After the news broke Monday that Terry Murray had been fired as the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings (just a couple weeks after locational rivals Anaheim Ducks fired their head coach, Randy Carlyle), my immediate question was whether this would result in the Kings adopting a more offensive style.
Murray’s Kings have been killing it on the defensive end for a few years now, although I don’t think that fact ever got as much pub as the perceived offensive potential of star youngsters Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty. The truth of the Kings’ style is that they were largely based around a fundamentally sound system of positional responsibility, and only a few players tended to deviate from this JV Devils game plan (Jack Johnson comes to mind).
Kopitar has the physical gifts to be a 100-point scorer consistently, but under Murray’s system it seemed more and more like the big Slovenian had stabilized as a point-a-game player in this his sixth NHL season. And all that is fine… if you’re winning.
Photo via MayorsManor.com
As Anze Kopitar watches the Kings’ coaching situation intently, you could consider his fantasy upside under a more offensive system.
Kings’ management has apparently decided that 29 games is enough of a sample to determine that the team is not winning. Perhaps that firing across town expedited the process. It has been suggested that because of the town that the Kings play in, there is an onus on playing a more wide-open style that will yield higher scoring games. I think that while that may be true, it is a very soccer attitude to have — this idea that the home team somehow is required to take more risk than it wants to in order to appease the fans. In my experience, there is one thing that a team can do to sustain fandom: win games.
Of the Five Teams Playing Better Defense than LA, Only Detroit’s D Seems to go Unnoticed.
I looked it up and saw that LA was sitting in 6th in the NHL in goals allowed per game, and decided to examine the general feeling surrounding those five teams playing better D than the Kings.
In St. Louis’ case, Brian Elliott is on the tongues of every professional pundit I’ve heard giving an early measuring point on the Vezina Trophy. His tandem-mate Jaroslav Halak has picked his game up nicely since just before the firing of former head coach and 2006 Kelly Cup champion Davis Payne.
The other goalie up for mention with Elliott on everybody’s list is the incumbent, Boston’s Tim Thomas. He and Tuukka Rask have the defending champs allowing just 2.07 goals per game, second only to the 2.03 figure sported by the Blues.
Coming in third is the Minnesota Wild (2.10 GA/G), who have been known as a great defensive team throughout their existence, with the exception of the last year and a half before the hiring of rookie head coach Mike Yeo. The Wild have the luxury of what now looks like a trio of capable big leaguers in regular starter Niklas Backstrom, finally healthy Josh Harding and 21 year-old Matt Hackett.
Fourth place belongs to the perenially Vezina-worthy Henrik Lundqvist and his outstanding backup Martin Biron. The Rangers are built from the back out, and boast what many could argue is the best pure starter and the best sole backup in the league. Biron is that rare goalie who can post around a 2.00 GAA and at the same time not have anyone in the league believe he is worthy of consideration as even a time share. Amazing, but definitely to the Rangers’ benefit. Their GA/G number is 2.11.
Regardless of allegiances, Marty Biron’s mask is pretty awesome.
And then there’s the goaltender that may be the closest to the Jennings Trophy without ever having a shot at the Vezina: Jimmy Howard. Constantly dogged by the myth that Detroit’s team defense is so good that he only has to make 20 saves a game (the Red Wings actually give up 27.5 shots per game, which while 2nd in the NHL, is still only 5 shots away from dead last in the league), Howard will never get the respect he deserves as a mentally stable goalie with the ability to steal games. He will struggle to shake the comparisons to his predecessor, Chris Osgood, who played at the height of the Wings’ puck possession era.
Detroit is unlikely to get the Jennings for Howard and his backup Ty Conklin, but the fact that the Wings are 5th in total defense should raise some eyebrows after last season’s complete disregard for basket protection. En route to a surprising return to the top of the Central division in 2010-11, the Red Wings let it rain — into their own net. Their 2.89 GA/G stat was 23rd in the NHL. None of the 7 teams they beat out were even close to a playoff spot.
Jimmy Howard doesn’t need your love. Or a mask.
So while it is funny and aggravating that so-called hockey people refuse to give Howard any credit for this season’s 2.21 team goals against average (Howard’s personal GAA is 1.85 with a league-leading 17 wins that he had nothing to do with), it only highlights people’s slowness to react. Detroit is not a juggernaut anymore, and in fact the entire league’s range of shots allowed per game ranges from 26.2 to 32.6. And yet, Howard will not be invited to the NHL awards as a Vezina candidate this year or ever, because the late-‘90s and mid-2000s Red Wings dominated the time of possession stat a little too much.
Getting back to the Kings, I wouldn’t be surprised if their goal scoring and goal allowing go up in tandem. Only time will tell if that’s a better recipe for success in the standings, and more importantly, in the playoffs.