In a break from Kings' tradition, every front-office decision made this year has been a good one.
General Manager Dean Lombardi locked up two very important young stars in Anze Kopitar and Patrick O'Sullivan, for five and three years, respectively. Their contracts were both fair and deserving.
This was well after bringing in new head coach Terry Murray, over several other big-name NHL coaches that had recently become available. This fact led to some skepticism in the choice of helmsman prior to the start of the season, but also because the last two suits did not work out so well.
Thus far, the choice of Terry Murray has been surprisingly perfect.
This is not to say that the Kings have come out undefeated in the 14 games that they've played in the young season—in fact they're flirting with .500 at 6-6-2, so no Kings fan should be elated by this statistic.
The description of Murray being perfect refers to his philosophy as a coach of this young team.
No one reasonably expects Los Angeles to make the playoffs this year. The focus is on the future of the team, and the development of the young talent.
Somehow, Murray may have an outside shot at accomplishing both.
Let's examine three key strategies that Terry Murray is doing correctly:
1. He's letting the goaltenders decide via their performance who will start
Jason LaBarbera was given the starting nod for the first 10 games of the season. He was less than spectacular, going 3-5-1 and posting 3.01 goals-against average and a .884 save percentage. Not awful numbers, but not good by any measure.
Then Ersberg was given the opportunity to take over, or at least vie for getting more time than he was getting as the bailout guy. He has been significantly better in four starts, going 3-0-1 with 1.93 GAA and .904 SP.
It can be argued that the Kings have played better defense in front of Ersberg, including allowing only 15 shots by the Florida Panthers.
In my mind, this argument similar to that of the chicken or the egg. When a team is getting solid goaltending, the players can focus more on what they need to do in front of them, and not worry about what may happen at any time behind them.
Internal competition can be a very effective method to getting the best out of the players on a team, and I think this will indeed be the case for the goaltenders in Los Angeles this season.
2. He's trying out different wingers on the top line with Kopitar and Brown
So far this year, we've seen the following forwards given the opportunity to skate on the top line for more than just a shift—Matt Moulson, Patrick O'Sullivan, Kyle Calder, Derek Armstrong, and Jarret Stoll.
Personally, I love this strategy. Let's throw it all against the wall and see what sticks.
What I mean by this is that it is very difficult to predict who will have chemistry together. Some things that look good on paper do not translate in reality.
Many fans have been screaming to put Alexander Frolov on the top line, but I disagree. He is a legitimate scoring threat who can play with almost anyone, and for this reason he is sorely needed on the second line.
In last night's game against Dallas, Frolov skated with O'Sullivan on the second line, and for the first time the Kings have unleashed two red-light flashing threats. The result—a shootout win against a very hungry Dallas Stars team.
3. The Kings have actually become a hard-working, defensive-minded team
Who would have thought that with their inexperienced defensive roster, the Kings would actually be able to play a defensively-responsible game? Certainly not me. However, they have been doing just that.
Don't believe me? As of today, they are fourth in the NHL on the Penalty Kill, allowing only seven power play tallies in 63 times short a man. This is up from 29th in the league in 2007-2008.
So, can the Kings slide into the top eight in the Western Conference?
At this point, I can't say that I'd recommend betting the farm on it. However, if the two netminders continue to push each other to get better, if Murray finds someone that clicks on the top line while maintaining a capable second line, and if the team continues to work hard defensively and generate opportunities on the forecheck, it is certainly not too ridiculous a possibility. Stranger things have happened.
Oh, and I guess Dean Lombardi knew.