Loktionov Fails to Score From Press Box

The other day, in the comments section of LA Kings Insider, I made this comment, in response to the opinion that Andrei Loktionov ought to be sent back to Manchester when Marco Sturm is healthy.

Growing process continues for Loktionov " LA Kings Insider
The Kings are 13-3-2 [note: now 13-3-3] with Loktionov in the line-up. He has four goals and two of them are game-winners. He has two goals and two assists in the last five games. Kopitar has one goal and three assists; Brown has 1g and 1a; Smyth has 0g and 3a; Stoll has 2 goals and no assists; Handzus 1g/2a; Simmonds has 0g/3a. Only Williams, 2g 4a, has been better than Loktionov in that time and no-one has more goals. And he’s doing it with at least 25% fewer minutes than the others. (Oh, and one of Williams’s two goals came off of Loktionov’s deft little kick-pass last night).

And, as far as giveaways go, he has nine on the season, in 18 games. Per game, that’s better than Simmonds, Smyth, Kopitar, Brown, Williams (also better than Doughty, Johnson, Scuderi, Greene and Mitchell, but D get credited with more giveaways by nature, so that doesn’t really count).

Almost forgot: Loktionov leads the entire team in G/60 (goals per 60 minutes of ice time).

By all means, send him down! He has a lot to "learn."

That was before the Rangers game, after which:

Loktionov’s learning curve " LA Kings Insider
MURRAY: "Lokti, I thought the game got a little heavy for him there at times. I’m just seeing an NHL level of play, right now, starting to expose a young player. [...] Every play is critical, those 1-on-1s, those 3-on-3 — whether it’s in your D-zone or the offensive zone — there are situations right now that are happening a little too fast.

In the middle of the ice, though, he’s good.

He’s getting back, tracking back.

He is very strong on his stick.

He did recover some pucks last night, what I call stealing the puck from behind.

But in other areas, there’s just some other stuff that is happening that is not what I want to see right now. So, it’s just coming too fast for him, maybe. [...] I’m going to back away probably, tomorrow, and get a more experienced player in that situation."

I'm perfectly willing to give Terry Murray the benefit of the doubt, and I happily concede that his hockey knowledge is vast, his experience as a coach is, well, look at the numbers:

  • 18th all-time in regular season wins, more than the great Roger Neilson, more than Jack Adams or Punch Imlach, chasing Toe Blake and Pat Burns.
  • 7th in wins among active coaches.
  • 22nd all-time in playoff games coached.
  • 22nd all-time in playoff wins.
  • 5th in playoff games coached and wins among active coaches.

I also assume that, as a "teaching" coach, he sees some things in Loktionov's game that he wants to correct. This is, to a large degree, protective, and I appreciate that.

Here's my problem.

Before the Kings' latest hot streak, in which they had gone 8-0-3 leading up to tonight's regulation loss, they were in a slump the likes of which the franchise has seen only three times in the last quarter-century, and never before in a period of stability (i.e. one was during the 2003 Smolinski/Schneider fire sale, and one was the Gretzky 1996 fire sale; the third was during the 1995 ownership nightmare/bankruptcy meltdown). This year's hideous run of 32 games was 12-19-1 (more in-depth here), and occurred with the team and ownership supposedly as happy as clams.

Then, before the 1/24 BOS game, they recalled Loktionov and proceeded to go 7-0-3 with him in the line-up (they did manage to win a game on 1/22, so Loktionov missed the first game of the streak).

In that time, he had 3 goals and 2 assists and was a +3. Kopitar has 1 goal and 6 assists over the same period. Brown has the same numbers as Loktionov, 3 goals, 2 assists, and if you added in the four games before Loktionov was recalled, Brown would still have 3 goals and 2 assists.

Loktionov, who had been leading the Kings in G/60 before the Rangers game, dropped 3/100th of a goal below Williams, who is of course having a career year. After tonight's shut-out, I think Williams' lead is about 1/100th of a goal per 60 minutes of ice-time ahead of Loktionov. Kopitar is 9th in G/60, at 0.74. Loktionov is at 1.06.

For comparison: Ales Hemsky is 1.06. Dustin Penner, 1.08. Alex Ovechkin, 1.07. Brad Richards, 1.13. Patrick Sharp, 1.11. Patrick Kane, 1.14. Marian Gaborik, 1.19.

I wondered if what Terry Murray was really doing was dressing his muscle in anticipation of a "heavy" (to use his word) game against the Islanders. But, as someone in the comments pointed out, it wasn't their rough-and-tumble ways that beat us tonight, it was their speed.

And our speed was in the press box.

Then I thought, well maybe Murray was thinking about team-speed -- but looking elsewhere. Murray's other move was to put Handzus back at C3, swapping in Richardson at LW1. Loktionov was not a success at LW1; his turnaround occurred when he was put at his natural center position. So maybe Murray reasoned that Kopitar would need speed against the Islanders, and went with the percentages, which favor Richardson at LW1 over Loktionov. From there, naturally Handzus goes back to c3 and Loktionov is out of a job, for the night at least.

The result was a game that felt exactly like we'd traveled back in time to early January, 2011.

I'm not arguing causation. That would be nuts. But there is, at least, a strong correlation between Loktionov in the Kings line-up and winning (his W% is tops among Kings players). And even more so lately. Maybe it's just that Loktionov is so f***ing happy all the time, and the Kings seemed to instantly pull their season out of the gutter as soon as he arrived, that Jimmy Neutron was mostly a talisman. I'm not above totally irrational sports loyalties.

Fortunately, Terry Murray has a habit of changing things when the Kings lose.