CAN TERRY MURRAY’S OFFENSE FIRST, DEFENSE FIRST SYSTEM WORK?

Terry Murray and Kings players at training campOur coach, Terry Murray, wants more puck possession. I love it.

He wants speed through the neutral zone and across the blue line. I couldn’t agree more. Sure as hell was missing that with a dump and chase game.

He wants, based on what I saw in training camp, a three-man attack (one forward does not stay back) with a defender jumping into the play. That is aggressive. Very un-Murray like.

But (there is always a catch), he wants the same commitment to defense first…how does the team do that?

Last season, the Kings played a conservative dump, chase, retrieve, cycle game. It’s a style suited for keeping one forward and two defensemen back in the hope that your two crashing forwards can free the puck, allow the third to receive it, cycle and get it to one of the defenders for a shot on net. It worked, sometimes, and quite bluntly the style was at its best on the power play where you can either out man the opponent along the boards to win the battle or even if you can’t dig the puck free, your additional player (typically your second winger the other team is missing on the penalty kill) or defensemen can intercept the clearing attempt and keep the puck in while your other two forwards apply pressure to the opposing team’s puck carrier.

But can the Kings play an aggressive offensive game, akin to Detroit and San Jose (the latter under their new coach) and still keep a solid defensive system? Last year, no way. This season, yes..but…the system of which Murray speaks requires three parts: (1) speed from your forwards, (2) a gifted defensive defenseman in each pairing and (3) snipers.

Suddenly, we understand why Murray has placed Brown, instead of Williams, on the 1st line. Our Captain’s biggest asset is not his hitting. It is his speed and linear attack. Unfortunately, last season we often saw Dustin Brown skate over the blue line, have a small opening, pass to no one most of the time and take a wrist shot from an angle on net. This often resulted in a save deflected to the boards for the opposing team’s transition to offense or a whistle because the shot hit the goalie right in the crest. This season, if Murray’s new (old to Detroit) offensive scheme is to succeed, Brownie needs to add to his repertoire. He must learn to skate and peel back to create time and space, move lateral upon zone entry to open space for the parallel and then weaving Kopitar, take the puck behind the net and look for an open defender or forward to begin the cycle or a myriad of other options, some of which were part of the scrimmages during training camp on Saturday.

Kopitar’s game will also need an adjustment. First, he must score. We know and have seen his deadly wrist shot but that shot must become the rule, not the highlight reel exception. Kopitar must be prepared for the one timer, ready to fire at the net at each opportunity and/or get his stick and skates in the Malkin / Crosby / Franzen / Getzlaf / Robitaille / [list your within 4 feet of the goal wrist or tap in expert, sometimes referred to as a garbage goal player here] zone of play. This system will not work if the goalie’s rebounds land on the opposing defender’s stick.

How about Ryan Smyth? More of the same I believe. Plant your butt in front of the net. If he doesn’t deflect it in, he will cause enough distraction to the goalie and opposing defenders to allow Kopitar or a crashing Brown to pick up the puck.

Sound good so far? Here is the problem. Both Brown and Kopitar have to elevate their game if this is going to work. Like anything else in life, this may have an adjustment period. Patience and persistence will be a necessity…including that of Terry Murray not to abandon the puck possession game if it doesn’t bear immediate fruit.

The second line has to do the same thing as the first. We need more than one puck possession line. We need a puck possession team. On the second line, Stoll has to improve his shot. That means on net Jarret, not one to three feet over it. I am a bit concerned who Murray believes the power forward may be. Parse? He is a gifted forward and skilled with the puck, but that work ethic and effort has to become a mainstay with Scotty if this is going to work. Williams? That is probably the better choice but unless Terry Murray intends to rely primarily on one timers, defensemen collapsing down low or one of the forwards taking the puck to the office (back of the net), somebody has to play Smyth’s butt in face role on the second line and nobody on that line has, to date, shown a penchant for this. In fact, between Smyth, Brown, Zeus and Simmonds who are adept at providing a screen, none of them play on Murray’s proposed second unit. Perhaps Terry knows something we don’t.

How about the third and fourth lines? The third is easy. Their game will mirror that of last season. They will likely be matched up against the other team’s top line and shut them down. The fourth line? It depends on which pieces will fill that three some. It’s too early to tell. I know who my bet is on, but I am keeping that to myself for now.

We covered speed and snipe (numbers 1 and 3) but what about number 2 – the defensive defenseman. You already know the answer to this one. Doughty has Mitchell. Johnson has Scuderi. Offensive defenseman number 6 (insert Fransson, Hickey, or Muzzin here) have Matt Greene upon his return.

Terry Murray is no dummy.

He is planning the team’s refined and upgraded strategy to the team’s new strength.

And the goalies? Well, they will possibly face more odd man rushes the other way. Speed and back checking forwards becomes a necessity here but fortunately Murray has engrained the latter into our forwards during his tenure.

What we are seeing is the Kings’ evolution.



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3 replies

  1. As you say here Bobby, the critical element is whether our stars can up their game. What Murray is doing here is challenging our best players to be better players, to take that hunger for more in the playoffs, and channel it into an improved skill set. As you point out, this will result in more breakaways by opponents, particularly as the team gets used to the new methods, placing more pressure on Quick and Bernier, and requiring more backchecking. This is going to be a very interesting process to watch.

  2. Brown entering the zone and moving laterally to open up space for an attacking forward to move parallel sounds great if there’s not a lot of pressure from behind so that guys can stand up at the blue line. at that point I hope the roles reverse and Brown penetrates strait ahead and forces defenders to back up, or even turn around, and open up lateral movement by the trailing attackers. Maybe even 2 forwards penetrating 1 strait ahead, the other to the net, with the trailer moving laterally. I’m sure you’ve got a great seat to see what they’re working on, wish I could be there.

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