THE LOVE FOR THE KINGS IS CONTAGIOUS
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Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi said when defenseman Jack Johnson came back from the Vancouver Olympics, “You could see the learning curve starting to head up steadily.”
Lombardi’s words could have also been said about the Kings team.
With an 11-3 record after Thursday’s 3-1 home win over the Dallas Stars, the Kings are off to their best start since 1974-75. With their younger players coming of age, the Kings have similar characteristics to the Pittsburgh Penguins before they won the Stanley Cup in 2009 or the Chicago Blackhawks before they captured the Cup last June.
Kings defenseman Jack Johnson was driving on the 405 Freeway in Long Beach when his 12-year-old brother, Kenny, spotted a billboard that made him laugh.
Jack’s last name was sprawled in capital letters and the closeup of his face graced advertising for the Kings from the West side to the South Bay.
Johnson had no idea he was featured in the campaign that has spread all over town before the chance sighting in his car.
“I laughed,” Jack Johnson said. “When you see your picture larger than life, you can’t help it.”
His little brother wasn’t the only one to needle him about his mug gracing freeways, bus stops, malls and other spots. Teammate Matt Greene calls Johnson Mr. Cienega for his boulevard billboard.
Marcel Dionne never made it past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs during his 11-plus seasons in Los Angeles; but if his old team doesn’t advance beyond the Western Conference Semifinals this season the “Little Beaver” would be stunned.
“I think this year is the year,” Dionne told NHL.com Monday from the Hockey Hall of Fame. “They haven’t lost at home yet and if (Anze) Kopitar even manages 35 to 40 goals that’s going to be huge for them.”
Kopitar only has 4 goals through 14 games so far this season, so asking for 40 at this rate is probably a bit much. However, Dionne, who tries to watch the Kings as much as he can, is a big believer in the overall team that GM Dean Lombardi has built.
The Kings are 7-0 at home and enter Friday with 22 points, the most in the Western Conference.
Dean Lombardi arrived in Los Angeles in the spring of 2006, taking over as president and general manger of the Kings and bringing with him an eye for talent and a track record of success.
He had his work cut out for him.
Right from the start, Lombardi spoke of a five-year plan that involved restocking the roster with young talent and bringing in veterans who could lead by example. Still, it was a painful renovation, as the Kings finished no better than fourth in the Pacific Division the next three seasons.
“It was tough coming in here,” said defenseman Jack Johnson, who joined the Kings as a rookie in 2007. “You wanted to win every game and you ended up being the team that was expected to lose.”
But the pain and sacrifices are paying off. The Kings qualified for the playoffs last season for the first time since 2002 and began this week with the best record in the NHL.