|Murray with Williams (photo: D. Sheehan)|
However, in year two, Kings head coach Terry Murray guided the club to 101 points and they returned to the post-season for the first time in nearly a decade.
He backed that up with what may have been his finest coaching job in LA - as he had to calmly maintain order through two messy, extended losing streaks, where he easily could have lost the confidence of his team. Instead, they made the playoffs for the second straight year.
Still, a small group of vocal detractors continue to point criticism his way. They don't like his power play system (a fair complaint, considering the poor conversion last season). They question his goaltending rotation (really, it was more an issue the year before, when he all but refused to play back-up Erik Ersberg).
And the most common complaint is his apparent fascination with juggling lines. There probably wasn't a post-game Kings Talk radio show last season when the subject wasn't brought up at least once.
Part of the issue really hasn't been his fault though. When you don't have the necessary pieces to truly assemble two top lines, you're left scrambling. It's like a cat constantly chasing its tale. Or, better yet, like robbing Peter to pay Paul.
So, now that he has a legit top-six...and by the far the deepest Kings roster he's ever had - on paper - will he be putting the blender away?
When talking to the coach about his new options, the obvious place to focus was on the addition of a pair of former Flyers. "Those are two really good adds to our team," Murray started by saying. "Mike Richards is an outstanding hockey player. When you look at (Simon) Gagne being part of the team now, they've played together before. There was good chemistry, good results on both sides of the puck. So, I have a tendency when I'm writing down lines - which I have done already - to have those guys together on a line."
Then came the comment that can be used for some fun debate over the next six weeks until camp opens - "I do have a tendency to go with two players on a line and kind of fit it in from there and see how it falls in place."
Which he went on to explain, is how he's setting up the top two lines - "With (Dustin) Penner and (Anze) Kopitar (on the first line), Gagne and Richards (on the second line) - I'm kind of playing around with that in my mind and on paper right now."
What about the captain, Dustin Brown? He started last season on the top line with Kopitar. Where is Murray thinking of playing him next season? "I've gone through that process. I've moved it around to different looks. Justin Williams is in there too. I have Williams with Kopitar sometimes."
Nothing is set in stone quite yet though. "Again, getting some thoughts down on paper right now is all that I'm doing," explained Murray. "Just getting myself ready for what I want to do as training camp approaches. We'll just play it out. I'll have some conversations with players by phone over the rest of the summer and see how they're feeling."
Like with most conversations you have with Murray, he found a way to get it back to one of his favorite topics, defense. "I go back to Richards and Gagne in Philadelphia. They had some good things going. They were players who played together on the penalty kill and they were dynamic on penalty kills."
Moving down to the third and fourth lines, Murray admitted the picture isn't quite as clear yet - especially considering the Kings have an abundance of centers.
First up, Trevor Lewis - "I think he's a better center iceman than he is a winger."
Which is the same thing he said about Andrei Loktionov last season, after the failed experiment to move him to the wing. Comments he was quick to repeat again, "Yeah, Loktionov is a better center iceman than left winger. And that's his natural position. To me, that's where he wants to play."
Well, with Jarret Stoll as the assumed third-line center, that gives you five centers coach.
"Yeah. It's a good thing," quipped Murray.
When the coach says he has you penciled in, he means it - literally.
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