What is/isn't wrong with the Kings?

I have put off posting my opinion on the Kings latest foray into crappiness, mostly due to the flu (p.s. Tamiflu is the Bobby Orr of anti-viral drugs), but also because I wanted to enjoy the blogospheric doom-saying, hand-wringing, and helpful suggestions that would (and did) inevitably ensue.

I have read that the Kings have lost five games in a row because:

  • Dean Lombardi is a coward.
  • Dean Lombardi won't make "the big move."
  • Dean Lombardi only trades for/signs injured players like Willie Mitchell.
  • The Kings' defense is "exposed" without Willie Mitchell.
  • Terry Murray is emotionally-constipated.
  • Terry Murray doesn't yell enough.
  • Terry Murray only disciplines non-Canadians.
  • Terry Murray changes the lines around too much. The players are confused.
  • Drew Doughty actually sucks.
  • Drew Doughty is fat.
  • Dean Lombardi traded Brian Boyle and let Matt Moulson walk. Imagine where we'd be if we had their firepower.
  • Dean Lombardi is afraid to trade prospects.
  • Dustin Brown is not a good captain.
  • Jarret Stoll is not a top-six forward.
  • Dustin Brown is not a top-six forward.
  • Marco Sturm sucks.
  • Seven games in five nights.
  • The team is "going through the motions."
  • The team is "not working hard enough."
  • The players have no confidence in Jonathan Bernier.
  • The team has "big heads."
  • They always do this. It's tradition.

I'm sure I missed a few. I'll tell you what I think:

The Kings have played 40 games and they have 45 points. Last year after 40, they had 47 points. This year they're 5 games above .500. Last year, they were 7 games above .500. This year, they have 118 goals-for, 101 against. Last year, 117 and 117. This year, the Kings are in "12th" (officially, but with games in hand), in a pack of eight or nine teams that are in a tight race for the 4-8 playoff seeds. Last year, they were in 8th, in the middle of a similar pack of teams fighting over the same spots.

In other words, the Kings are more or less where they were last year, on a par with the third best season in franchise history. Oh no!

One of the bad effects of 24-hour coverage of every wart and defect of every team in every league on the planet is that we assign meaning to everything we see. Every bad shift does not require a fix. Teams will lose games. And, looking at any single event, winning the game does not equal being a great team, and losing the game does not equal being a crappy one.

The media, especially the talking heads who have to say stuff during games, are highly motivated to make every game the critical embodiment of a team's season ("this is do or die", "this is where they have turn their season around) and every shift as the critical embodiment of the whole game  ("remember that save"). They are always putting players and shifts and games in a totally made-up historical context. The Kings are "on the verge." The Devils are "an instant contender." The Penguins' cup win signals "the end of the Detroit era".

Except none of it means anything.

Like with stocks, how you're supposed to do your homework, buy your stock and then leave it alone. Don't look at the Dow. Don't even look where your stock is, every day. It's pointless. It goes up 2% on Tuesday. You feel a surge of self-worth. It drops 3% on Friday. You feel like a fool. Do either of those events matter? You won't know for months or years. And you may well have bought the stock to grow over decades. So there's no point in freaking out over what did or didn't happen on Tuesday.

The Kings beat San Jose decisively, and they've "arrived." Really? No, not really. Then they drop five in a row, and suddenly the season "is circling the drain." Really? No, not really.

In baseball, the best hitters in the world only get a hit 40% of the time. The rest of the time, they are indistinguishable from players who suck. Why don't we micromanage every at-bat and bench or trade the player every time he fails to generate high-light reel footage?

To try yet another metaphor, stage actors are frequently told not to read their reviews while the show is running. You don't want to know what people are saying about you. Because it will stop you from being able to do your job.

I think Terry Murray does a good job of remaining even-keel, not getting too high after wins or too low after losses. He gets criticized for being emotionless, but I think it's crucial for keeping the kids' eyes on the job. The job, in its pesky little details (the system the system the system),  is boring. It's much more fun to read about yourself after your big win.

As fans, we have the luxury of doing this. We are allowed to dream our little dreams. It's satisfying to allow a winning streak to make you feel invincible. Even though we know it's not reality. We have this luxury because nothing we do can affect the outcome of the next game.

As to what happened the last five games... I think the team let its guard down after the San Jose game, and got pummeled by a brutal schedule. Even the San Jose game was one dominant period. The Kings are full of those. The Kings are a young team. They get a two goal lead, and then they relax, and let in five unanswered goals. They beat San Jose and then relax and drop five. And how many times have the Kings scored, only to give up a goal right away? That's the same pattern over and over. We score/win = WE'RE GREAT BRING/ON THE CUP! And while we're reveling in our greatness, we stop doing the thing we were doing that caused the goal or win in the first place. And then: WE SUCK, WE'RE IMPOSTERS, WE'LL NEVER WIN AGAIN.

What's the fix? Um. Don't relax.

That's called discipline. It comes (if it comes at all) with experience. Unfortunately, that experience is often the experience of having relaxed at the wrong time. Then you get to learn from it.