:19 mark, Jack Johnson broke the deadlock with his fourth goal of the season. He had only five goals all of last regular season. Mike Richards won the draw, Anze Kopitar pushed it back to Drew Doughty who went across the point to Johnson who ripped a one-time slapshot low past Niemi. Then, right on cue, just 5:20 after the Kings took the lead at the 11:39 mark, they let the Sharks get it back. Joe Thornton controlled the puck down low and protected the puck from the Kings defenders, before throwing a backhand on goal from a terrible angle that hit Quick’s glove and went into the net. It was Thornton’s fourth goal of the year, and Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski picked up the assists. Then at the 12:35 mark, just 56 seconds after the Sharks tied it, the Sharks took the lead. Dan Boyle carried it in and sent it out to Patrick Marleau who beat Jack Johnson to the front of the net, and tipped the puck past Quick, who was only able to get a piece of it. Then the Kings gave the Sharks a lengthy 5-on-3, and at the 17:02 mark, Dan Boyle capitalized for his first goal of the year, as Quick was down in his crease after holding off a siege from the Sharks but the puck went up to Boyle at the point who ripped it high over Quick. Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau got the assists. The Sharks dominated the Kings in the second — a period that the Kings usually seem to struggle in — getting outshot 21-8. The Kings went 1-for-2 on the power play in the frame, while the Sharks went 1-for-4.
3rd period: The period stayed scoreless until the 6:40 mark, when Logan Couture was left all alone in front of Quick and picked up the rebound off of a Marc-Edouard Vlasic point shot and put a backhand by Quick, for his sixth goal of the year. Joe Thornton also got an assist. At the 8:28 mark, the Kings pulled back within two and ended the Sharks’ run of four unanswered goals, with a power play goal. Drew Doughty sent the puck up to Kopitar who came down the right side and had his initial shot stopped by Niemi, but put the rebound in. Jonathan Quick, yes, Jonathan Quick, also got an assist, for his first point of the year. It was Kopitar’s eighth goal of the year. The Kings went 1-for-3 on the power play in the frame, and 2-for-6 on the night, while the Sharks went 0-for-1 in the frame, and 1-for-6 on the night. The Sharks outshot the Kings 10-9 in the third, and 38-31 on the night.
The Kings are going to get another quick chance to rebound from a tough loss and end a disappointing stretch, as the Kings come back home to host the Nashville Predators tonight. Stay tuned for a game preview awfully soon, because the puck drops in about three and a half hours at Staples Center at 10:30 PM ET/7:30 PM PT.