|Alexander Frolov has his best game of 2009-10 and his worst game against the same Columbus Blue Jackets.
"No, not really," Frolov said. "It's the stupidest thing in the world to try to please everyone. It shouldn't be that way. There are only a few people whose opinions I really care about, and other than that I do my job and I try to do it as best I can."
Those people, Frolov explained, include teammates and coaches, and for most of his seven-year career with the Kings, they've had strong appreciation for him.
Frolov, still only 27, was a first-round pick of the Kings in the 2000 draft. In his second full season (2003-04) he became a 20-goal scorer and has reached the plateau every year since. He has 375 points in 519 games with the Kings.
Versatility and puck possession are two of Frolov's biggest strengths. He can play left wing and right wing, power play and penalty kill. He can be a first-line sniper or a third-line grinder with equal efficiency. In all situations, Frolov's ability to carry the puck through traffic is one of the strongest of any player in the NHL.
"When Fro is going, he plays a complete game," Murray said. "He's got very good awareness to the checking part of the game. He knows how to get the job done on special teams, on both penalty kill on power play.
"And he has a very unique skill with puck protection. Not a lot of players can hold onto the puck, with that kind of pressure, for an extended period of time like Fro can. That buys options and opportunities for linemates and defensemen to find seams and to get to an area where he can pass the puck to them and generate scoring opportunities."
Yet the start of that quote contains a telling phrase: "When Fro is going..."
Frolov has often been called an "enigma." Four of his best games can be followed by four of his worst games, for no apparent reason. That tendency became a huge problem for Frolov, Murray and the Kings early this season.
The aforementioned bad pass in Columbus upset Murray. What upset Murray more was that, in frequent meetings, he couldn't seem to get much of a reaction from Frolov. Murray needed to see some expression of emotion, and found none.
So Murray took drastic measures. He benched Frolov for an Oct. 20 game at Dallas and publicly criticized him, saying he was "not the first coach" to have to deal with issues involving Frolov's attitude and play.
Frolov, for his part, remained quiet. He agreed to an interview but gave brief, awkward answers, but his real answers came when he returned.
Back in the lineup two days later, Frolov had two assists, and in his first four games after the benching, Frolov had three goals and four assists. Since then, Frolov has been mostly reliable, but still prone to periods without scoring.
"I think that's the final move you want to make as a coach," Murray said of the benching. "You go through games and meetings and practice, and you need the 'A' game, you need your better players to play the right way all the time, with focus and with intensity and getting results. With your guys who are getting the most minutes, there is a need for a result from that player. You go through a process, with different line combinations, different positions, take away minutes. When the result is still not where you want it to be, that's your final option, to take a player out of the lineup.
"Looking back at it, it's still something that I would do. I thought the result, coming back from it, I liked the way Fro approached it. He came back and he seemed to be totally focused with his concentration and his work. As we get through where we are today, with the Olympic break and the practices, he was outstanding with getting prepared to come back for the stretch drive."
The question, as always with Frolov, is, can he maintain this? If he can, he might be setting himself up nicely, not only for the stretch drive but for the summer.
The five-year, $14.5-million contract Frolov signed in 2005 is up after this season, and Frolov will be an unrestricted free agent. Discussions about an extension, between Lombardi and Frolov's representation, didn't get far this season.
"I think we kind of decided to wait until the season ends, and go from there," Frolov said. "Obviously I really like L.A. and I really like this organization. My whole career, I have played here, and I really like the organization and the guys. But it's a business and you never know what's going to happen. You have to take your time and take a look at what's going to be there."
For now, there's an immediate goal for Frolov: making the playoffs.
The Kings last made the playoffs in 2002. Frolov joined the roster the following season, meaning he has played in 519 games, over seven seasons, without ever experiencing the postseason.
Frolov, already, has gone a long way toward putting his early-season troubles behind him. A strong final month, and a trip to the playoffs, would solidify his turnaround and make this season and unqualified success.
"This is a big, big time, a big measuring-stick time for all players, all teams," Murray said. "When you get into where we are in the standings, and trying to keep pushing up and trying to develop that playoff attitude as we go forward, this is a huge time.
"This is where we get the right read off people, who is going to compete, who is going to get the job done. This is his contract year. We all know that, and I’m really pushing him. I hope he keeps playing the kind of game he showed here (Monday against Columbus). It will be a positive result for him."
Perhaps now, finally, after seven years, everyone can get to know Frolov.