The Los Angeles Kings have built and upheld the reputation as a “heavy” National Hockey League team, one that has found success in using size to win puck battles and establish possession in the offensive zone.
But being “heavy” and “quick” aren’t mutually exclusive. Darryl Sutter, upon hearing any reporter’s reference reference to another team being “fast” will remind the questioner that the Kings, too, are a fast team.
When he met with the media on Sunday, Dean Lombardi fielded a question as to whether the Kings should recalibrate how it views skill and speed as opposed to size and physicality in constructing a team. In replying, Lombardi alluded to several players with size who are also capable of making plays, and more skilled and potentially younger players aren’t exactly soft.
“The one thing with Pearson and Toffoli, they’re not bailing on the wall,” he said. “Now, that, combined with the fact that they’ve got some special skill is kind of what we’re all about.”
As for the team in general, might there be an emphasis to favor size and physicality to less greater of a degree than before?
“It’s a fair question,” Lombardi said. “We always put that on the board every year to take a look at it. I think if everybody’s there the way we’ve kind of got it planned, the whole thing too, to be big, we’re not slow, right? If you go through the roster, Pearson and Toffoli ain’t slow. Kopitar is not slow. Gaborik’s not slow. Carter’s certainly not slow. Lewis ain’t slow. Brown ain’t slow. And then it’s speed through the puck that’s more important, quite frankly, so I think we have an issue at times more of making more plays when we’re on or connecting the dots [rather than] ‘we look slow and we don’t connect the dots,’ because we’re not a team that has that one guy who’s going to turn something out of nothing, per se. Maybe Carter’s got a little of that. You’re right, it has to be discussed, but am I there? No. And let’s face it, we got to where we were playing that way and, quite frankly, every team we were up against was playing that way. San Jose was physical. Anaheim was physical. St. Louis is an absolute war, and Chicago’s no walk through the park, either, even though they’re more skilled. I don’t know how you’d survive. I guess maybe it could happen. You certainly see Calgary with a lot of skill and things, so probably in our conference they’re the one team that kind of strikes me with Hudler and Gaudreau there – but they’re really good on the back in terms of their puck-moving and things.”
“Like I said, our guys with size, they’ve got ability. That’s usually the problem you run into – ‘just size? Well they can’t make plays” – but again, Pearson, Toffoli can make plays. Dwight King when he wants to play, he can make plays. Kopitar makes plays.”
That said, over the last two seasons the Kings have ventured to supplement its skill, and such efforts were highlighted when the club acquired Marian Gaborik last season and ultimately signed him to a seven-year contract extension. But in terms of the team’s bread and butter style of play, don’t expect any tectonic shift in the Kings’ systems.
“We’re not able to go in and, I guess, out-skill you,” Lombardi said. “It’s not often you’re going to watch and say, ‘wow, they won, and there’s a lot of highlight plays out there.’ So we’re not that type of team, which I think, also, was why we’re successful in playoffs, because we’re used to playing, and we’re built that way. In playoffs it’s about taking away space and creating your own space. You’re not going to get that space you’re going to get during the regular season, so it’s kind that Catch-22.”
In continuing to answer the question, Lombardi returned to a topic on why the Kings at times fought to consistently hit their emotional peaks, and how any fatigue was compounded by the club’s personnel challenges on the back end.
“And the other thing is too, we got behind the eight ball right away, right? So now, every game became crucial in November, and it just exasperated it. How many times did we say during the year, ‘we’ve got to get going, we’ve got to get going,’ so you keep throwing these guys out there. ‘Let’s get it going. Let’s go.’ In terms of Doughty’s case, too, it’s also the ripple effect. Because structurally, the biggest problem we had structurally is you lost your third and fourth defenseman. We were prepared to lose one. That’s why we brought McNabb in. Marty was becoming a better player. We’re OK. … but you lost three and four, and we weren’t prepared to do that. That wasn’t on the board at all. That would be like Chicago losing Oduya and Hjalmarsson. That’s a big loss. So in terms of where we’re at, that’s the only structural issue. The rest to me is still all mental, and even despite that, they showed what they could do when they were all there. But that’s another thing. Don’t forget why Doughty’s up to 30 minutes. There’s not Voynov behind him.”
With nearly an hour of Lombardi on the recorder, there are still several comments and observations that haven’t made their way into stories. Three responses are below:
On whether Toronto has contacted him about the availability of Rob Blake:
No, and if they want [to], that’s fine. It’ll cost them three first-rounders because he’s going to be a star someday. No, they haven’t. But who knows. I wouldn’t be too apt to agree to that, anyway. The team off the ice is just as important, and we took some hits this year as we saw and it came back to bite us in the ass, quite frankly. How many times do you need to hear me talk about infrastructure? I don’t care how low it goes on the totem pole. Just like you talk about your team and stuff on the ice, some of those values you’re talking about, that ability to keep people together is huge, and we don’t have all this sniper fire that I dealt with all year that I think was needless. That’s another issue.
On the presence of the Epix crew during a volatile time of the season:
Here’s the other thing too, and I don’t mean to criticize, you don’t know how hard that was. I think that really got everyone to the breaking point. So I think you have a lot of things come together, ready to explode. Because I don’t know how the players did it. I know how I felt. And to be going through that while you know you’re struggling, it’s too bad because those people, the camera guy is a cool guy, he’s trying to do his job. But you have no idea how difficult that is. It’s one thing if you’re on a roll or whatever, it’s still hard. But when you’re clearly not in your orbit, where you need to be, you know it and then everywhere you go you’ve got that camera. It just built up in your neck because you just know how you feel. You know you’re worried about this, and we’re not doing this and then we’re losing and then we’re getting on the plane and we just lost in Florida and here’s that friggin’ camera in your face. That was the one thing. Everyone says ‘Do it. It’s good for this. It’s good for that.’ And most guys it has worked out, but if you look at the teams I don’t think anyone was going through what we were going through in terms of being the Stanley Cup Champions and just clearly being in a rut, nobody happy, everybody is grumpy and now here’s this camera in your face. Again too, they were really good guys and stuff. It’s not an excuse, I think it just compounded it and had a lot more edge to ourselves than we probably would’ve without it. So I hope you’re happy with the content considering what it put us through.
On why Jordan Weal didn’t play on Saturday:
Well, obviously we were going to play Andreoff, and we had a guy or two knocked up, so we wanted to make sure [there was an option]. But that’s your cross between on the one hand you’d like to see him play, but on the other hand you still have an obligation to try and win.