Stuck around long after practice today to get a few words with Dean Lombardi, about the New York Yankees’ plans at the winter meetings. OK, actually, it was about the fact that the Kings are now ranked No. 30 in the NHL in goals per game and 5-on-5 goals. The team that made improved scoring a stated goal at the start of the season has instead had a fall-off, so here are Lombardi’s thoughts to a couple questions…
Question: When you look at the lack of scoring, I guess you can look at it on a micro or macro level. You can analyze individuals and say, “We need more from that guy, that guy and that guy,’’ or you can look at the big picture, whether it’s system, attitude, etc. How do you break down the problem?
LOMBARDI: “I do think it’s probably a combination of a number of things. Number one, no question, 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, this year in particular, we made a point of saying that we don’t want to change our game, we want to add to our game. We don’t want to lose the foundation we put in place, but if we’re going to be a contender, it’s necessary that we add to the offensive side without losing our defensive part. After 27 games, we’re certainly not on a pace to get that done.
“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). We have a number of proven players with a track record in this league of putting up some numbers for offensive production. Whether it’s Willy [Justin Williams] or Gagne or Stoll, Penner, all of these guys have a proven track record and none of them are on the down side of their careers. Although I’m waiting for Selanne to get to the down side of his career, at 41, but that’s not happening. So there’s a band (of stats) there, that all these players should be able to be within, and all those guys should be able to expect that out of themselves again, without becoming sloppy defensively.
“With a number of our younger players, it’s about taking another step. They are still defining where they are going to be, in terms of the offensive side of the puck. 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. So every individual has a responsibility to contribute more. It’s just that some of them have a proven track record, and some of them have to push themselves to be the best they can be.
“Secondly, I do think, when you say collectively, I would probably use the word `support.’ Again, I’m just talking offensively. I never want to lose sight of the fact that I don’t want to lose one iota defensively. In terms of supporting each other on the ice — this kind of goes to the question about the system, I do think it’s something we’ve talked to the coaches about a number of times — part of producing offense is being able to be there to support 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 that, no question, we have to improve on. Because when you’re establishing that, you’re establishing a tempo, particularly in your own building, that you’re going to play in the other team’s end. So if we’re supporting each other around the puck the right way, we’re going to play in the other team’s end more. Particularly at home, that’s going to get your crowd into it. Two, it’s actually going to make you better defensively, because you’re not defending.
“Thirdly, I think there’s an attitude. This malaise that has kind of seeped in here, given that we’re now 30th in the league, we’ve got to get beyond this whole thing and they have to believe in themselves the right way. So when Willy scores a goal, like the other night, we’ve got to get that attitude of, `Yeah, you’re freaking right,’ and not, `Whew, I scored.’ Here’s a veteran player that you’re counting on. As individuals, it’s human nature, don’t get me wrong, but we’ve got to get out of that funk, and have the attitude that we’re going to score. It’s not, `Oh my God, I scored.’ That goes for each individual, and it’s a team attitude. Because the same thing can happen to a team. You saw us the 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, it’s like, `Oh my God, we scored.’ We’ve got to get rid of that in a hurry. That’s attitude. So to answer your question, you’ve got individual issues, you do have system and support issues, and I think a big think is attitude. All three of them.’’
Question: If the fundamental system hasn’t changed — and Terry says, if anything, the system has been tweaked to be less defensive — that suggests the issue of attitude. Whose responsibility is that?
LOMBARDI: “You can have a system, and it doesn’t matter what sport you’re in. The Lakers can have their system, the Patriots can have their system, but you better have the right attitude. Part of attitude is believing in yourself the right way. I guess you can say it’s less restrictive, more aggressive. Whatever it is, it better come with the attitude to, or it’s just a diagram.’’
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. It’s the entire organization. We’ve all got responsibility. In the line of fire, though, they’re the ones down there in the trenches, and coaches and players have to find that.’’