A SYSTEMATIC APPROACH TO JUDGING TERRY MURRAY AND HIS “SYSTEM”
Guest writer, J.T. Dutch brings us his view on Terry Murray and the “system” of which I often write. J.T., in many respects, disagrees with me and I look forward to engaging him in dialogue on the subject as I hope you do as well.
At some point, enough is enough. I’ve heard so many complaints and so many grievances about the Kings’ lack of offense in the recently completed season, and the men who are held most responsible for that “offensive” offense – Terry Murray and Jamie Kompon. 99% of the complaints are completely subjective, not tied together with any analysis or fact-checking, and seem to be written more to garner a laugh or two than to actually get to the heart of the issue. Most of the dissatisfaction seems to also be far more concerned with the manner in which offense is achieved, rather than the results – the Kings “don’t try backdoor plays” often enough, some say. Others wonder why there aren’t any “tic tac toe” passing plays made in the offensive zone. Which, of course, begs the question – is the object to win games and outscore the opposition, or is it to garner style points and provide ESPN with more highlight fodder?
Now, I will say right off the bat that personally, I am not particularly a fan of Terry Murray. I’ll say flat out that he doesn’t seem to know how to handle goaltenders properly, that it’s like pulling teeth for him to give an unheralded young player much of a chance to see if he can raise his level of ability, and that his overall player deployment leaves quite a bit to be desired. But – is it fair to say that his system and his hockey philosophy is poor, as well? It’s a tough question. But when I read something on this very site that the Kings’ system is “the elephant in the room”, I feel compelled to respond. I’ve never believed that a hardcore and knowledgeable fan will ever be completely satisfied with his team’s head coach – that just goes with the territory. But what I try to do, and what I will try to do here, is to look at what’s been done as objectively as I can … and that what I will show is completely based on results. It’s cold and hard, it’s not easily understood, but it is unbiased. I’m not comfortable approaching this in any other way.
I think that if we are to truly analyze Murray’s tenure here with the Kings, we have to start at the beginning – specifically, the state of the team before he arrived. In 07-08, the Kings were terrible. Their record, without the shootout, was 27-47-8. They gave up the third-most total shots in the NHL per game that season, as well as the third-most total goals per game. Their PK was abysmal; an absolute mess.
07-08 Kings defense, 5-on-5: 33.1 shots against per 60 minutes (NHL Avg: 30.0), 2.72 goals against per 60 (Avg: 2.19), .918 save percentage (Avg: .927)
07-08 Kings defense, PK: 60.5 shots against per 60 (worst in the NHL by far, next highest was 55.1, average was 49.3), 8.32 goals against per 60 (worst in the NHL, Avg: 6.56), .863 save pct. (Avg: .867)
Now, most fans might have already known this. What might not be known is that the Kings’ offense was actually below average on the PP, and average otherwise:
07-08 Kings PP: 6.23 goals per 60 (average was 6.56), 50.3 shots per 60 (Avg: 49.3), 12.4% shooting pct. (Avg: 13.3%)
07-08 Kings 5-on-5: 2.19 goals per 60 (Avg: 2.19), 28.5 shots per 60 (Avg: 30.0), 7.7% shooting pct. (Avg: 7.3%)
So, with an offense that was average at best and a VERY poor defense, the Kings looked to Murray to show them the way back to respectability. And, it is not hyperbole to say that in most aspects of this requirement, Murray couldn’t have done a better job in his first season at the helm.
08-09 Kings defense, 5-on-5: 29.3 shots against per 60 (Avg: 30.9), 2.21 goals against per 60 (Avg: 2.27), .925 save pct. (Avg: .926)
08-09 Kings defense, PK: 44.9 shots against per 60 (2nd in the NHL; average was 53.1), 6.12 goals against per 60 (Avg: 7.05), .864 save pct. (Avg.: .867)
I bolded the shots against on the PK for both 07-08 and 08-09 to highlight the huge change from one season to the next. The Kings went from the highest rate of shots allowed on the PK, by far, to the second lowest – shaving off almost 15 shots (and more than two goals) per 60 minutes. They did this with nearly the exact same quality of goaltending that they had on the PK the season before. Remember, this is before the days of Rob Scuderi and Willie Mitchell in Kings’ gear. It’s an incredible feat, and it warrants mention.
As for the Kings’ offense in 08-09, obviously it suffered at even strength as the Kings turned their focus toward playing better defense. But what most forget is that the PP, led by Alex Frolov and Jarret Stoll (and Murray and Kompon) actually improved from the previous season, and was above-average in the context of the league:
08-09 Kings PP: 7.13 goals per 60 (Avg: 7.05), 52.6 shots per 60 (Avg: 53.1), 13.6% shooting pct. (Avg: 13.3%)
08-09 Kings 5-on-5: 1.81 goals per 60 (last in the NHL, Avg: 2.27), 29.8 shots per 60 (Avg: 30.9), 6.1% shooting pct. (Avg: 7.4%)
In 09-10, Murray’s second season, the Kings were able to improve their defense at even strength, but saw their effectiveness on the PK decline significantly – this decline was mostly due to their rotten goaltending in those situations:
09-10 Kings defense, 5-on-5: 27.8 shots against per 60 (Avg: 30.9), 2.04 goals against per 60 (Avg: 2.29), .927 save pct. (Avg: .926)
09-10 Kings defense, PK: 49.7 shots against per 60 (Avg: 53.0), 7.19 goals against per 60 (Avg: 6.72), .855 save pct. (Avg: .873)
And, for those with short memories, the Kings’ offense was anything but anemic in 09-10, as they were 9th in the NHL in total goals. The Kings’ acquisition of Ryan Smyth helped, but it was the improvement of nearly every key offensive player that accounted for their overall rise in production. A little luck might have helped the PP along, as the Kings’ had an abnormally high shooting percentage in those situations. At 5-on-5, the Kings were still below average offensively, but their offense did improve from the previous season despite posting slightly fewer shots on goal – again, this was due to better shooting percentages:
09-10 Kings PP: 7.86 goals per 60 (6th in the NHL, Avg: 6.72), 53.9 shots per 60 (Avg: 53.0), 14.6% shooting pct. (2ND BEST in the NHL, Avg: 12.7%)
09-10, Kings 5-on-5: 2.19 goals per 60 (Avg: 2.29), 29.4 shots per 60 (Avg: 30.9), 7.4% shooting pct. (Avg: 7.4%)
This brings us to the present day. And, while the Kings’ PK was seemingly better than ever, the main reason for the rise in that department was the resurgence of their goaltenders playing more effective down a man. However, the Kings saw their defense look a bit less impressive 5-on-5 (although it was still good), and their goaltending has continued to hold at merely average in those spots:
10-11 Kings defense, 5-on-5: 28.6 shots against per 60 (Avg: 31.0), 2.11 goals against per 60 (Avg: 2.25), .926 save pct. (Avg: .927)
10-11 Kings defense, PK: 49.3 shots against per 60 (Avg: 52.3), 5.28 goals against per 60 (Avg: 6.57), .893 save pct. (Avg: .874)
So, now we come to the offense. And, for the third straight season, the Kings improved their 5-on-5 scoring, although less dramatically this season than they did last. And, as for the PP, their shots on goal DID decline, but what really did the Kings in was a poor shooting percentage, exactly the reason for their success the season before:
10-11 Kings PP: 5.64 goals per 60 (Avg: 6.57), 51.3 shots per 60 (Avg: 52.3), 11.0% shooting pct. (tied for 26th in the NHL; Avg: 12.6%)
10-11 Kings 5-on-5: 2.21 goals per 60 (Avg: 2.25), 28.6 shots per 60 (Avg: 31.0), 7.6% shooting pct. (Avg: 7.3%)
Enough numbers for you? I promised I’d do this systematically.
It’s a losing battle, in my view, to say that the Kings materially altered their game plan from last season to this one. I haven’t seen it. And, they’ve continued to improve their offense when they’re not on the power play, although it’s still slightly below NHL average.
So, what happened on the PP this season was the culprit behind their overall offensive decline.
Did they run a bunch of backdoor plays and pretty cross passes on the PP last season?
So why the massive decrease in shooting percentages? Is it merely attributable to luck – perhaps rebounds just didn’t go the Kings’ way as they had before? Perhaps the goalies were better against them? Is that the fault of the system? This season was the first in the Murray Era where the Kings’ PP wasn’t above average. Did they just forget how to run it? Not likely. It might have been just the breaks of the game.
Murray is a defensive coach. We all know this. He has been solid at this aspect of the game, from an overall team standpoint. The Kings are far more above-average on defense than they are below-average on offense. However, the reason the Kings’ PK was so impressive in 10-11 might have been the reason that their PP was so bad, when you think about it: low shooting percentages. The Kings’ goalies were excellent on the PK this season, yet they have been decidedly and consistently average at 5-on-5 for the last three years. Were the goalies just lucky on the PK? How come the success they had on the PK didn’t translate over to even strength?
Now, think about what Willie Mitchell said. “You can give up two goals against and lose a game and, for us to be successful, we have to hold a team to two and under to give ourselves a chance to win a lot of nights.” Well, isn’t that obvious? The cutoff between winning and losing has been three goals for almost 15 years now. Of course, the Kings have to hold opposing teams to two and under to have a chance to win; that’s the idea for every team in the NHL. Look at the goals-against averages throughout the league. The best was exactly two (Tim Thomas), the worst were hovering around the three mark. This isn’t news, is it? Unless and until the Kings have better than average goaltending at 5-on-5, the Kings are going to have to play a defensive-based system to keep their opponents’ scoring at a reasonable enough level. That’s just the way it is. And this is what Murray was hired to do. Regardless of the way he handles the other aspects of his position, his primary mandate was to keep the goals-against down at the start, and to maintain that while steadily bringing offense into play. And that, whether you like it or not, is exactly what he is doing.