If it's Thursday, it must be New York
Game 8 of the Kings’ road odyssey took them to a heavily-under-renovation Madison Square Garden on Thursday. Since they played Wednesday at Columbus, most players skipped the morning skate and instead attended meetings at the team’s Manhattan hotel.
Kings Coach Terry Murray, who would win an award for most congenial opposing coach if members of the NHL press corps created such a prize, held court for quite a while in the hallway outside the Kings’ locker room. He said aside from starting Jonathan Bernier instead of Jonathan Quick in goal, he plans one lineup change: Brad Richardson will replace enforcer Kevin Westgarth on the fourth line, which will be Richardson’s first appearance in four games.
It's good news for Richardson but less so for Westgarth, who attended Princeton and had gathered a bunch of tickets for family and friends to watch him play.
“I’m feeling that we need the four lines going here tonight. We need good energy. Richardson’s going to bring us that energy, the speed,” Murray said. “It allows me to play four lines over the 60 minutes, I hope. And the other part of it, Westy has a specific role. He’s starting to play the game a little bit better. But I feel tonight against the Rangers we’re covered on the physical side of things with a couple of other players and we should be OK.”
Asked to summarize what has fueled the 8-0-2 surge the Kings have been on since a 2-6 homestand and 2-10 slide, he didn’t hesitate.
“It’s about a checking attitude, quite frankly,” he said. “We got into a tailspin there in our homestand. We got away from understanding the level of work it took to get there, how hard you have to work every day. And the other part is that we started to get away from the checking part that had been our M.O. That’s been the part of the game that we’ve talked about from day one. We have to do a good job cutting back on those scoring chances. I thought we started to cheat on that side of the game. We were giving up too much speed in the middle of the ice. There were a lot of organized attacks and rushes coming at us.
“We made some adjustments. We just got refocused in some practice drills on that part of the game and we started to tighten up and we’re starting to deal with it a lot better.”
The goaltending “got better as a result of the other stuff coming together, too,” he said. Quick is 7-0-1 in his last eight starts with a .942 save percentage.
It’s tough to criticize much when a team is producing the results the Kings have lately, but the power play remains a troublesome spot.
The Kings were scoreless in nine chances over four games before they faced the Rangers, though Murray said he considered the team’s first goal against Columbus -- which was scored six seconds after a power play had ended -- to be a man-advantage goal. Officially they were 0 for 3 on the power play against the Blue Jackets and were doing a lot of standing around. A more effective power play, Murray said, “would have pulled us through a couple of those games we had on our homestand.
“I liked our power play [Wednesday] night. We moved the puck well on that look, on that specific power play. We’re just going to keep pushing it. We’re not going to get discouraged by it. We’d like to have more results, better results. We feel we’ve got the players in place that should give us the results, but at the end of the day we’re staying with it. We believe in those guys and we’ll just keep working at it.”
One last personal note: the Garden is undergoing massive renovations that will include demolishing the fifth-floor press work room, and Thursday’s game will be the swan song for the room. Having spent many years at Newsday, I agonized over lots of stories and buried many a lead in this room ... and I’ll miss it.
Check back later for game details at www.latimes.com/sports
-- Helene Elliott in New York