Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Kings: New coach, same challenges vs. Bruins
By Dan Arritt
Kings (13-12-4, 30 points) vs. Boston Bruins (18-9-1, 37 points) at TD Garden, 4 p.m. (PT)
Five storylines to track:
1. Changing of the guard – A new era begins tonight in Boston. A tad more than 24 hours after Kings coach Terry Murray was fired in the middle of his fourth season in LA, the team will face off against the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins. Dean Lombardi, general manager of the Kings, held the players accountable for Murray’s departure, reminding them that they’re the ones who weren’t performing to their capabilities. Murray just had to take the fall because, well, he couldn’t fire half the team. Let’s see if the players respond with a better effort for interim coach John Stevens, who must feel like a lame duck politician right about now, just keeping the seat warm for the new guy.
2. Change of heart – Stevens and anyone else who ends up coaching this team can’t score goals, they just write plays on a grease board and hope the players execute the plan. If he's still the coach when the puck drops, don’t expect Stevens to come up with any major overhauls to the system either. He has worked closely with Murray over the years and they share many of the same philosophies. If the Kings are going to score more than two goals for the first time in nine games, end a four-game losing streak and eventually emerge from the cellar as the league’s lowest-scoring team, it will come from passion and effort, not X’s and O’s.
3. No easy ones – While the Kings haven’t been doing much scoring or winning lately, they haven’t exactly been playing the cupcakes of the NHL. The Bruins will be the third straight opponent that leads their division and sixth in the last nine games. Coming into the week, the Kings had played only two teams with losing records, three games against the Ducks and one against Colorado. The road might get a little easier for the Kings beginning later this week. Following the game against the Bruins, four of their next 12 will be against sub-.500 teams.
4. Road warriors – As the Kings kick off a four-game road trip with a new leader behind the bench, it should be noted the road hasn’t been such a bad place in recent years. In the previous two seasons, only San Jose and Vancouver have won more road wins among Western Conference teams. This season, the Kings have played the fewest road games of any team in the West, but still managed to earn points in eight of 11. Back in February, the Kings turned last season around during a season-long 10 straight away from Staples Center, finishing 6-1-3 during an 11-1-3 run that lifted them from 12th to fifth in the conference standings and they remained in the top eight the rest of the way.
5. Chara questionable – The Bruins will likely be without one of their best players and one of the league’s top defensemen. Zdeno Chara suffered a lower-body injury Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets and did not practice Monday. Chara, at 6 foot 9, is the tallest player in the league and takes up a lot of space on the ice. He’s a former Norris Trophy winner as the league’s best defensemen and led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup championship last season. As much as the Kings are struggling to score right now, Chara’s absence would be a big bonus for the visitors.