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Murray's key message to Kings: Toughen up

September 18, 2008|Helene Elliott

It's a good sign that new Kings Coach Terry Murray didn't run off screaming and dive off the nearest pier after he watched tapes of the team's efforts last season.

It could be considered a bad sign that he didn't make it through all 82 games the Kings played under Marc Crawford, who was fired after the team compiled the second-worst record in the NHL.

"I got through quite a few games," said Murray, who has now seen enough horror films to last him a lifetime.

Murray, hired in mid-July, also scrutinized tapes of the Kings' Manchester farm team to familiarize himself with players who are vying for NHL jobs this season. He often arrived at his new office at the El Segundo practice facility at 6 a.m., a rude awakening if ever there was one.

From all of this he came away with a plan -- and it doesn't involve his resignation.

Players who report to the Toyota Sports Center to undergo physicals today and practice Friday will hear the message he imparted to the rookies during a competitive and bruising camp:

You must be responsible at both ends of the ice for this team to have any chance of escaping the boggy bottom of the Western Conference. If you can't or won't play a rugged, two-way game, there are -- finally -- plenty of promising candidates waiting to take your spot.

"The first few months of the season we've really got to give that focus to the defensive part of it," Murray said.

"There's no question that the number of chances against were just too many, too hard on the goaltenders. It's hard to get a true opinion of what the goaltending was all about, at times."

Too often the goalies were only about adequate, and that's after allowing for them having been abandoned to face far too many quality shots. The goaltending must improve too, or it won't matter how diligently the forwards backcheck or how hard the defensemen hit.

Jason LaBarbera, described by General Manager Dean Lombardi as being in the best shape of his career at the advanced age of 28, figures to get most of the work. That leaves 20-year-old franchise hope Jonathan Bernier, Erik Ersberg and Jonathan Quick to battle for the backup job.

"If none of those three is ready I'd be in the market for a one-year-type goaltender," Lombardi said.

Any goalie who dons the mask and pads must be temperamentally suited for what he's likely to face.

The Kings' defense will be physical, but its core will be young. Drew Doughty, the second overall draft pick in June, was agile, quick and smart enough in rookie camp. If he can hold his own when the pace increases he will lock up a job. If Thomas Hickey and Colten Teubert also stick, the Kings would have three teenagers on the back line -- and Murray will have a lot more gray hair.

As the young defensemen advance to the main training camp all of them -- whether ticketed for the NHL, the minor leagues or junior hockey -- must be free to learn their craft without being ridiculed for making a bad read or miscalculating when to stay back and when to jump into the play. That's why Murray was hired -- to teach and correct them without destroying their spirits.

"They're going to make mistakes, no question about it, and they need to know that before camp starts and not have that affect them because you've got to come back out the next shift and do the right stuff," Murray said. "Sometimes you take about five steps backward and you're not able to play the rest of the game because emotionally, you can't deal with it.

"We're trusting them to learn and we have to put a lot of focus on the forwards to come back. Up front we're pretty good. We've got some guys who know how to play the game. They've got experience and they've got to be part of the defensive structure so that the young guys can get the job done."

Doughty, 24 pounds lighter than he was last spring and newly quick, is ready to experience some difficult moments.

"I know it's more of a building year for the L.A. Kings this year," he said, "and that's why I'm really keen on trying to make this team, because I know it's more of a building year and we're going to be young so I think it's a good opportunity for me."

He has passed every test so far. After being cross-checked in the back of the neck during a scrimmage last week, Doughty picked himself up and got back into the play without a hint he was distracted or intimidated.

"I like the rough stuff," he said. "I'm not really much of a fighter at all. I like to make big hits so I'm going to get hit after the whistle, but I look forward to it and I can deal with it."

Moments like that just might make this season's game films a little less scary.

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Helene Elliott can be reached at helene.elliott@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Elliott, go to latimes.com/elliott.

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