Los Angeles Hockey: Terry Murray

Lombardi takes elevator to the top

June, 15, 2012
Dean LombardiBruce Bennett/Getty ImagesDean Lombardi is humble when it comes to the Kings' accomplishments, but he had a major hand in helping them get there.

LOS ANGELES -- What must have seemed like the longest elevator ride of his life finally came to a halt shortly before 8 p.m. Monday night.

The Los Angeles Kings had just clinched their first Stanley Cup title in franchise history, and general manager Dean Lombardi, in his sixth season at the helm, was rushing from the press box inside Staples Center to the arena floor, hoping to reach the ice in time for the Cup presentation by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

"Hold on, Bettman. I've got to see this," Lombardi hollered at the elevator door, which was nearly pressed against his face.

A few seconds later, Lombardi and a handful of executives were speed-walking down the hallway and disappearing around a corner.

The 45-year wait was over.

The scene was in stark contrast to my first experience behind L.A.'s curtains, 4½ years ago.

It was just after Christmas 2007, when I was asked by a senior editor at another publication in town to cover practice the following morning. Eager to move up the chain after 14 years of mostly writing about high school sports, I enthusiastically accepted the assignment, even though I kept it to myself that I hadn’t been following the team in my spare time.

My first order of business was uncovering what the Kings had done lately. Much to my surprise, they had lost eight straight games, which remains their longest losing streak since dropping their final 11 in 2004.

Walking into the locker room the next day, it was as quiet as a college library during finals week.

Michael Cammalleri, nursing sore ribs at the time, didn't even bother to look up when asked about the progress of his injury.

Rob Blake, rumored to be heading to a playoff-bound team looking to shore up its defensive corps, said he would gladly waive his no-trade clause if approached.

Patrick O'Sullivan looked like the most sullen guy in L.A.

That was Season 2 of Lombardi's rebuilding plan, and he said everything was proceeding as planned.

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Leiweke remembers those from the past

June, 13, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- Before the Los Angeles Kings are publicly recognized for winning the Stanley Cup with a downtown parade Thursday, the organization’s governor, Tim Leiweke, took time to recognize Terry Murray and Dave Taylor, two men who helped guide the organization to where it is today, but weren't around to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Murray coached the Kings for 3 1/2 seasons before he was fired in mid-December. Using the offensive and defensive systems Murray put in place, Darryl Sutter took over behind the bench and led L.A. to its first Stanley Cup title in franchise history.

“To me, we're not here without Terry,” Leiweke said Wednesday afternoon on the Mason & Ireland show on 710 ESPN radio. “He did a great job of teaching us a system that allowed us to win a Cup.”

Leiweke had similar praise for Taylor, the longest-tenured member of the Kings who served as general manager from 1997 to 2006. It was Taylor who drafted current Kings’ stars Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. After the Kings qualified for the playoffs only four times in that span, winning just one series, Leiweke decided it was time for a change and brought in Dean Lombardi.

“I hated that decision to this day,” Leiweke said. “I probably don't have a very good relationship with Dave, but I've sent him an e-mail and told him we wouldn't be here without you. You have as much to do with this as anybody.”

Leiweke said members of the Kings organization, including owner Philip Anschutz, have also reached out to Murray, who kept busy scouting potential Eastern Conference playoff opponents for the Kings. He said Murray will be awarded a championship ring and the team is lobbying to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup.

To hear the complete interview, click this link.

Kings: 10 most defining moments of 2011-12 season

June, 12, 2012
Los Angeles KingsJeff Gross/Getty ImagesThe Stanley Cup was the ultimate prize, but there were many defining moments in the Kings' season.

With the Stanley Cup securely in the hands of the Los Angeles Kings, now’s a good time to look back at the defining moments of last season, an eight-month journey that figures to be remembered for decades to come. In chronological order:

1. Home opener -- After starting the regular season with two games in Europe and two more on the East Coast, the Kings finally had a chance to play in front of their home crowd. Featuring a lineup that many believed could contend for a Pacific Division title, L.A. played just as well as advertised, cruising to a 5-0 victory against the St. Louis Blues. Kings left wing Simon Gagne, one of five players who joined L.A. in the offseason, had two goals and an assist in the victory.

2. Quick’s shutout streak -- The home opener against the Blues marked the beginning of a franchise-record three consecutive shutouts by Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. After the St. Louis game, he followed up by blanking the Phoenix Coyotes (2-0) and Dallas Stars (1-0). In one of the more questionable moves of coach Terry Murray’s tenure, he decided to rest Quick for a game following the Dallas win and that seemed to take him out of his groove. He went winless in six of his next seven starts, giving up 21 goals in that span.

3. Murray fired/Sutter hired -- The above-mentioned skid was the first indication the Kings were more than capable of underachieving. After another four-game losing spell in early December, general manager Dean Lombardi made the difficult decision to fire Murray, a man who implemented his defense-first identity but was unable to get the players to feel accountable for their poor play. Lombardi placed a call to Darryl Sutter at his barn in Alberta and asked if he was interested in the reclamation project. The rest, as they say, is history.

4. King/Nolan recall -- Sutter didn’t press all the right buttons immediately. In fact, the Kings weren’t able to win more than two straight games his first two months behind the bench. In an effort to bring more youth and size to the wings, the Kings brought up rookies Dwight King and Jordan Nolan from their AHL team in Manchester in early February, and they fit into the lineup like a new pair of boxing gloves. In their second game with the Kings, they each scored in a 4-2 victory against the Stars. King moved from the second to the third line late in the opening-round series against the Vancouver Canucks and went on to contribute five goals and three assists in the final 13 playoff games.

5. Carter trade -- After winning just three of the first 11 games in February, eliminating their wiggle room inside the top eight in the Western Conference, management went for broke Feb. 23 and traded defenseman Jack Johnson to the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets for high-scoring right wing Jeff Carter. The move rounded out the top six forwards for the Kings and didn’t force them to subtract from their back end, as rookie Slava Voynov was ready to assume a full-time role in the NHL. Carter started slow with L.A. but caught fire in the second half of their playoff run, scoring seven goals in the final 10 games.

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Kings-Devils for Lord Stanley's precious Cup

May, 29, 2012

The Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils are scheduled to kick off the Stanley Cup finals Wednesday at 5 p.m. PT at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Here’s a breakdown of what to watch for as the series unwinds.


The Kings managed just one goal in two meetings against the Devils this season, but those games were played back in October and this isn’t the same L.A. team. Dustin Brown continues to be the tip of the sword for the Kings, scoring at least five points in each of the first three rounds. Anze Kopitar has scored at least one point in 11 of 14 playoff games, and Justin Williams has hit the scoresheet in 10. The second line of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner also figures to give the Devils problems. Brown, Kopitar, Penner and Carter should be especially effective using their size against New Jersey’s defense. Marek Zidlicky leads the Devils in total ice time, but he’s only listed at 5 feet 11, 188 pounds. Andy Green, who also logs heavy minutes on the blue line, is not much bigger at 5-11, 190, and Peter Harrold, who rarely cracked the lineup while playing for the Kings the last five seasons, stands 6-0, 190.

The Edge: Kings


The Devils have a triple threat up front in Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, each of whom has scored seven goals in the playoffs. What has made the Devils especially formidable in the postseason is the production from fourth liners Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier. They’ve combined for nine goals and nine assists in 18 playoff games. By comparison, the five players who have rotated on the fourth line for L.A. have combined for two goals and one assist. The Kings are very aware of the top-to-bottom scoring potential on New Jersey, and they’ll counter with a blue-line group that features a nice balance of veteran stay-at-home defenders (Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene) and offensive-minded youngsters (Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez and Slava Voynov). Together, they’ve helped limit the opposition to 22 goals in 14 games, while scoring five of their own.

The Edge: Devils


The Kings have been brutal on the power play this postseason, converting on just 8.1 percent of their opportunities (6-for-74). If there’s a silver lining heading into Games 1 and 2 in New Jersey, they’ve been better on the road, coming through on 5 of 42 chances (11.9 percent). Even that number dwarfs their regular season average of 17 percent. The Devils have improved their power-play efficiency in the playoffs, coming in with an 18.2 percent success rate after finishing at 17.2 during the regular season. They’ve been even better at Prudential Center, cashing in on 8 of 32 man-advantage situations, good for a 25-percent clip. The tables are turned on the penalty kill. The Kings have allowed just five power-play goals and scored five shorthanded. Their 91.2 success rate is better than their 87-percent clip during the regular season and that mark was fourth best in the league. The Devils allowed just 27 power-play goals during the regular season, leaving them No. 1 in the league at 89.6 percent, but they’ve seen 16 power-play goals hit the back of their net in the postseason for a 74.2 percent kill rate.

The Edge: Devils


The series is quite even until you start comparing the men behind the mask. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick has built on his Vezina-caliber regular season by elevating his game to another level in the playoffs. He has allowed more than two goals just twice in 14 games and brings a minuscule 1.54 goals-against average into the finals. As great as Tim Thomas was last season while leading the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup title, his GAA was just 1.98 in the postseason. Two years ago, Antti Niemi of the Chicago Blackhawks won a championship with a 2.63 average in the playoffs. The Devils will counter with 40-year-old Martin Brodeur, a three-time Cup winner and a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame when that time comes. Playoff opponents are averaging a half a goal more against Brodeur than Quick, however. He has allowed more than two goals five times in the playoffs, including three on nine shots in Game 3 of the opening-round series against the Florida Panthers, earning an early seat on the bench.

The Edge: Kings


Both benches are backed by coaches who have been with their teams for less than a year, yet they've managed to squeeze the most from their talent after so-so regular seasons. After coming on board in mid-December, Kings coach Darryl Sutter gradually showed his players how to buy into each game both physically and emotionally. He maintained the defense-first system that previous coach Terry Murray had instilled, but made a few tweaks to the lineup that paid off in the playoffs. His most brilliant move was moving Penner on to the second line with Richards and Carter late in the first-round series against the Vancouver Canucks, and dropping rookie left wing Dwight King back to the third line, giving him more favorable matchups. Penner has responded with eight points in the last nine games and King scored five goals in that span. Devils coach Peter DeBoer wears his emotions on his chest much more louder than Sutter, something his players appreciate. DeBoer’s best move of the postseason was likely reinserting Harrold into the lineup following a Game 1 loss to the top-seeded New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals. Harrold provided the Devils a veteran presence on the back end, and New Jersey went on to win four of its next five games.

The Edge: Kings


The Kings are 8-0 away from Staples Center in these playoffs, outscoring the hosts, 30-13, and netting all five of their shorthanded goals. They’ve swept the opening two games on the road in each of the first three rounds, putting their opponents on their heels before they had a chance to push back. The Kings are the first team in NHL playoff history to win their first eight games on the road, and their 10-game postseason road winning streak dating to last season is also an NHL record. The Devils are 5-2 on their home ice in the postseason, outscoring the visitors, 25-17. Another key area is the goals-against average for each team in the playoffs. The Kings are allowing an average of 1.6 goals on 29 shots a game, while New Jersey is giving up 2.3 goals on an average of 27.6 shots.

Prediction: Kings in six

Kings: Stanley Cup playoff primer

May, 25, 2012

Opponent: New Jersey Devils

Regular-season records: Kings, 40-27-15, 95 points (8th in the Western Conference); Devils, 48-28-6, 102 points (6th in the Eastern Conference)

Playoff schedule (all starts 5 p.m. PT): May 30 @ New Jersey; June 2 @ New Jersey; June 4 @ Los Angeles; June 6 @ Los Angeles; June 9 @ New Jersey*; June 11 @ Los Angeles*; June 13 @ New Jersey*

*if needed

Previous meetings this season:

Oct. 13 @ Prudential Center: Devils 2, Kings 1 (SO)

In the Kings' first game in the U.S. after opening the season with two in Europe, newly acquired left wing Simon Gagne scored less than two minutes into the game, but their offense went silent the rest of the way. The Devils tied the score later in the opening period on a goal by Patrik Elias, then won the game in a shootout on goals by Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise. The Devils lost veteran goalie Martin Brodeur to a minor shoulder injury after the first period and he was replaced by Johan Hedberg, who stopped all 18 shots in regulation and overtime and both in the shootout.

Oct. 25 @ Staples Center: Devils 3, Kings 0

There was no scoring by the Kings in their second meeting in 12 days against the Devils, but plenty of second-guessing. Despite shutting out the previous three opponents to set a franchise record and having two days off between games, Kings goalie Jonathan Quick was given the night off by former coach Terry Murray. His replacement, Jonathan Bernier, was strong in the opening 20 minutes, but gave up three goals in just over five minutes of the second. The Kings not only lost the game, but Quick struggled to regain his form, allowing 18 goals in his next six starts, with the Kings winning just one of those games.

Playoff fact: The lowest-seeded team to win the Stanley Cup was the fifth-seeded Devils in 1995. That record will be broken this season by either sixth-seeded New Jersey or the eighth-seeded Kings.

Kings trying to join elite company

May, 18, 2012
A Stanley Cup title is still five victories away, but many have pegged the Los Angeles Kings as favorites at this point of the postseason. The Kings, winners of eight consecutive playoff games and 11 of 12 overall, would earn a spot in history should they raise the Cup.

ESPN Stats & Info did a little digging and found out that according to sports-reference.com, only one other team among the four major professional sports in North America, the 1978 New York Yankees, has produced a championship team after making two coaching changes during the regular season.

Terry Murray started the season as head coach of the Kings, but was fired Dec. 12 after the team struggled to a 13-12-4 start while averaging 2.1 goals a game. John Stevens served as interim coach for four games before Darryl Sutter took over and guided the team to a 25-13-9 record the remainder of the regular season, good enough to claim the No. 8 seed for the Western Conference playoffs.

As they say, the rest has been history.

The Kings knocked off the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks in five games, then swept the second-seeded St. Louis Blues in the second round, becoming the first eighth-seeded team to knock off the top two seeds in the playoffs. They currently have a 3-0 series lead on the Phoenix Coyotes heading into Sunday's Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.

The ’78 Yankees began the season with Billy Martin at the helm, but he was fired after 94 games and replaced for one game by Dick Howser. Bob Lemon then finished off the regular season before leading New York to the World Series title against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Only nine teams have won a championship with two different head coaches during the regular season; four in the NHL, three in the NBA and two in Major League Baseball. The most recent team was the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins, which included current Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi.

Kings: How they got from there to here

May, 2, 2012
Dustin PennerRich Lam/Getty ImagesDustin Penner's resurgence has been one of many reasons the Kings find themselves where they are.

EL SEGUNDO -- Forget trying to put a finger on what turned this season around. You won't have enough hands.

One of the favorites to finish high in the Western Conference standings coming into the season, with a roster full of skill, youth and experience, the Los Angeles Kings were underachievers almost from the start.

Well, except for goalie Jonathan Quick.

They fired coach Terry Murray in mid-December, during a stretch in which they didn’t score more than two goals in any of 14 straight games, and brought in a more leathery figure in Darryl Sutter.

He got the Kings to stand up straight all right, but still couldn’t coax the players to put the puck in the net. Over the next two months, the offense continued to languish at the bottom of the league in scoring, averaging little more than two goals a game.

Just as the trade deadline came and went in late February, the Kings suddenly turned a corner, finishing 13-5-3 and averaging just over three goals a game to sneak into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed. Not what many envisioned coming into the season, but part of the postseason, nonetheless.

They hit the reset button and came out motivated, healthy and ready for the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks, won the first two games in Vancouver and upset the President Trophy winners in five games.

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Kings: Breaking down the second round series vs. Blues

April, 27, 2012
The Kings and Blues are scheduled to kick off their Western Conference semifinal Saturday at 4:30 p.m. PT at Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Here’s a breakdown of what to watch for as the series unwinds.


Kings coach Darryl Sutter called the NHL a “3-2 league” when he was hired in mid-December to replace Terry Murray, a reference to the typical final score. This might be a 2-1 series, however. St. Louis was No. 1 in the league in goals-against average during the regular season, allowing an average of 1.89 goals a game, while the Kings were 29th in the league in scoring at 2.29 goals a game. The Blues are led on the blue line by 22-year-old Alex Pietrangelo, who had a breakout regular season with 12 goals, 59 points and a plus-14 rating. The Blues will be without No. 1 goalie Jaroslav Halak for the first two games after he injured his ankle in Game 2 of their first-round victory against the San Jose Sharks. That’s hardly a big blow for St. Louis, which features a quality backup in Brian Elliott, who won all three first-round starts and had better overall statistics than Halak during the regular season. The Kings may have finished second-to-last in the league in scoring, but they averaged 2.78 goals over the final 23 games. The top line of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams scored 22 goals or more apiece during the regular season and combined for five goals and eight assists in the first-round victory against the Vancouver Canucks. The Kings also feature plenty of firepower and postseason experience on the second line with Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner.

The Edge: Blues


The Kings were no slouch on defense either, allowing an average of 2.07 goals during the regular season, second best in the league behind the Blues. The Kings and St. Louis also allowed the fewest goals in the first round of the playoffs (eight). The backstop for the Kings is goalie Jonathan Quick, a Vezina Trophy finalist who led the league and established a franchise record with 10 shutouts during the regular season. He also blanked Vancouver in Game 3. The Kings feature a nice mix of offensive-minded defensemen, led by 2010 Norris Trophy finalist Drew Doughty, and defensive stoppers Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene. The Blues will counter with a deep forward corps that features nine players who scored 10 goals or more in the regular season. The player to watch for St. Louis is center Andy McDonald, who missed 51 games with a concussion and six more with a shoulder injury, but flashed his talent in the first-round series, accounting for four goals and four assists in five games. Six of his points came on the power play. McDonald did not appear in any of the four games against the Kings this season.

The Edge: Kings

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Kings: First-round playoff primer

April, 8, 2012

Opponent: Vancouver Canucks.

Records: Kings, 40-27-15, 95 points (8th in Western Conference); Canucks 51-22-9, 111 points (1st in Western Conference).

Playoff Schedule: Wednesday @ Vancouver; Friday @ Vancouver; Sunday @ L.A.; April 11 @ L.A.; April 22 @ Vancouver (if needed); April 24 @ L.A. (if needed); April 22 @ Vancouver (if needed).

Previous meetings this season:

Nov. 10 @ Staples CenterCanucks 3, Kings 2

The Canucks grabbed a three-goal lead in the first-period and never looked back, leaving the Kings winless for the sixth time in seven games. That pretty much erased their 6-2-1 start to the season. On the positive side, the game marked the debut of Kings fourth-line center Colin Fraser, who turned out to be a key piece of the puzzle this season. Fraser, acquired in the offseason trade that sent Ryan Smyth back to Edmonton, sat out training camp and the first six weeks of the season while recovering from foot surgery and waiting for this shot to crack the lineup. He became a mainstay for the season, even earning the team's Masterton Trophy nomination for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

Dec. 31 @ Staples CenterKings 4, Canucks 1

Playing a home game on New Year’s Eve for just the second time in franchise history, Kings center Anze Kopitar ended a career-long 17-game goal-less streak, and coach Darryl Sutter improved to 4-0-2 since replacing Terry Murray 10 days earlier. Canucks defenseman Keith Ballard may have set the tone for this series when he speared Kings forward Kyle Clifford behind the Vancouver net, then sucker-punched him after Clifford fell to the ice. Ballard has been out since February with concussion symptoms, but those cheap shots just added to the disdain between these two clubs and their fans.

Jan. 17 @ Rogers Arena – Kings, 3, Canucks 2 (SO)

The Kings were still trying to establish some footing when they rolled into Vancouver following an overtime loss in Edmonton two nights earlier. They hung with the Canucks long enough to win in a shootout, but the game was probably best remembered for a rare goal from beleaguered left wing Dustin Penner. Kings right wing Justin Williams also had a goal in regulation and another in the shootout in what turned out to be the fifth game of a season-long nine-game point streak.

March 26 @ Rogers ArenaCanucks 1, Kings 0

After not seeing the Canucks for more than two months, the Kings paid another visit up north to kick off a key four-game road trip, one that would determine their postseason fate. They were stonewalled by Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo, sending them tumbling out of the top eight in the Western Conference with six games remaining. They regrouped to finish 2-1-1 on the road trip and pull themselves back inside the cutoff, where they stayed for the remainder of the season. That same day, Vancouver made the first public admission that leading goal scorer Daniel Sedin had a concussion, which caused him to miss the last nine games of the regular season and put him in jeopardy of missing playoff time.

Playoff fact: The Kings and Canucks met in the first round two years ago, with the Canucks winning in six games.

Kings: Time to establish an identity vs. Red Wings

March, 13, 2012
Kings (32-25 -12, 76 points) vs. Detroit Red Wings (44-22-3, 91 points) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.

Five storylines to track:

1. Mystery men – Sitting courtside at the Clippers game Monday night was Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, two of the best players on the Kings. As they were shown on the multiple big screens that hover over the floor, there was, well, really no response. Almost as if they were unrecognizable. That would’ve never happened in Philadelphia, where both played for six seasons before they were traded to the Kings in the last nine months. One thing’s for certain, the Kings have supplanted the Clippers as the most unrecognizable pro sports team in L.A. Only a deep playoff run could possibly reverse that. At this point, the bigger challenge is just making the postseason for a third straight year.

2. Playoff picture – At least the Kings can cross the Ducks off the list of competition for one of the final Western Conference playoffs bids. Anaheim lost its third straight game Monday night in Colorado, leaving the team nine points back of the eighth-place Avs. Unless the Stars and Blackhawks accidentally pull their emergency chutes down the stretch, they can probably coast to the finish line, leaving five teams drag racing for the final two playoff berths. As it stands now, the Coyotes, Avs, Sharks, Flames and Kings are bunched within three points and have anywhere from 11 to 14 games remaining. To say this is a must-win is almost laughable. At this point forward, every game will fall into that category.

3. Defensive wizards – While the defensive pair of Rob Scuderi and Drew Doughty can’t seem to finish a shift without the puck hitting their net, rookie Slava Voynov and his veteran partner, Willie Mitchell, continue to pick up the slack. Voynov has made the trade for Carter last month look better and better each game, more than competently replacing Jack Johnson. In the eight games since the trade, Voynov has contributed a goal and three assists, all while building up a plus-6 rating. Mitchell’s numbers have been even better since he swapped partners, owning a goal and four assists with a plus-9 rating. He was a plus-2 in the previous 55 games, mostly playing alongside Johnson.

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Kings: All business heading into Florida clash

February, 9, 2012
Kings (26-18-10, 62 points) vs. Florida Panthers (24-17-11, 59 points) at BankAtlantic Center, 4:30 p.m. PT

Five storylines to track:

LASTL1. Don’t be fooled by the weather After five days in the Sunshine State, the Kings might be feeling a little at home. Considering their record back in Southern California, that's not such a good thing. But the players are certainly aware they still have much to accomplish on this season-long road trip. They’re 1-2 so far with three games remaining against franchises they’ve typically played well against over the years. The Kings beat the Panthers, 2-1, on Dec. 1 at Staples Center, a game they certainly haven’t forgotten for reasons beyond the final score.

2. Bergenheim time – The previous game against the Panthers marked the beginning of a costly downturn for the Kings. Mike Richards had just finished off a stellar month of November, carrying the mercurial Kings with nine goals. That momentum came crashing to a halt when Richards' chin collided with the shoulder of Florida left wing Sean Bergenheim, resulting in a concussion that sidelined Richards the next eight games. With their best offensive player off the ice, the Kings looked lost and lackadaisical while losing their next four games, costing coach Terry Murray his job. As for Richards, he hasn’t looked the same since the injury, scoring just three goals in 21 games. These teams don’t get together too often, so any thought of payback could come sooner rather than later.

3. It’s Clifford time – Kings left wing Kyle Clifford is admittedly a slow starter. He went the first 21 games last season without scoring a goal, then put up 10 the rest of the way, including three in the playoffs. Now a second-year player, he has doubled his season total with two goals in the last five games, both of which held up as game winners. Clifford’s goal Tuesday night in a 3-1 victory at Tampa Bay wasn’t one of the dirty varieties that he mines the crease for, but rather a skillful breakaway in which he made a smooth stick handle from forehand to backhand and slid the puck through the pads of Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson. Shootout audition?

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Kings: 5 keys to the second half

January, 28, 2012
KopitarVictor Decolongon/Getty ImagesAnze Kopitar is one of many Kings whose offensive numbers are down compared to the same time last season.

Fifty games down, 32 to go. The Kings are sitting in seventh place in the Western Conference standings coming out of the All-Star break, four points out of ninth and just two short of the Pacific Division lead. Here are the key areas to watch heading into the home stretch of the regular season.

1. Scoring, scoring and, well, more scoring – Look no further than league-wide scoring averages to pinpoint where the Kings need to improve the most. They’re still last in that category at 2.14 goals a game, a hole they’ve been dug into the last two months. The Kings had 143 goals through 50 games last season. They’re sitting at 111 now, more than half a goal per game less than a year ago. Probably not surprising, the numbers for the top three scorers from last season are also down. Anze Kopitar has 15 goals and 29 assists, compared to 16 and 33 through the same stretch last season. Justin Williams has nine goals and 25 assists. He had 18 and 21 through the 50-game mark a year ago. Dustin Brown has dropped from 17 goals and 20 assists to 13 and 14. Last season’s second-line center, Jarret Stoll, has seen his numbers fall the furthest. He’s sitting at five goals and nine assists after racking up 14 and 17 through the All-Star break last season. Even those who were playing elsewhere this time last year, Mike Richards and Dustin Penner, have seen their offensive stats tumble. Water always settles back at its natural level. Hopefully the Kings’ offense will too.

2. Voice in the room – The players seemed to receive a jolt when coach Terry Murray was fired Dec. 12 and replaced a week later by Darryl Sutter. They earned points in 14 of the next 15 games to climb into playoff contention in the Western Conference standings, but another goal here or there would have pushed them even higher. The Kings appeared to be falling back into old habits heading into the break, scoring five goals in four games before a 4-1 victory Monday against visiting Ottawa ended the skid. The lull may suggest that the honeymoon with Sutter is over. For the most part, he has defended his team’s unsteady play, placing a big chunk of blame on the demanding schedule that included two season-opening ‘home’ games in Europe, followed by a two-game East Coast swing. They haven’t had three days or more between games since mid-November. After an eight-day layoff, the Kings play a home game Wednesday against Columbus then embark on a season-long six-game road trip that could go a long way toward determining if they’re contenders or pretenders. They went 6-1-3 during the Grammy trip last season, catapulting them back into playoff contention.

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Kings: Players don't miss chalking it up

January, 11, 2012

EL SEGUNDO -- Like a payphone in a strip mall, the grease board that hangs on the glass at Toyota Sports Center has quickly become obsolete.

Before he was fired as coach of the Kings last month, Terry Murray consistently interrupted practice to convey his message on the 24-by-18-inch white board with the inscribed playing surface. Darryl Sutter, on the other hand, has little use for the training aid.

Sutter, who replaced Murray three weeks ago, stood in front of the board his first day on the job, inked a couple stickmen and squiggly lines and hasn’t gone back since.

That’s just fine with the players.

“It’s nice because I don’t like to sit at the chalkboard very often. Just get out and do things,” defenseman Jack Johnson said. “You don’t need to make drills complicated to make them good drills. We just get out there, go and get off.”

Practices are shorter, more high-tempo than they were under Murray, who was fired Dec. 12 after the team struggled to score goals and consistently win games the first two months of the season.

“He just kind of rolls through the drills real quick,” right wing Justin Williams said of Sutter. “He just explains it orally and, most of the time, we get it on the first try and that way it just keeps practice going a little quicker.”

Or as left wing Dustin Penner put it, Sutter’s teaching methods are “trial by fire.”

“We get out there, maybe do the first part of the drill wrong once, and then after that we pick it up,” he said. “As the year goes on, [practices] will become more cleaner and more efficient.”

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Kings: Turning a new leaf in the Windy City

December, 28, 2011

Kings (17-14-5, 39 points) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (23-9-4, 50 points) at United Center, 5:30 p.m. PT

Five storylines to track:

1. Starting anew – For coach Darryl Sutter, scoring more than two goals Monday night wasn’t as important as getting the two points. Accomplishing both in the 4-3 victory against the visiting Phoenix Coyotes was just a cool breeze to compliment a sunny day. The victory ended a well-documented streak of 14 consecutive games without scoring at least three goals, a franchise record in the futility department. Sutter seems to be turning things around in a hurry. Since he was hired last week, the Kings have earned five of the available six points and finally put to rest one particularly embarrassing streak.

2. No Gagne – The news isn’t getting any better for Kings left wing Simon Gagne. Sources confirmed to ESPN that he indeed suffered a concussion against the Coyotes. He has been placed on injured reserve. Gagne has a well-documented history of head injuries. Coupled with the new NHL guidelines involving evaluation and treatment of concussions, Gagne could be out a while. Gagne, a two-time 40-goal scorer, scored seven goals in the first 17 games this season, but none in the last 17. If the Kings were testing the waters for potential trade partners before, they might be doing some full-scale fishing now.

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Kings: Darryl Sutter puts on the badge

December, 20, 2011
There’s a new King in town.

The Darryl Sutter era has begun in Los Angeles, where he’s scheduled to conduct his first practice as head coach of the dysfunctional Kings on Wednesday morning at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo.

Sutter was officially named the 24th coach in franchise history Tuesday, a purely obligatory move after word of his hiring filtered out late last week while the team was on a four-game road trip.

Sutter, 53, takes over for John Stevens, who coached four games on an interim basis after Terry Murray was fired Dec. 12.

Having been away from the NHL for 12 months, Sutter inherits a franchise that, thus far this season, has fallen far short of expectations. Last in the NHL in scoring, the team hasn’t generated more than two goals in a game in the last 12. Every player seems to be stuck in one of the worst scoring slumps of his career.

Heading into Tuesday’s games, the Kings (15-14-4) were 10th in the Western Conference standings and likely need to win about 60 percent of their remaining games for a shot at making the playoffs for a third straight season.

In other words, Sutter had his work cut out for him.

When it comes to coaching changes in the NHL, the choice of Sutter by Kings general manager Dean Lombardi seems to have caused more debate than usual. The main complaint is Sutter’s similarities with Murray, both in terms of system and structure. In his previous nine seasons as head coach in Chicago, San Jose and Calgary, Sutter became known for his rugged, defensive-minded teams. Only once did his team finish in the top half of the league in scoring.

Isn’t that the type of coach Lombardi just showed the door?

The difference between Murray and Sutter might just come down to the ability to extract a 60-minute effort from individual players. Murray was a calm, gentlemanly-type of coach whose voice rarely elevated during practice.

There were no glares, no scowls, no angry looks. The referees probably loved working Kings’ games.

Players might feel differently with Sutter behind the bench. He can be harsh, demanding and impatient with mistakes. Put it this way, in the span of two weeks, the Kings have gone from having a teacher in the classroom, to a substitute teacher and now the vice principal.

If this doesn’t get their attention, nothing will.

The Kings have the talent to score more goals than they do, especially once Mike Richards returns from a concussion. They might just need a refresher course in, say, ‘effort plus execution equals success.’

We’ll know beginning Thursday when the Kings host the Ducks, another franchise that’s trying to turn their season around with a different message coming from the dressing room.