By the 2010-11 season the Kings should have the caliber of talent where they could not only contend for the Western Conference championship but also for the Stanley Cup.
So while it’s surprising that two weeks into December they are flirting with a .500 record, it’s not about this season for the Kings. They likely won’t make the playoffs but the future promises to be extremely bright.
Two months after last season ended, the Kings made a coaching change, hiring Terry Murray to replace Marc Crawford. Murray has been behind the bench with young teams before in Washington, Philadelphia and Florida. Although he was last a head coach with the Panthers in 2001, he’s a constant student of the game. He was an assistant coach with the Flyers last season and played a vital part in their run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Murray is the right man for the Kings because of his philosophical approach to coaching, which is preaching to your team the need for a deep dedication to defense. The quickest way to get competitive with any team is to improve defensively. Murray should be credited for his ability to get all his players on the same page and united towards achieving one objective – keeping the puck out of their net. The Kings are the most improved defensive team in the NHL because they have bought into Murray’s system.
Last season the Kings ranked 28th in the league in goals against average (3.21). Under Murray they have moved up to 12th, which clearly shows the coach is getting his message across. And what shows that even more is they have gone from last season’s average of allowing 32 shots per game (28th in the NHL) to being tied for first in that category (25.6).
A preseason look at the Kings’ defensemen didn’t knock anyone’s socks off. They are young, old or average but there have been two big surprises with this group. The first is the immediate emergence of Drew Doughty, who was taken with the No. 2 overall pick in June’s draft. He’s shown tremendous poise for a 19-year-old while performing excellently at both ends of the ice. On offense he’s very assertive in a confident way. He’s been anything but overwhelmed playing at the NHL level. He’s playing like he belongs and there’s nothing not to like about him. Doughty’s been so impressive that he leads the team in time on ice per game (23.27).
The second surprise from the rearguards is how well Kyle Quincey has played since the Kings claimed him off waivers from the Red Wings on Oct. 13. Quincey couldn’t get many minutes in Detroit given the logjam of blueline talent the Stanley Cup champions possess but he’s been a real nice addition to the Kings. He has jet-propelled skating ability, moves the puck and competes hard.
And actually a third surprise that ties into the overall improvement defensively by the Kings is that they have achieved it without one of their promising young blueliners in Jack Johnson, who underwent surgery Oct. 14 to repair a partially torn labrum in his left shoulder. He’s not expected back until late January.
So while the present is an upgrade over the recent past, the real excitement for this franchise lies ahead and it’s not that far away. In June’s draft the Kings had six picks in the first three rounds. Besides Doughty they also got a first-rounder in Colten Teubert, a 6-foot-4, 190-pound defenseman whose highly touted for his punishing play and his toughness.
Among the other high draftees of last summer who figure prominently in the team’s future plans are defenseman Vyacheslav Voinov (2nd round), defenseman Andrew Campbell (3rd round), center Robbie Czarnik (3rd round) and left wing Geordie Wudrick (3rd round).
By drafting Doughty, Teubert, Voinov and Campbell, Kings general manager Dean Lombardi has built a good portion of the infrastructure of Los Angeles’ future blueline. The Kings will have good quality depth in this unit very soon.
PHT: Patrice Bergeron and the Bruins won 71 percent of the draws against some of the best face-off men in the league. They won loose pucks and blocked shots, and they dominated the Blackhawks in Game 3.
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