Apparently there’s a lot that can be learned while skating backward.
Kings Coach Terry Murray and his Ducks counterpart, Randy Carlyle, were NHL defensemen and their jobs included reading plays and making quick decisions while skating rapidly in reverse.
Standing behind a bench and matching another coach’s lines should be easy after that.
Each has experienced coaching successes, with Carlyle getting his name on the Stanley Cup in 2007 and Murray losing his lone visit to the finals with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1997. Each has stumbled too, and both encountered new challenges in guiding their respective teams to the playoffs this season.
Murray’s mission was to continue the growth that produced 46 wins and 101 points last season, but the results were mixed. The Kings scored 30 fewer goals but allowed 21 fewer, had a weaker power play — 16.1% efficiency vs. 20.8% — but better penalty killing at 85.5%, up from 80.3%
They were off slightly in the standings too. The Kings, who will open their first-round playoff series Thursday at San Jose, had 98 points and are seeded seventh in the West, three points and one rung down from last spring.
“It doesn’t matter. You’re getting to where you want to go,” he said Monday after the team practiced in El Segundo. “As far as the learning curve I think we’ve pushed it up to the next level. We’re in the playoffs. There’s a great experience in front of us.”
For Carlyle, crusty and emotional and unlike the stone-faced Murray, the challenge was to find gems in a jumble of defensemen, create decent third and fourth lines and avoid disaster after All-Star goaltender Jonas Hiller was incapacitated by vertigo.
Hiller remains out and the third and fourth lines are suspect but an array of clutch performances and clutch coaching by Carlyle got the Ducks to No. 4 in the West and a matchup with the tricky Nashville Predators starting Wednesday in Anaheim.
“I said this is going to be his toughest assignment ever getting into the playoffs,” said Ducks General Manager Bob Murray, no relation to Terry.
“I told him at the beginning of the year that we’ve got to get some kids in the lineup or else we’re going to fall behind the future. He never complained. He said, ‘Fine, let’s go,’ and he did it. We got into the playoffs. He did an outstanding job.”
When the Ducks were at their lowest ebb and speculation grew that Carlyle might be fired, Bob Murray never wavered.
“I trust the work he does and I know there’s going to be down periods. The down periods are not always the coach’s fault. A lot of the time it’s the bloody GM’s fault,” he said.
Terry Murray mixed his lines often and was rigid defensively but he had little speed or finishing skill to deploy. Team defense got them past slumps of 1-7 and 2-10 but they have no margin for error after losing top scorer Anze Kopitar to an ankle injury — and they’re making too many errors.
But Murray has remained consistent emotionally, getting his point across without fireworks.
“You get the Terry Murray stare, that you did something wrong and you’ve got to fix it. He’ll stare you right down and it’s pretty intimidating,” defenseman Drew Doughty said. “He doesn’t yell at you too much. He’ll sit down and talk to you and bring you aside instead, which as a player, I like a lot better.”
Murray spoke of facing higher expectations this season, but expectations now are that the Kings will lose to the second-seeded Sharks. Still, after all those years of skating backward, his sights are fixed forward.
“You want to win your division someday. You want to win the conference someday. You want to get into the finals and you want to make a run for the Stanley Cup and you’re progressing,” he said. “You’re going that way. And it takes all of the details every day to get to that side of it.”