… In listening to S&S’s most recent podcast, there was a period of discussion involving the current Kings’ coach, Darryl Sutter, and the man he replaced, Terry Murray. The discussion, as I heard it, seemed to favor Sutter over Murray. I think it’s completely impossible at this stage to make a valid comparison between Murray and Sutter as head coaches, and I’ve said time and again that neither one’s been any better or more efficient than the other.

When Murray first went to the playoffs with the Kings in 2010, the team was almost completely made up of guys who were getting their first taste of playoff experience. Quick was not the top-five goalie then that he is now; in fact, he was close to bottom-five in the league two years ago. And yet, Murray’s 2010 Kings were an inch or two away in OT of game 1 from sweeping the first two games in Vancouver.

Last season, the Kings were missing their best player in the playoffs, and their most effective offensive line had Brad Richardson at center. Again, a very different team and a very different scenario. And yet, the Kings were once again an OT away from sweeping the first two games on the road.

Murray’s Kings this season started out with the burden of unrealistic expectations from the first day of training camp. The team was woefully short up front, and Murray was forced to win games with shit like Ethan Moreau and Trent Hunter on his roster. Dustin Penner was on the top six, where he was ineffective offensively. Drew Doughty was injured and struggling, and Murray had no say in Drew feeling the apparent effects early on of missing training camp. And yet, before the trade deadline, the Kings had arguably played better for Murray than they had played for Sutter.

Murray’s record: 12-14-3, 64 goals scored, 65 goals allowed, 16 games vs. playoff teams (55%)
Sutter’s record: 10-11-6, 53 goals scored, 47 goals allowed, 12 games vs. playoff teams (44%)

Not exactly inspiring results turned in by either guy, if you ask me. And then, the trade deadline happened. The Kings (finally) addressed the glaring flaw in their roster and dealt a defenseman, something they had in surplus, for a top six forward, something they desperately needed. Instead of looking to Moreau and Hunter to bolster their depth, the Kings dipped into Manchester and brought up Dwight King and Jordan Nolan. Penner was able to be dropped to the third line, where he became a far more effective player. With enough games under his belt, Doughty’s play was turning the corner. Finally, the team’s expectations weren’t out of line. “The Time Is NOW” had been replaced with “Let’s Simply Get In The Playoffs In Any Way Possible.”

Kings’ record since trade deadline: 11-6-4, 63 goals scored, 42 goals allowed, 13 games vs. playoff teams (62%)

I don’t believe that the success achieved during the stretch run was a product of better coaching as much as it was simply a product of better personnel. I don’t buy that Murray couldn’t have led the same team to similar results. While Sutter’s coaching style seems on the surface to be more appealing than Murray’s was, the real changes in the gameplan and with game preparation have been minimal in my eyes. It’s much more effective to have a shot mentality when it’s Jeff Carter manning the gun instead of Trent Hunter. The Kings’ roster, at least in the short term, is deeper and more solid than it’s been in years.

Now, we’re looking at a scenario where the Kings have swept the first two postseason games on the road, and simply need to win two of the next five potential games to win their first playoff series in eleven years. Three of those five potential games are at home – and yet, that’s the real trick here, isn’t it? The Kings have shown they can win on the road in the playoffs, with a record of 5-3 away from L.A. since 2010. But, can they win at home, where they’ve been 1-5 during the same span?

To me, Darryl Sutter will not have distinguished himself as a head coach unless he can find a way to coax positive results from this team at Staples Center. I’m not all that concerned about the atmosphere; I know the Kings’ fans will bring it, just as they have the past two years. The Kings’ home playoff slump has not been a product of insufficient enthusiasm, it has been a product of insufficient experience and insufficient execution. Now that the Kings have the experience, will they provide the execution? I think that the next two (and possibly three) home games will determine the legacy of not only Sutter, but also of Dean Lombardi – to say nothing of those key players who have been in Los Angeles for the last several years. From my perspective, it’s all on the line right now.