I am exhausted. I have read and re-read Terry Murray and Dean Lombardi’s comments the past few days on topics ranging from the LA Kings’ offense and power play to individual players and the offseason goals. While there are a lot of the expected clichés, we also saw several telling gems within all the words. Let’s look at some of them now. This is part I of what I expect will be a three-part series. Of course, you can access the full quotes on Rich Hammond’s LA Kings Insider.
1. SUCCESS AND DISAPPOINTMENTS:
From Dean Lombardi:
“The irony is, you look at this playoff series and everybody talked about our scoring. I think that’s the thing we’ve got to figure out here now. It’s identifying your areas of strength and weakness first, and really identifying it. I think if we had gone into the series and lost games 2-1 or 3-2, everybody would have said, `OK, that makes sense.’ And that’s kind of the way we looked at it. We thought it would be tough to get in a shootout with them. The number of goals we scored in six games, I think we only did that once this year, if you look at six-game blocks. We scored 16 goals in (the first) four games, and I know we only did that three times during the year, over a block of four consecutive games. I haven’t looked at it yet, but I think there’s one block now, over six games, where we scored that many goals. So that’s the one thing that’s troubling. So that’s what we have to look at. And our goaltending was great. So we scored goals, and we’ve proven we can stop them. We beat them 5-0 up there during the season (and) we beat them 1-0, so we proved we can deal with probably the best nine forwards in the league, collectively. Then, all of a sudden, the playoffs start and we were very uncharacteristic in what is supposed to be a staple of our game. I told you this three years ago, that we’re going to build this from the back out. Defensively, it’s the first step. We were fourth in the league in goals against, and we accomplished that. Then we got in the playoffs and we scored goals and all of a sudden we’re giving them up. So that’s something we’ve got to look at closely.”
Here is our close look. It looks familiar. Last season, the Kings scored 2, 3, 5, 4, 2 and 2 goals in 6 games against the Vancouver Canucks. That is 18 goals or an average of 3 goals per game. They surrendered 3, 2, 3, 6, 7 and 4 goals. That is 25 goals against or a -7 differential. That is also 13 goals in two games, specifically games 4 and 5 which they lost by margins of 6-4 and 7-2.
This season, the Kings scored 2, 4, 5, 3, 3 and 3 goals against the San Jose Sharks. That is 20 goals or an average of 3.33 goals per game. A small improvement but nothing worth opening a ’47 Cheval Blanc about. They surrendered 3, 0, 6, 6, 1, 4. That is 20 goals against or a ZERO differential. Thus, on defense, that is an improvement, specifically a 5 goals against improvement compared to last season.
So, was the defense the problem? Not really. What was? Two melt down games and that my fellow fans comes right down to the leadership. Look at the series against Vancouver again. We gave up 13 goals in two games. Against San Jose, we gave up 12 goals in two games. That isn’t a reflection of defense anymore than tripping and falling down the stairs is a reflection of your walking skills. The melt down games show that this team lacks leadership and poise. Doesn’t that start from coaching and funnel through your veterans that are there to keep the soldiers in line? Dean Lombardi should perhaps look at why the LA Kings fell apart so drastically in two games and repeated in 2011 exactly what cost them the series in 2010.
2. DUSTIN PENNER
From Terry Murray:
“I’ve had several meetings, from the time he arrived here. Players who are offensive players want to talk about goals and assists and creating and contributing. At the end of the day, you want to look at the score sheet and see your name there, and stuff like that. And that’s true. But from my approach, I wanted him to be a hard-working, intense, compete player. I didn’t really care about the score sheet. I referred to that often. I’m not looking at goals. I’m not looking for the points, at the end of the day. I want to see a player who is playing the right way and playing our system. There’s going to be some hesitations and breakdowns there because of (playing with) a new team and a new style and new philosophy and all that. I’ll live with that, as long as that high-end work is there. Inevitably, if a skilled player is working hard, the points and things are going to happen. So I tried to change the whole mindset of what the expectations were, from me.”
Focus on the bolded part for me. Dustin Penner has never been the heart and soul checking line forward who grinds it out in the corners. That has not been his game during his entire career. Penner comes with size and great hands. He can stickhandle in a shoe box and put pucks upstairs where Norman keeps his mother. If Terry Murray intends to turn Dustin Penner into something else, color me concerned. I was under the impression that Dean Lombardi acquired Dustin Penner so he can score more goals, you know, that offense we have sorely lacked during the regular season. How exactly is Penner supposed to do that when he is expected to go through a metamorphoses and become a completely different style of player. Is that the only way to generate offense? The muck and grinding along the boards? The 100% effort from a checking line forward? Is that the only way skilled forwards in this league score goals? Nobody is disputing that Dustin Penner has to get his butt in shape but has somebody told Penner that he is the new Michal Handzus? Speaking of Zeus…
3. IMPENDING FREE AGENTS
From Dean Lombardi:
“Well, there’s no real urgency in terms of, `We’ve got to get it done now.’ July 1 is still a ways away, but as a practical matter, the ones are the two unrestricted, Handzus and Ponikarovsky. The other guys, you’ve got your offer-sheet possibilities, but I think the most important thing right now is to evaluate where we are, what we have to get better at, where our holes are, and now start placing them in, start trying to project where some kids could be, whether it’s Schenn or Loktionov or some of these guys in the minors who can help us. Is there another Clifford there, that has a chance? Then we’ll get to the guys, and then there’s the (salary) number. The cap is going up, so obviously we’re in pretty good shape there. Let’s not kid ourselves. Part of this is, do we go short-term with Doughty for now, and keep it down, or try to go long-term? It’s similar to the issue with Jack Johnson. A lot of what you do is going to revolve around whether that is short-term or long-term. That will determine a lot about your space.”
Drew Doughty will get an offer sheet if Lombardi doesn’t sign him before July 1. If Dean takes a risk with that and loses Drew, God help us all and God help Dean.
Terry Murray, talking about Alexei Ponikarovsky and Michal Handzus:
Yeah. Big body. A 6-(foot-)5 guy. I need him to score more, though. I relayed that to him, in the last talk I had with him on the morning of Game 6 here, in the morning skate, that this is the reason why (he wasn’t playing). It wasn’t because of poor play. I mean, he’s trying, he cares. He’s going to the net. He’s using his size most of the time. I just need more of what you’ve shown for seven years in your resume, a 20-goal scorer. What happened? He can do some good things. Handzus, he’s a real linchpin kind of a guy. He’s a leader. He’s a great example. He’s a professional in all senses of the word, getting ready, doing the work that needs to be done to be a player. The tough part for him (was that) I had to elevate him to a situation in the playoffs, because of circumstances. Somebody might look at it and say, `Jeez, I don’t know,’ but we know. He’s an important guy.
How is Ponikarovsky who is placed in the position of a shut down, checking line winger supposed to score 20 goals? Has he ever been in that role before with any team where he put up 20 + goals per season? Jarret Stoll played 82 games this season. He was a second line center, placed in a position to generate offense. He had 20 goals. You cannot place a round peg in a square hole and then complain about fit. Ponikarovsky played the role in which he was placed and he did so well. If Terry Murray wanted 20 goals out of Alexei Ponikarovsky, he should have been placed on the first or second line and I don’t mean for just a couple of games.
For what it’s worth, I don’t believe Handzus or Poni will be back next season.
Part II of the wheat and chaff coming very shortly. GO KINGS!