The Kings had gone five consecutive games with the exact same lines — at least at the start of the games — and had lost four of them, so it was hardly a surprise to see new combinations today. As Dustin Brown points out below, Terry Murray likes to keep “pairs” together and not change two-thirds of a line, and Murray mostly stayed consistent with that. Brown and Anze Kopitar stayed together, and picked up Wayne Simmonds. Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams stayed together, and picked up Michal Handzus. The fourth line stayed the same. The biggest change was on the third line, where Kyle Clifford stayed and is now with Jarret Stoll and Marco Sturm. Here’s what Brown said, after practice today, about the changes, followed by Murray’s explanation as to why he felt change was necessary…
BROWN: “Sometimes, combos get stale. Terry has always been about pairs, ever since he’s been here, so we’ve got Smytty and Willy still together. The only pair that’s been split up that’s really been together is Zeus and Simmer. It’s just a different look to try to get something going. Zeus, since he’s been here, and maybe since he’s been in the league, has been known as a checker, a third-line center. But his skill level is pretty high. When he gets down low, with those two players controlling the puck the way they do, and having a net presence, it could be a good combination. Then Stolly is perfectly capable of being a shutdown guy, if that’s the route they want to go. I think it’s just a matter of mixing things up and getting a new look and seeing how it works.”
MURRAY: “As I said to the players this morning, we’re at 39 games, with four games now that we have not won. It’s just time for a change. There’s been some very good games, some great team effort, some great line looks this year, but right now we need to get some attention back. I think we just got away from some of the details of the game. That, to me, is that emotional connection to the game for 60 minutes. We’re doing a great job for 40, 45 minutes. We’re outshooting teams. I’m looking at our scoring chances against, that we do every game, and we’ve got a wide margin on that one. The bottom line is winning games, and that’s why I’m changing up some things.
“Change is not just for change. There’s change for a reason. It is to get some other results, to put players in other positions, that you believe can do it. The other part is to get refocused at a very difficult time here. We’ve lost four games. We’ve come through the holidays. There’s a lot going on with young players, with probably family around. We’ve played more games, in a short period of time, than probably any other team in the league will play. That’s demanding, that’s hard. I don’t want to let anybody off the hook on this. This is part of being a pro hockey player. That’s the way it is, and you’ve got to have a process where you’re going to learn from it. I want to highlight the message that you’ve got to learn from what we’ve just gone through. I’m not happy with it, and there needs to be change whenever the coach isn’t happy. … We’re so close to breaking through, with our team play. I really like what has happened in the last couple games. I thought the San Jose game was going to be that one that would push us through. We were doing a lot of good things against Chicago, so it’s very encouraging.