Kings Poised For Quantum Leap
While the General Manager of the San Jose Sharks, Dean Lombardi saw his teams point total increase for six straight seasons. When Lombardi took over the Kings in the summer of 2006 he began reshaping a franchise that had missed the playoffs three seasons running. He retooled the scouting staff, signed a number of veterans and began trading away most of the teams assets.
It should have been little surprise that the team would not improve a great deal the following season. Despite a meager improvement of three points the Kings found themselves lower in the overall league standings following Lombardi's second season, earning a tie for last place with the Tampa Bay Lightning. While it would appear that the Kings were spinning their wheels, their play thus far this season reveals a team on the verge of a break through.
Last season the Kings struggled in almost every facet of the game. Their record in games decided by a single goal was last in the league going 10-13-7. They were also dead last in games in which they scored the first goal, going winless in 16 of the 33 games in which they notched the first goal. They lost faceoffs, gave the puck away(1st in the league) and were terrible on the Penalty Kill. By December the team found itself out of playoff contention and trying to decide which player to select in the upcoming Entry Draft.
The turnaround from last season to this season may be hard to see at first glance but a longer look at the Kings record shows a team that has learned from it's recent struggles. While the Kings win percentage in one-goal games is lower than it was for the whole of last season the actual number of games is increasing. The Kings have won, lost in OT/SO or lost by a single goal in 11 of the 13 games they've played so far. They're a much improved 4-2 in games in which they score the first goal. Their faceoffs have improved, the penalty killing is near the top of the league and they have the lowest shots against in the league.
It's easy for fans to criticize the goaltending but the Kings have been in the majority of the games they've played thus far. With the recent wins against St. Louis and Florida the offense has even begun showing signs of life. With a team this young it seems it's only a matter of time before they combine all the lessons they've learned into the most important lesson of all. Learning how to win. This is a team that will be primed to take serious runs at the postseason by the time the goaltenders developing in the minor and junior leagues finally earn their spots on the roster.
As one of the youngest teams in the league the Kings can afford a slow start. At this point the Kings find themselves only a handful of points out of a playoff spot with games in hand on most of the teams in front of them. Assuming that Ersberg can continue his solid play of the past week there's no reason the Kings can't find themselves in 8th place or higher. They play their next two games against a struggling Stars team whose age may have finally caught up with it. If they can take advantage of a Home Game heavy November and December schedule they could find themselves in serious contention for a playoff spot by the time January rolls around. With any luck Jack Johnson should have rejoined the team by that point.
While I love Kyle Quincey's insistence that "we were close" isn't good enough, the Kings are close. Thanks to the extra point awarded to the losing team in Overtime/Shoot Outs and the parity that goes hand in hand with a salary cap the Kings are just a few tweaks and bounces away from capitalizing on all the potential and talent they've been acquiring. With any luck the Kings quick turnaround won't result in the same postseason disappoinments that Lombardi's Sharks have had.