Lombardi, on team development

Here’s the second half of the Dean Lombardi stuff from today, dealing more with the development of the team this season…


Question: Going into the break, are you happy with where the team is at?

LOMBARDI: “I’ve seen them grow immensely. I think you’ve got a room that cares, no question about it. I think that was a big thing, and I think, in today’s day and age, that’s something not to be underestimated. I think they’ve learned a lot about playing with pressure. I think, when we were in first place there, and dealing with the pressure of the slide, that was very different from St. Louis approaching it from the bottom (of the standings) last year, coming up, compared to being (high) and sliding. So I didn’t expect this group of young players to be playing with pressure. I think there’s a big difference between playing with the house’s money and playing with pressure. I would have expected them to play with pressure next year. I expected to be in the hunt, but kind of be a Cinderella and not deal with the pressure. They put themselves in the position.

“Approaching it from (success) and then sliding, they put themselves under the gun. Versus, if you had done it like St. Louis last year, (bad) and then you get hot at the end, there’s no expectations. Then what happens? It’s the same team. What happens to St. Louis? They have a great coach, right? They’re a better team. Johnson is healthy, Kariya is healthy, but the pressure hits and the expectations hit. If we’re ever going to be a great team, sorry, you’re going to have to deal with expectations. That’s great. You expect to win, and you go out and win. That’s the Yankees, that’s the Red Wings, Celtics, Lakers. You don’t get there (quickly). But that’s what I saw them start to deal with this year. They’re going to deal with it again. But we’ve got the youngest core in the league, by far. It’s one thing to be young, but it’s by at least three years. I’m talking about your No. 1 center, defenseman, goalie. That’s the core, and we’re the youngest core by far. And they’re expected to win, and that’s huge.

“I believe they’re going to get it done. I’ve seen enough of these kids grow. Kopitar, he had that little lull there, and you can see him taking another step. The way he competes now, he never competed like that before. You saw the highlight stuff, but I see this kid competing. Quick learned to battle. Drew and Jack are getting better. Brownie is getting better, learning to lead. It’s a good group of guys too. I don’t have one jerk in the bunch.”

Question: And all the comeback wins too…

LOMBARDI: “Yeah, but that’s the other part of learning. Like last night … part of learning is, it kind of ties into expectations. You’ve got to put that team away last night. The natural reaction is, you go up against Detroit and you have a comeback win…`Oh, this is Edmonton, they’re in last place.’ Well, a good team, last night, would have put that team away in the first period. Don’t keep them alive. That’s a mental thing, but if you’re young and inexperienced, you probably think, `It’s only Edmonton.’ And sure enough, what happens?

“That’s exactly what happens when you haven’t matured mentally as a team. That’s exactly what I saw last night, but that’s to be expected. (Ron Hextall) said it last night before the game. `I’m worried.’ And sure enough, that’s what you saw. An immature team, not understanding that you’ve got to put these guys away like Detroit, and not let him hang around like that. That’s what good teams do. `See you later. I’m going to knock you out in the first period.’ They played the night before. You let them hang around like that? Good teams don’t. But that’s all the little things, when you talk about culture and becoming mentally tough, there are always those little tests you see along the way, with teams maturing. That was one, last night, that showed me some immaturity.

“I expect them to figure that out, too, like they’ve figured out a lot of things. So it’s not only that you see a team come from behind. Now, when would we have been in that situation? The closest one, in this team’s experience, might have been Toronto. Bad team, on the road, we were expected to beat them in Toronto. We got it done. We were OK in that building. We were better than we were last night. But you think, when would we have been in that situation? Not many, but that’s the growth of a team, mentally. Again, this group cares. As far as their character, they’re caring about the jersey, as good as I’ve ever had. In the end, that’s going to let them grow through all these stages we’re talking about. They’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Question: Would you expect to see Jonathan Quick as Team USA’s No. 2 goalie?

LOMBARDI: “No. I think what Brian is doing there… Miller, I think everybody thinks, it’s there. That’s fine. He’s got experience. He’s one of the best goaltenders in the world. In Thomas’ defense, you’re still talking about the Vezina Trophy winner. I think the way Brian (Burke) has approached this — which I agree with — is that it’s still a body of work. It’s not just who’s hot. This is a guy who has done it and won the Vezina Trophy. Quickie is in a great spot. He’s a young guy there. He’s going to learn to be in there. Now, if he’s called upon, I have no doubt. I guess it wouldn’t totally surprise me if he was in there, but I wouldn’t expect it, the way Brian has set it up.”

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