...because usually there's a pretty clear subtext in his interviews, but in this case, he's not giving up much. Mostly, he just reminds us that defense is important and you can't sacrifice it in order to score goals.
Question: When you look at the lack of scoring, [...] [how] do you break down the problem?
LOMBARDI: "[...] [We] set out to put a strong defensive structure in place, because there’s no doubt in my mind that it starts back there and it’s critical for the playoffs. That said, [...] we made a point of saying that we [...] don’t want to lose the foundation we put in place, but if we’re going to be a contender, [we need to] add [offense]. After 27 games, we’re certainly not on a pace to get that done.
Kings 5-on-5 last year, 148 goals. This year, on pace for...109. To find a team that bad 5-on-5, you have to go back to 2005-2006, when the Flames (108) and Blues (103) were worse. But those teams had 84 and 72 PP goals, respectively. Kings PP last year, 45 goals. This year, on pace for 52.
The fact is, the Kings had a problem 5-on-5 last year, so Lombardi went out and got a superstar and another 30 goal-scorer, and then the coaches spent the summer strategizing to improve 5-on-5 scoring -- and the result of all this is 5-on-5 impotence that is within a goal or two of being the worst in the franchise's history. And this is a franchise that has a lot of pretty bleak history. You have to go back to 1969 to find a Kings team with a lower GPG. And, 5-on-5, this season, they are on pace for third worst in the entire league since the lock-out. That's seven seasons worth of thirty teams, or 210 different outcomes, and of those, this year's Kings team is on pace to be 208th on that list.
[LOMBARDI:] Now, in terms of how we rectify this, first off, so many individuals are capable of more. We don’t have any players who should be on the down side (of their careers).
Historically, scorers hit their peak at 27. Kopitar and Richards are younger than that. Williams, Stoll, Gagne and Penner are not. Brown is 27.
We have a number of proven players with a track record in this league of putting up some numbers [...]. [...] [A]ll these players should be able to [...] expect that out of themselves again, without becoming sloppy defensively.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but: why? Why should we expect players to become more responsible defensively and still put up the same numbers they put up when their defensive jobs were easier? I will be happy to entertain supporting examples of offensive players who became defensively responsible yet maintained their offensive numbers. I'm not saying they aren't out there. But common sense -- and my experience of following hockey for several decades -- says that you play a tight defensive game at the expense of offense. If you have the tools to play a run-and-gun game, you lean that way. If you don't, trap. Yes, there is -- or might be -- a middle ground. But the Kings have not found it yet.
But let's look at the players:
- Dustin Brown: numbers have fallen off since he became "responsible." Did better last year when Murray gave him easier matchups (per QUALCOMP)
- Anze Kopitar: same as Brown.
- Justin Williams: isn't very good defensively, but makes up for it by being a solid 30 goal-scorer when healthy. This year he's getting bounced around to different lines, and the results are sub-par. But since he's never been looked to for big defensive minutes, it's hard to say that he has ever maintained his offensive output while playing defense.
- Simon Gagne and Mike Richards: doing great on both sides of the puck, if you ask me.
- Jarret Stoll: a two-way forward by virtue of being pretty good but not great on either side of the puck. He scored 22 goals six years ago and 20 goals last year with top-six linemates. Now he's got bottom-six linemates and shockingly he's not doing as well.
- Dustin Penner: put up consistent 20-30 goal numbers (29 -- with the Ducks -- 23, 17, 32, and then 21 for Edmonton last year before the trade) while playing mostly for a crappy team with no defense. He's been asked to play on both sides of the puck in LA, and the result is 3 goals in 35 games.
[LOMBARDI:] With a number of our younger players, it’s about taking another step. [...] I think a number of them have a lot of upside left, and it’s up to them to take that step, whether it’s Kopi or Jack or Doughty, Clifford, Voynov. All these kids have offensive potential that has yet to, I think, maximize. That’s just part of the development curve. [...]
Kopitar, Doughty and Johnson have a collective cap-hit of about $19MM. I agree that they (had better) have growing to do. But it's hard to talk about them like they're kids when they suck up about 1/3 of the team cap hit. But let's pretend that the guys he mentioned were putting up decent numbers. Well, Kopitar already is, as areJohnson (who is on pace to double his previous high of 8 goals), and Voynov (who has 4 goals, 7 points, in 15 games) but the other guys...who does that leave? Doughty and Clifford? Clifford has one goal, and last year he had seven total, which means to equal that pace he would need to have 2.4 goals to this point. So he's one and a half goals off pace. Oh no.
That leaves Doughty. Doughty has 2 goals. He's on pace for a six goal season. He scored 16 two years ago. I guess if he were to score 20 this year, that would be considered good for him. That would be 6.67 goals to this point. So he's 4-5 goals off pace (and he missed some games).
I don't think I need to point out that if Doughty and Clifford had chipped in 7 extra goals, the Kings' offensive numbers would still be crappy. And still on pace to be unacceptably close to the worst numbers put up by anyone since the lock-out.
Secondly, [...] [i]n terms of supporting each other on the ice -- [...] we’ve talked to the coaches about [it] a number of times — part of producing offense is [supporting] each other on the puck, getting open so that when someone has the puck, you’re open for him in a scoring position. Going to the net and creating space and rebounds is a fundamental part of support. When we’re in on the forecheck, that second man has to be closer and that third man has to be willing to jump. That is something [...] we have to improve on. [...] [Y]ou’re establishing a tempo, particularly in your own building, that you’re going to play in the other team’s end. [...] [And] it’s actually going to make you better defensively, because you’re not defending.
Yes, agreed, they need to support each other on the ice, puck support, anticipation, high tempo, etc.. The question isn't whether or not they need to do these things, it's WHY AREN'T THEY. To some degree, the logic is circular. They aren't scoring because they aren't doing the things they need to do that lead to scoring. It's like saying I'm in a traffic jam because people aren't driving faster.
Thirdly, [this] malaise that has [...] seeped in [...], given that we’re now 30th in the league, we’ve got to get beyond this [...]. [When] Willy scores a goal, [...] we’ve got to get that attitude of, "Yeah, you’re freaking right," and not, "Whew, I scored."
[...] [I]t’s human nature, [...] but we’ve got to get out of that funk [...]. That goes for each individual, and it’s a team attitude. [...] [T]he year we scored 236 goals. When we got down two goals, you never got the sense that this team didn’t think it could come back. But when you start falling into this rut mentally, [...] [we've] got to get rid of that in a hurry.
[...] So to answer your question, you’ve got individual issues, you do have system and support issues, and I think a big thing is attitude. All three of them.’
[...] Question: But when you break it down, to find that attitude, does that fall on the coaches?
LOMBARDI: "It’s both. The coaches have a responsibility and the players have a responsibility. And we do too, upstairs. [...] In the line of fire, though, they’re the ones down there in the trenches, and coaches and players have to find that.’’
The attitude thing, too, is circular. They don't believe they will score because they don't score because they don't believe they will score so they don't score. But, and I'm serious: what if they're right? Yes, it could be that the system works goddammit "if only the players would buy in." But it could also be that the system doesn't do what it's supposed to do, and the players can't make it work on a consistent basis because it doesn't work.
When you're scoring 3 goals a game and as a result you're also giving up more goals-against (gasp), at least when you have a defensive break-down and find yourself down a couple of goals, you know you can come back. As it is, the Kings' system depends on being defensively (near?) perfect and everyone knows it. Because they're not going to score 3 goals. So once there's a breakdown, there's much less chance of recovery.
If the Kings were playing this tedious system and winning New Jersey style (I mean, the old New Jersey), then no-one would be complaining. Or, they would be saying, god this is dull, but at least it works. Right now, it's dull and it's not working. The Kings are not on pace to make it to 97 points, which means, no playoffs. With one of the highest cap hits in the league.