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HELENE ELLIOT / ON THE NHL

Murray sends message to young Kings by sitting star winger Frolov

General Manager Dean Lombardi and Coach Murray have spoken to the Russian winger often about his commitment and consistency, but neither saw any discernible reaction from Frolov.

October 20, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

It wasn't one terrible pass in a loss at Columbus that led Kings Coach Terry Murray to scratch a healthy Alexander Frolov from the lineup Monday at Dallas.

It was the conviction a message had to be sent that the Kings, still learning how to win and accelerate an eternal rebuilding process, cannot accept less than a total commitment from every player in every game. That was paramount, no matter that they had a three-game losing streak and Frolov had led the team in goal scoring three times.

And it's a conviction shared by General Manager Dean Lombardi.

"It's not a player making a physical mistake. It borders on not caring and that's not tolerable," Lombardi said by phone Monday.

"And what we'll do as a team and as a franchise is you get on board or you get a surfboard and go to Hawaii. So that's it."

Lombardi said he and Murray had spoken often to the Russian winger, who has one goal, five points and a minus-one defensive rating. He said neither of them saw any discernible reaction from Frolov, who has been playing with Michal Handzus and Wayne Simmonds.

"If we're going to move to another level, we've got to get more out of him," Lombardi said before the Kings ended their three-game losing streak against the Dallas Stars on Monday. "It wasn't just what happened in Columbus. It's been a culmination. I can see exactly what he's thinking. After what happened in Columbus, enough's enough. The coach believes he's done everything he can, which I know he has."

Lombardi said he knew Murray had spent considerable time trying to coax Frolov to supplement his remarkable talent with consistent effort. "I know how much time I've spent with him," Lombardi said. "Are you getting sick of losing? You've never played a playoff game?"

As Lombardi pointed out, this is far from the first time a coach has sat out an elite player to drive home a point.

But the move came at a crucial time for Frolov, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, and for the Kings, who finished their season-long, six-game trip 3-3. They won the first two games of the trip to extend their winning streak to four, but lost at New York, Detroit and Columbus, with good effort but too often undermined by mistakes at key times.

Murray said in a phone conversation Sunday he hoped the team would gain some stability by reverting to its defensive foundation, and that he regretted starting backup goaltender Erik Ersberg against the Rangers.

"I think I should have stayed with Quick right through," Murray said. "Ersberg just was not on top of his game and Quick was starting to get on a roll and I should have just stayed with him on every game of this road trip. That's hindsight."

Without the luxury of hindsight, it's impossible to evaluate the wisdom of scratching Frolov. Lombardi said he will see how Frolov responds and won't simply give the prolific winger away in a trade, though a trade certainly seems likely.

Otherwise, Lombardi said he liked a lot of what he's seen on this trip from the big-picture perspective.

"On the microcosm, yeah, I see things and places we could be better, like special teams or faceoffs," he said. "As a group you'd certainly like to have better results but what I see and I feel around the team there's no question we're in the right direction."

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Slap shots

The Maple Leafs (0-6-1) figured things can't get worse after a 4-1 loss to the Rangers on Saturday. "I'm at a loss for words," Lee Stempniak told reporters. "We've hit rock bottom." They're assured of a week without losing because they're off until this weekend.

Some tidbits from the NHL on the season's first 100 games:

Teams have been tied or separated by one goal two-thirds of the time. . . . Columbus (5-1-0) and Atlanta (4-1-0) are off to franchise-best starts. The Rangers' 7-1-0 matched the best start through eight games in franchise history, first done in 1983-84.

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helene.elliott@latimes.com

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