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Kings' Dean Lombardi, Terry Murray talking . . . how about winning?

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Kings Coach Terry Murray said he and General Manager Dean Lombardi speak daily about the team’s struggles and the urgency to reverse a slide that had reached 2-10 before the Kings faced the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday at Jobing.com Arena.

Murray said Saturday he feels pressure from Lombardi to turn things around but said they had not had any “extraordinary” conversation beyond the “Let’s get it going” type of chat while analyzing what’s going right and what’s going wrong each morning.

Lombardi said last week he wasn’t considering firing Murray and that he understood Murray’s constant line juggling to be an attempt to squeeze some goals out of an offense that has gone stagnant.

“Dean’s been great,” Murray said. “Just talking the right way, like GMs and coaches should talk. The daily situation and the situation that you’re in and the importance of getting things turned around. Everybody’s working together.

“There’s no extraordinary conversation. It’s just ordinary stuff that’s happening, whether you’re on a roll at the start of the year and Dean’s contribution is great because he’s trying to help us be better. When you get into a situation like this it’s the same. Everybody is trying to help each other get through it and work it out so that we can put together a stretch of games and put some wins on the board.”

Murray said he had seen some good signs during a losing streak that reached three Thursday with a 2-0 loss to the Coyotes in the opener of this home-and-home sequence.

“There’s been some real good things with our skating. More L.A. King-like, that we saw at the start of the year,” Murray said. “All that’s holding us back right now is breaking through on the scoring side of it and we can put a good stretch of games here together.”

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Kings' Dean Lombardi fined $50,000 by NHL

Lombardi_400 Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi was fined $50,000 by the NHL on Friday for disparaging comments he made about Mike Murphy, the league’s vice president of hockey operations, following the Kings’ 2-0 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday.

Lombardi, irate after a disputed goal was reviewed by Murphy and allowed to stand, implied in comments made to the team's website that Murphy was biased against the Kings. Lombardi mentioned that  Murphy previously ruled against the Kings on a disputed goal and had sought to become the club’s general manager.

It’s difficult to put the amount of the fine into context because the league does not always announce when or how much it fines teams or team executives.

“There is no acceptable explanation or excuse for commentary challenging the integrity of the League’s Hockey Operations Department in general or Mike Murphy, in particular,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a news release.

“People can disagree with a call by an official on the ice or an official in the Situation Room in Toronto, but even in instances of the utmost frustration there is no justification for speaking as inappropriately and irresponsibly as Mr. Lombardi did,” Bettman added.

“Mike Murphy is a devoted caretaker of the game. His commitment to the National Hockey League, all 30 of its Clubs –- and to the game –- is beyond challenge, question or debate.

“I have spoken to Dean, who has apologized to Mike Murphy and to me and has acknowledged that his comments were wrong, inappropriate and without merit,” Bettman said.

The money goes to the NHL Foundation.

--Helene Elliott

 Photo: Dean Lombardi. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Kings' Lombardi, Murray face hefty fines

Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi and Coach Terry Murray are likely to be hit with sizeable fines for their criticism of a disputed call that was made on the ice and upheld by the NHL’s hockey operations department Thursday during the team’s 2-0 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes at Staples Center.

Commissioner Gary Bettman was in touch with the Kings Friday to express his displeasure, as could be expected when a team executive questions the integrity of a league vice president as Lombardi did in discussing Mike Murphy. The NHL does not publicly announce every fine it imposes against a team or player but might let these fines be known to serve as a deterrent to other coaches and general managers.

Lombardi is likely to be hit hardest because he impugned the character of Murphy, a vice president of hockey operations, after Murphy did not overturn on-ice officials’ ruling on a goal that appeared to have been scored by Coyotes forward Martin Hanzal with his stick above the height of the crossbar.

Lombardi referred to another disputed call that went against the Kings earlier this season and to Murphy’s previous pursuit of the general manager’s job in telling Lakings.com, the team’s website, that “you have to assume you are going to get those type of calls,” implying that Murphy is biased.

Murray questioned the purpose of video replay in such circumstances if the league won’t overturn a call that appeared to have been incorrectly made on the ice. 

Shortly after the goal was allowed to stand, Murphy told The Times, "Refs on the ice had it a goal. We felt the views we had were not conclusive to overrule the refs' call on the ice."

Lombardi reportedly apologized to Murphy, a former Kings player and coach. Lombardi also acknowledged his comments were motivated partly by a desire to deflect attention from his team's struggles.

The Kings, who have lost 10 of their last 12 games, next play the Coyotes on Saturday at Glendale, Ariz. Another loss could give Lombardi and Murray more to worry about than paying a fine to the NHL.

-- Helene Elliott

Lombardi puzzled while Kings go to extremes

Here are some leftovers from my interview with Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi on Wednesday afternoon, starting with a point he made during a radio interview with NHL Live earlier in the day and wanted to clarify.

When asked during the radio show about the Kings’ 2-9 slump and disappointing performance this season he referred to his experiences as GM of the San Jose Sharks. He said, “What I found in San Jose, when we were building, is that the second year is always the toughest,” and some Kings fans, interpreting that to mean he considers this the second season of the Kings’ rebuilding, were angry to think he had turned back the clock on his timetable for making the Kings a Stanley Cup contender.

However, he said he meant that expectations are higher the second year a team is tabbed as a playoff qualifier, not in the second year of a rebuilding project. The Kings, thankfully for all concerned, are past that ugly point.

Although it would be difficult to know that based on their recent results.

Lombardi maintained that his team proved its capabilities during its 12-3 start, but was that the real Kings? Or is the real team the one that was 1-7 from Nov. 15 through Nov. 29 and has won only twice since Dec. 27?

“You’d like to think when you’re capable of doing something that you should be able to do it all the time,” Lombardi said of the good start.

But again drawing on his term in San Jose he said the Sharks didn’t “have this degree of swing” between extremes in the first season after they made the playoffs and faced external pressures for the first time.

“The one thing as you get older and you have experience the best thing about having experience is being able to draw upon it,” he said. “And I also knew coming into this season the second year of making the playoffs is always the toughest. When we were building that team in San Jose and getting better every year that playoff mantra the second year was the hardest by far. And so much of that comes from expectations and dealing with success.

“And I think what happens there at times is like, we had the same thing. We would have those swoons. It was evaluated internally. Call it what you want but sometimes dealing with failure is easier than dealing with success. How you term success obviously is certainly not the success of the big prize. But along the way you start feeling good about yourself but you’ve got to feel good about yourself the right way. Proud of yourself and believe in yourself but not to where, ‘I’m so good I don’t have to go out there and work.’ There’s a big difference. And learning that is sometimes harder than dealing with learning from your failures. And I sense a little of that. Now, we’ve magnified this.”

The Kings’ high was higher and their lows have been lower this season than he recalled going through at the same stage of the Sharks' development, he said.

"Part of that, too, though, is a function of the league. Every game is a war,” he said. “There’s not a lot of separation....Our goal differential is fourth in the conference. That is mind-boggling. That is the one statistic historically that if that differential, particularly five on five, is in a playoff position, you’re usually solid. And when you look at that you go, holy smoke. It’s in there, boys.

“Now, part of it is these mental letdowns, and you know what happens too, when you get yourself in that you don’t get the breaks. And now it snowballs. Critical moments you get a breakdown and that’s going back to the other point that good teams make their own breaks.

“Once you put yourself in this position you can’t use bad breaks as an excuse. We saw it time and again. Good teams make their own breaks. You let this thing slide, put yourself in this position, you’re not going to get any breaks right now. Don’t deserve them.”

--Helene Elliott

 

 

Kings' Lombardi: I'm not considering a coaching change

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Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi said Wednesday he is not considering dismissing Coach Terry Murray even though the team has lost nine of 11 games, including six of eight on a recent homestand.

Lombardi, however, said he’s disappointed the team’s struggles during a 1-7 slump in November didn’t provide enough lessons for players to avoid a second significant slump. After a 12-3 start, the Kings are 12-18-1 and are outside the top eight in the West.

“No. We’re all in this together right now in terms of they’ve shown what they can do,” Lombardi said when asked if he has thought about making a change behind the bench.

“I’m a little ... , in terms of our players going through it again after maybe not having learned our lesson the first time is certainly frustrating because you want to grow mentally from the fact that how can you be 12-3 and then go 0-7. The standard evaluation from most people is they say, ‘We got a little full of ourselves and forgot that to have success we have to work.’ Nobody’s really talented enough in this conference the way it is to just show up and think you’re going to get the points.

“Obviously we come out of it and I think we played two games where I thought we were outstanding, in Colorado and San Jose and then to follow that up with those performances in Phoenix and [against] Philly, we should have learned our lesson. And now we’ve got ourselves into a, call it what you want, an ambush. It’s all mental because they showed they can do it and they’re going to have to figure it out and grow from it because in the end it has to come from the players.”

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Kings Coach Terry Murray still unhappy with Marco Sturm

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Left wing Marco Sturm seems to have become the whipping boy for Kings Coach Terry Murray after two days of scathing comments from a coach who rarely singles anyone out for public chiding.

Before Thursday’s morning skate, Murray said he had talked to Sturm to criticize the player’s work ethic. He wasn’t any more complimentary after practice Friday, even though Sturm earned an assist Thursday with a shot that was rebounded for a goal by Kyle Clifford.

Murray repeated that Sturm is "still in training camp mode" after undergoing surgery on the medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments of his right knee last May and indicated he’s not happy with Sturm’s play. Considering that General Manager Dean Lombardi likes Sturm -- Lombardi drafted Sturm into the NHL as the San Jose Sharks’ general manager and pursued him a second time this season after medical concerns led the Kings’ doctors to be cautious on the first go-round -- it could become a point of contention between a general manager and a coach who are otherwise close.

"I understand it and I have that compassion that he has to go through it during the games," Murray said of Sturm’s readjustment to the pace and rigors of the NHL. "That he’s got to get his game in order and he’s coming to a new team, moving, very unsettled with everything that’s going on. Hotel, place to live -- it’s hard. Very difficult. No matter how long you’ve been in the league you’ve just got to go through those situations and find a way to get your game in order and settle it in.

"I’m dealing with it. Not comfortably but I’m going to keep pushing and keep talking and going to have to get his game back to the level of play that he knows he can play at. And quite honestly I’m waiting to see what that level is myself. I don’t know him well enough over the years to have put him under the microscope and say, 'This is exactly what I’m going to get every shift, what I need, and this is the expectation.' So I’m waiting for him to show me. But I certainly have to see that high level of intensity and work every shift."

True, Sturm hasn’t exactly set the Kings’ world on fire since he was acquired from Boston. He has two goals and four points in nine games playing with an ever-changing array of linemates.

But is it realistic to expect Sturm, a seven-time 20-goal scorer, to have regained that form when he’s barely eight months removed from such extensive surgery?

Murray thinks it is, and went back to his days as coach of the Florida Panthers to back up his argument.

"It’s not unreasonable. I’ve had players come through this thing." he said. "I’ve had Pavel Bure went through the second operation -- the same kind of operation on the same leg -- and he’s back, right on top of his game and scored 57 goals for me that year [actually 58 in 1999-2000].

"And so it’s very demanding. You’ve got to really push hard and go through a lot of pain on the off-ice part of things to get yourself ready to get on the ice and get going. But once you get on the ice you’ve got to get to that hard work every time, every shift and that’s what I need from Marco. I think there’s times out there that there’s a skill element to his game and he wants to play that kind of a game but also we need now to add in that competitive side of it."

That applies to more than a few of his teammates, too.

Murray put Sturm with center Jarret Stoll and right wing Wayne Simmonds in practice Friday and likely will keep that trio together Saturday against Columbus, so he will have another chance to escape the doghouse.

--Helene Elliott

Photo: Kings winger Marco Sturm tries to beat Nashville's Shane O'Brien to the puck during the second period of their game Thursday night at Staples Center. Credit: Harry How / Getty Images

Kings' Brayden Schenn finished world juniors with injured shoulder

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Kings prospect Brayden Schenn, voted the most valuable player of the world junior championship despite Canada’s loss to Russia in the gold medal game, finished the tournament with a separated shoulder and won’t be able to play for 10 to 14 days, General Manager Dean Lombardi said Thursday.

Lombardi said Schenn, who played eight games for the Kings before being returned to Brandon of the Western Hockey League, was injured during Canada’s game against Switzerland and received injections in the shoulder in order to stay in the lineup. Schenn tied a Canadian record by scoring 18 points in seven games.

When Schenn heals and returns to the ice he’s likely to be wearing the uniform of a different junior team. Brandon, which is struggling this season, is expected to trade him before next Monday’s trade deadline. His likely destination is Saskatoon, which is leading the East Division of the Eastern Conference. A trade would not affect the Kings’ ownership of his rights and playing for a good team would likely benefit Schenn’s development, especially on the defensive side of the game.

"My experience with these kids is if they don't go to good teams they get into bad habits," Lombardi said.

Lombardi, speaking by phone from a scouting trip back East, said he had hoped to watch prospect Andrei Loktionov play for Manchester (N.H.) of the American Hockey League but Loktionov has returned to Russia following the death of his father and is expected to be gone for two weeks.

--Helene Elliott

Photo: Team Canada's Brayden Schenn (10) celebrates a goal against Russia in the world junior championship final. Credit: Frank Gunn / Associated Press

Kings' trade for Marco Sturm is official

The Kings’ acquisition of left wing Marco Sturm from Boston became final Tuesday after Sturm passed a battery of tests on his surgically repaired knees in Los Angeles.

The deal had been agreed to Saturday but was contingent on Sturm being physically able to play. The German-born winger, who has yet to play this season while recovering from surgery on his right knee, was due to catch a flight from Los Angeles to St. Louis Tuesday night and practice with his new teammates Wednesday at the Scottrade Center.

The Kings agreed to give up future considerations, which are likely to amount to merely picking up a prorated portion of the final season of his four-year, $14-million contract. Sturm, a seven-time 20-goal scorer, became a victim of the Bruins’ salary-cap squeeze and agreed to waive his no-trade clause to join the Kings. He will be reunited with Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi, who was the Sharks’ general manager in 1996 and chose Sturm 21st overall in the entry draft.

“I feel great. It was a long two weeks for me. Everything was up in the air and back and forth a little bit,” he said in an audio clip furnished by the Kings.

“I’m really excited to be an L.A. King now. I’m just going to give my best and take it to the next level.”

Sturm is unlikely to crack the lineup for a little while. Coach Terry Murray said after Monday’s 5-0 victory at Detroit that he wanted to see Sturm for himself and would likely have Sturm practice and do extra work before getting him into a game.

Sturm is eager for the chance. “I know it’s going to be hard,” he said. “I’m just going to try and find my game back as soon as possible.”

More later at Latimes.com/sports.

-- Helene Elliott in St. Louis

 

Kings prospect Brayden Schenn progressing in Manchester

Schenn3 Center Brayden Schenn, loaned to Manchester of the American Hockey League last Wednesday for a two-week conditioning assignment, is doing well with the Monarchs and will remain with them for the full 14 days, Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi said Wednesday.

Schenn started the season with the Kings and played in their first four games, but his role was gradually reduced as Coach Terry Murray saw his shortcomings on defense. Overall he played in eight games but was scratched for five straight games before the NHL allowed the Kings to loan him to the Monarchs without affecting his contract status. If he plays 10 games, the first year of his contract will go into effect.

Lombardi said the word he has received is that Schenn is making strides on defense. Schenn has two assists in three games and a zero plus/minus rating.

“First off was getting him in skating shape,” Lombardi said. “That’s going to take care of itself by just playing. Then the other part of his game we were really looking at was defensively....

“He really struggled in his own end when you look at it, and that’s critical if you’re going to play here. He had a real tendency to just follow the puck versus understanding the time and space. There's three things a player's got to do: he's got to read it, and he's got to understand it and then he’s got to compete.”

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Wednesday could be decision day for Kings' Kyle Clifford, Brayden Schenn

Clifford_400 With an important deadline approaching for the Kings to decide whether they will keep 19-year-old forwards Kyle Clifford and Brayden Schenn or return each to his respective junior team, Coach Terry Murray said Wednesday he intends to have Clifford in the lineup Thursday against Dallas at Staples Center but will sit Schenn for the third straight game.

That would be Clifford’s 10th game, which would activate the first year of his contract. After he plays 10 games the Kings could still return him to Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League, but they could not recall him this season.

Murray said he and General Manager Dean Lombardi planned to meet Wednesday afternoon to discuss their thoughts on the two youngsters. Asked whether it would be more beneficial to keep Schenn here without playing him or return him to Brandon of the Western Hockey League, Murray was blunt.

“My gut feeling on it is that he might need to go back and play, go to junior and play,” Murray said after the Kings’ practice in El Segundo.

“That’s my gut feel. That will be the conversation we have, so that’s not a firm, strong opinion, obviously, it’s just my opinion. It has a little bit of weight but it doesn’t carry everything.

“So we’ll discuss it and we’ll see where it comes out.”

During practice Lombardi declined to disclose his intentions. “I guess we’ll find out. Actions speak louder than words,” he said.

When asked if it served Schenn and the team best to have him here without playing, Lombardi said, “I guess that’s what we’re working through right now, to see if it serves the purpose of the team and making him better. Those are the two issues.”

Lombardi said the decision would not be based on finances or cap issues. Schenn’s NHL salary would be $900,000, but he also has $2.115 million in bonuses, and has a cap hit of $3.140 million. Clifford would earn $685,000 plus bonuses, for a cap hit of $870,000. The Kings have about $6 million in cap space, according to capgeek.com and nhlscap.com.

We’ll have more later, including defenseman Jake Muzzin saying he welcomed being sent to Manchester to work on his game -- but he’s glad to be back and will be playing Thursday.

-- Helene Elliott

Photo: Kyle Clifford. Credit: Kelvin Kuo / US Presswire

Kings' Doughty, Tampa Bay's Stamkos put their friendship on ice for a night

Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty were friends even before they were at the head of the NHL's 2008 entry draft class and were chosen first and second by the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Kings, respectively.

“We played world juniors under-18s together,” Doughty said. “We were in the draft together. In the summer we’re only a couple of hours away from each other so we’ll run into each other out, and stuff like that.”

If they run into each other Thursday night, it’s likely to be at high speed and in full gear and without allowances for friendship.

Stamkos, who shared the NHL goal-scoring lead last season with 51 and is the scoring leader this season with 20 points in 11 games, will face Doughty, runner-up for the Norris trophy last season, at Staples Center. Their friendship gives the game additional significance for Doughty beyond it marking his return to the lineup after suffering a concussion Oct. 20.

“He’s a pretty good buddy of mine but going into tonight I’m really looking forward to playing against him,” Doughty said after the Kings’ morning skate in El Segundo.

“He’s one of the best forwards in the league and to play against him and hopefully to shut him down would be amazing.”

Doughty will be reunited with defense partner Willie Mitchell. They're sure to see a lot of Stamkos’ line, which features wingers Martin St. Louis and Steve Downie.

“It’s a lot of fun shutting down a team’s best line,” Doughty said. “If you play against a guy like [Alexander] Ovechkin and you can hold him off the score sheet you played a good game, no matter what. That’s the thing we’re going to do tonight — try and keep their big guns off the score sheet.”

Doughty had said Wednesday that he would likely wear a mouth guard, which is believed to help prevent concussions by dissipating the forces of blows to the head, but sounded less sure Thursday when asked if he will wear it in the game.

“I’m supposed to be, so I’m going to say yeah,” he said.

Kings Coach Terry Murray and General Manager Dean Lombardi said they’d like to see players wear mouth guards. However, the use of mouth guards and visors is optional in the NHL and players can’t be ordered to wear them.

“We do encourage that through the whole organization. Management, doctors, coaches — we all encourage the players to wear a mouth guard,” Murray said. “There’s medical evidence that’s a preventative for any kind of injuries.

“Even going back to competing, battling, one-on-one, two-on-twos, there is a strength element that does enter into it when you can have something like that to have a mouth guard to bite down on. It does tighten up the muscle and it is scientifically proven that you are a stronger player in those compete situations.”

Lombardi said the Kings have asked their minor-leaguers to wear ankle guards in practice and players have complied.

“This is kind of similar, where you’re trying to get your players to wear some of these things, given the impact of injuries. But you can’t force them,” he said.

“It starts in junior hockey. They get in those habits in junior hockey and it’s like anything else. Just like with the visors with the kids coming through. You really try and get to them before they turn pro. And it becomes habit. No question you’d like to see them wear it, but boy, getting a pro to change his routine isn’t easy.

“Something like this … they expect to lose their teeth. Those you can lose. But you don’t want to lose those brain cells.”

We’ll have more soon about Murray’s thinking on forming a fourth line of Kyle Clifford, Brad Richardson and Trevor Lewis, and some other tidbits.

-- Helene Elliott

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