Made it to St. Louis! Here’s the first of the blog items I wrote on the plane…
The Kings’ first road trip of the season is also their longest, a six-game journey through St. Louis, both New Yorks, Detroit, Columbus and Dallas. Coaches often talk about the positives of “team-building’’ road trips, but there are also obvious drawbacks. Travel can be tough, opposing crowds and hostile and, perhaps most importantly, the home team gets the final change, so the matchups Terry Murray was able to get at home won’t always be there on the road.
Before the flight, I asked Murray about any inherent pluses or minuses of having a long early-season trip.
MURRAY: “Lots of benefits, I think. Going on the road for the first time, bringing everybody together and just getting to know each other. And the new guys, getting to know the newer guys on the team by hanging out and doing things on the road. I also feel that when you play on the road early in the season, it really helps to solidify things a little bit faster.
“You know that you’re playing in enemy territory and the advantages and disadvantages of being a visiting team are pretty clear in this business. You have to ready to go every night, bring your `A’ game every shift, and that’s a good challenge for us.’’
And what about the “last change’’? That was a big advantage for the Kings in the first three games, the ability to get the Kopitar and Handzus lines on the ice in prime situations. For the most part, that opportunity will not be there, so the Kopitar line in particular is likely to be faced with tougher opposition.
MURRAY: “It’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge I think all the players welcome. Kopitar is going to be getting a lot of ice time, with his line out there. They’re going to get the checking line and the best defensemen against them, and that’s part of the maturity process, to be able to battle through and find a way to get the job done. I don’t like to run away from those challenges for the players.
“I feel that changing on the fly sometimes disrupts your flow. If we do match, it would be from the back end more than the forward lines. I like the way that the lines played without the puck there. Very responsible. Kopi in particular, last year he really bought into that part of the game and I see it every night. The same is true with the other lines. It doesn’t have to be Handzus as that checking line all the time. He can go out and play and put some points up. Historically, he’s been able to do that.’’