| Anze Kopitar and Ryan Smyth have been clicking at the start of the season.
Andy Murray doesn’t have much first-hand knowledge of the Kings. Only two players, Dustin Brown
and Alexander Frolov, remain from when Murray last coached the Kings in the 2005-06 season.
Murray, the coach with the most wins in Kings franchise history, is now in his fourth season with the St. Louis Blues, a team that is expected to be one of the Kings’ main obstacles to reaching the playoffs last season.
Murray, always known for his meticulous study of the league and its players, offered some in-depth analysis of the Kings before Saturday’s game in St. Louis.
"You look at what they have now," Murray said. "That checking line, with Handzus, is a puck-protection line. So they’re not just playing destructive. They’re keeping the puck. They’re dangerous. Fro has been their leading goal scorer the last three years. Having him in that role, and Simmonds fits that role really well, and Handzus has way more offensive ability than people give him credit for.
To me, the biggest change is how hard Purcell is working now, on both sides of the puck. We showed some clips of him closing the gap from behind defensively, and how hard the team is working. That first line is not bad either. Then you look at the defense and the combinations. Scuderi is a great fit with Jack Johnson. Doughty has always played well with Sean. And then Greene with Drewiske. He played well."
KOPITAR, SMYTH CLICKING
Justin Williams has a no-so-shabby four points (one goal, three assists) in the first three games, but much of the credit for the success of the Kings’ first line has gone to the chemistry between Anze Kopitar (three goals, five assists) and Ryan Smyth (three goals, three assists).
"We have clicked really good, and Justin is playing really good right now," Kopitar said. "For me, it’s just good to have a presence around the net, in front of the net. It’s huge for us, because Justin and I are maybe more of outside players. Just having Ryan around the net, or in front of the net all the time, it helps a lot.
"You’re confident, if you throw it at the net or behind the net, that there’s a really good chance he’s going to get it and make the play, if not score."
Smyth’s game, not coincidentally, fits in nicely with coach Terry Murray’s "shot mentality" mindset, in which he encourages players to get the puck to the net as often as possible, even if it doesn’t seem to be a prime scoring situation.
"No question," Kopitar said. "He’s always around, or he’s always a screen for the goalie. You never know. If you have a bad-angle shot, you take it, and maybe it goes off him and off the defenseman and it goes in, and you get rewarded. I know it’s a cliché, but if you don’t shoot, you’re not going to score. You’ve got to respect that, that’s for sure."
CAN ONLY GET BETTER
Two of the NHL’s worst teams in faceoff percentage meet tonight. The Kings rank last, at 40.7 percent, while the Blues are 27th at 43.2 percent.
The Kings’ struggles are hard to figure, since last season they ranked fourth in the league at 52 percent and they return their three most prominent centers, Kopitar, Jarret Stoll and Michal Handzus. Faceoffs, along with penalty killing, have been the Kings’ biggest weakness this season.
"Well, we have paid quite a bit of attention to it, absolutely," Terry Murray said. "It was a very important part of the game for us last year. We were talking, as a staff, the other day about the importance of winning faceoffs, especially on your PK, how that starts it off by winning and clearing it right away. It’s got to get better.
"We’re talking about it on the bench. We’re talking about it between periods. There’s an awareness to it. The center icemen, that’s their No. 1 thought when they’re out there, is, `Hey, I’ve got to win this faceoff and get things going in the right direction for us.'"