Tending to the LA Kings Netminders
Kings coach Terry Murray has shown a penchant for streakiness in selecting his starting goaltenders during the start of his time as the Los Angeles coach.
The first 10 games of the season saw Jason LaBarbera start in the nets. After a couple of brief appearances in relief, Murray turned to Erik Ersberg the next 10 games.
Both times, the switch was made after games where many goals were scored. It can be well argued the lack of effort by the team in front of the goaltender was more to blame than the actual work of the netminder.
This comes as a pleasant change for the fans of Los Angeles who had their eyeballs inflicted with shoddy defensive efforts too many times under the uninspired leadership of previous coach Marc (The Porcupine*) Crawford.
Defense has been the first item Murray has concentrated on. There has been a concerted effort for forwards to be more responsible for coming back and helping the defenders.
The Kings young leaders have needed to buy into this package for it to work. Both Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar have shown the willingness to place greater emphasis on their defensive work. Playing on the penalty kill unit—directed by returning assistant and long-time Kings player Mark Hardy—have helped round out their game, especially that of Kopitar.
So Kings netminders have faced far fewer shot per game this year and have provided better results than most of the league had expected. The penalty kill, which was dead last the previous couple of seasons, has been ranked in the league's top third this year.
A key thing about playing hockey in Los Angeles that many who have spent their time playing and coaching in the East have trouble appreciating is the difficult travel. That is something that has improved greatly over the last decade or so with expansion and relocation, but remains a challenge.
Still, without an undeniable star like a Brodeur or Giguere in the nets, it would be very wise for Murray to rotate his goalies more often to keep them fresh for the season.
The Kings were spoiled by having so many home games to start the year. There is a bill that will be coming due for that luxurious start. Fresh goaltenders will help negate some of the travel burden that will be coming.
Given the Kings have three games coming up in the next four days, and five in the next eight, both Ersberg and LaBarbera should see plenty of ice time. Each netminder should start at least two of the games.
Hopefully, Murray will see the advantage to playing both his goaltenders, for both the short and long term success for the Kings this season.
* I have referred to Marc Crawford as "The Porcupine" from the first time I saw him due to his slicked-back hair style, which tends to clump into spikes.
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