Wednesday, October 26, 2011
There are seven stand-out reasons for the Kings' 5-2-1 start:
1) Jonathan Quick set the franchise record for most consecutive shutout minutes with a mark of 188:10, besting Rogie Vachon's 184:55.
2) Thanks in part to Mike Richards, the power play is humming at 24 percent after wallowing at 16 percent last year. This is mostly without Drew Doughty.
3) Quick set a franchise record with three consecutive shutouts.
4) Anze Kopitar—the Kings' best offensive AND defensive forward last year—has ten points.
5) Quick has a 0.81 GAA and a 97.2 save percentage.
6) Jack Johnson has two overtime winning goals.
7) Quick has covered up his team's middling play—an inconsistent offense and somewhat sloppy two-way effort—as the Kings have had few dominating stretches so far.
While the results of the first eight games suggest a team ready to be anointed, Dean Lombardi sacrificed a critical element of the team's success the last two years to improve other areas—and that element must be replenished for Los Angeles to join the elite teams.
Terry Murray calls it "heavy" play, and this boardwork was a third line hallmark for the last two years. This quality has diminished with the budget being shifted from "puck possession" forwards like Alexander Frolov, Michal Handzus, Wayne Simmonds, and Alexei Ponikarovsky to the more skilled trio of Richards, Dustin Penner, and Simon Gagne (and to pay Doughty).
What if I told you that building around Jarret Stoll could be the difference between the Kings being a very good or elite team?
The current, mostly cheaper bottom six options have yet to carry play the same way that the Handzus-led third lines did. Stoll is a sound player, but his skills (besides faceoffs) don't naturally translate toward leading a grinding line a la Handzus's strength and defensive awareness. He needs more impactful grinders to complement him.
Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford haven't shown last year's playoff gusto, while Trent Hunter and Ethan Moreau's best years appear to be behind them. Brad Richardson is game, but as a tweener (a finesse grinder and an underwhelming finesse player), he would excel with the lesser responsibility of fourth line duty. He certainly doesn't belong on the second line. We need him to surprise us occasionally; we shouldn't be depending on him too much.
This "heavy" play doesn't amount to a barrage of goals, but is very effective defensively and for changing momentum—nothing like a full minute in the opposing team's zone to stall counterattacks. A strong third line should be able to consistently carry play.
I'm not suggesting that the Kings were better off when their offensive creativity pretty much started and ended with Kopitar's broken ankle and Justin Williams's dislocated shoulder last season. But a true Cup contender requires—along with skill and goaltending—a fortified third line to finish off games.
Lombardi tried addressing this problem when he signed Moreau and Hunter late in the offseason. But they haven't carried play at all this season, and they're not getting any younger.
Quick's start this season is unsustainable, so the Kings' hot start is a mirage. The good news is that most of the team hasn't played to their potential yet. The top six has more to give, and we still haven't seen anything from Doughty. Clifford may surprise yet.
But I'm not convinced that our current third line will be any better than unspectacular this season.
Even if you don't think that "gifted" grinders are the way to go—for example, Boston won it all last year with a speedy third line—we can probably agree that LA's third line needs significant improvement. And Stoll, as the centerpiece of that third line, needs more than leftovers around him. Lombardi must address this by the deadline if he's serious about the Kings' ascent to the top.
Monday, October 24, 2011
There is a separation between church and state, but there is no such separation between church and sports.
We have Devils and Saints. My Angels. The same idols we raise are the same idols we demolish.
And I say unto you that God is not dead.
In fact, the Devil just died.
God Is Merciful
A month ago, Philly fans were feeling pretty good about themselves. Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Oswalt. The Dream Team.
A little too good. Philly fans don't deserve to feel good about their teams. I don't even think they want to.
Philly fans hate. They hate you if you're good to them—Santa Claus, the QB who made the mistake of leading the Eagles to five NFC Championship games1, Ryan Howard—and they want to kill you if you're Mitch Williams.
With a little more success, Philly fans were about to level up to Massholes, but more violent.
Then the Big Man stepped in, on Howard's Achilles.
God Is Just
Did 2004 and 2007 happen? As indisputably as Margot Kidder being swallowed by that fault.
Did Robert Andino's liner circumnavigate the globe and turn the clock back to 2003? According to all the subsequent Masshole bitching and backbiting, yes!
Baltimore fucked the Red Sox over again! I wish I owned a restaurant so I could feed the Andino for the rest of his life.
God Is Good
Am I jealous of the Evil Empire, their 27 championships, and their ability to bury contracts like cute little time capsules?
Was the Rebellion jealous of the Death Star?
Not everyone can have a Death Star, and there's always someone who wants to blow yours up3.
Living gives me few pleasures, and watching the Yankees lose is one of them4.
1 In contrast, does anyone in Buffalo hate Jim Kelly? I know Kelly led the Bills to championship games. Anyone think that Philly fans would be more forgiving of McNabb if he had lost 4 more Super Bowls instead? ↩
2 I consider what they did to Francona to be how the Red Sox deal with winning, or more specifically, a winner. Perhaps it was Tito's time to go...but that way? Even Torre and the Yankees parted with more class, and Francona hasn't even penned his tell-all book yet!↩
3 As a Lakers fan, I know about that "Hate in Yo Eyes."↩
4 Every time the Death Star blows, a Steinbrenner loses a little soul.↩