So often in the NHL, winning — particularly on offense — is attributed in large part to how much success a team’s third line can generate. In the Kings’ case, that’s bad news. Their top two lines, centered by Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards, respectively, can generally compare favorably against any team’s top two lines, but it’s the third line where things drop off dramatically for the Kings. Jarret Stoll, who totaled 20 goals and 23 assists last season, has only one goal and five assists in 22 games this season. His wingers aren’t contributing much either. The current pair, Kyle Clifford and Trent Hunter, has combined for one goal and four assists. Players such as Dustin Penner, Scott Parse, Brad Richardson and Ethan Moreau also didn’t show much in a third-line role. In Terry Murray’s view, though, it starts with the center. Stoll was expected to thrive when he moved from a second-line role to a third-line role, but so far the stats haven’t come, as Murray bluntly made it clear when asked about Stoll’s point numbers this season…
MURRAY: “What numbers? The role, it doesn’t change that much, to me. When you take a look at the way that a lot of teams are built in the NHL right now, they’re going more to the three-line look, and having a fourth line that can give you that grinding, hard game. To me, with our setup right now, we’ve got Kopitar and Richards, and with Stolly we have players who can shoot, can score, are not designated as checkers, per se. In games one through 22, I go back through those games and look at Kopitar and Richards. They end up playing against top lines in almost every one of those games. So I’m not just putting Stoll’s line into a situation of being the line against their top opposition. So they opportunity to play the game has not changed. His look, his role, has not change. Everybody, we need them to be responsible on the checking side of it. We want them to get the puck when we don’t have it and get back on the attack and create in the offensive zone. Numbers just have not fallen in place for us on that line, with that balance that we’re looking for and that depth we need to get on our hockey club in order to become a good hockey club on a consistent basis.’’
Question: How much of it is also finding the right wingers?
MURRAY: “I’ve always put the responsibility on the center iceman to make the wingers better. That is, to me, a job description that I’ve always kind of tagged the center iceman with. `We want the puck in your hands. We want it on your stick on breakouts. You’re the key guy, in the middle of the ice, to be available and to create something on the attack.’ That’s just what we need to get from that line. I think there’s size, there’s speed. Stolly is a shooter. Hunter is a shooter. We’ve got Cliffy on the left side, who is a puck-pursuit guy. He can recover pucks in the offensive zone, and he’s really good with net presence whenever we do get possession of the puck, with Stoll as a shooter. So we just need to get some results out of it. We need a better shot mentality, as a group. We’ve always talked about that. That still is a need that we talk about in our meetings. If we just start with that, and have people at the net, I think good things will start to happen with it.’’