The Kings will finish the season with 79 points. Just 8 points ahead of last year’s finish of 71 points. Last season, the Kings were 15th in the western conference and 29th in the NHL. This season, they’ve moved up to 13th or 14th in the western conference and 24th- 26th in the NHL. (Games later today and tomorrow will control their final place in the conference and league. Not a significant improvement over last year, most argue. I can see that line of reasoning when you only look at the points and where they’ve finished in the standings. Not a big step forward. A lot of people at last night’s Ducks game were talking about how I should go to today’s Kings game and be sure to say farewell to Dean, since he’ll get fired. I hope not.
Did the Kings make the playoffs this season? No. Did they finish not far behind a playoff spot (as I thought they would)? No. However, they also didn’t finish that close to last in the NHL. Last season, they were tied in points for last place in the NHL, but won the tie breaker with Tampa Bay. This season, Tampa Bay finished in 28th or 29th place (we won’t know what place until later today or tomorrow and how many points ahead of the Islanders will be determined when the Islanders end their season tomorrow). They haven’t made many improvements, though they definitely spent a lot more money. Did they do a better job than the Kings as some suggested at the beginning of the season? Definitely not! Granted, doing a better job than the Lightning is clearly not a good argument for Lombardi being a good GM or for him to keep his job. However, it does show that Dean’s got a level head and is trying to build the Kings the smart way.
In spite of not finishing much higher in the standings, the Kings did make some amazing strides this season. Terry Murray stressed improving defense from his first moment with the Kings. He did a wonderful job turning the Kings around in that area. This year the Kings’ penalty kill was tied with the San Jose Sharks (finishing 1st in the NHL) for 4th in the NHL (83.4%) at the start of today’s game. Last season, the Kings’ atrocious penalty kill was ranked dead last in the NHL (78%). Last season, the Kings were 28th in the league with an average of 3.21 goals against them per game. This season, the Kings are currently ranked 11th with only 2.75. The Kings were also 28th in the NHL in shots against per game last season with 32. As of this morning, the Kings were 4th with only 28 shots against them per game.
In 2007-08, the Kings won only 47.8% of their face-offs, tying them with the Avalanche for 27th in the NHL. A of this morning, the Kings had won 52% of their face-offs, placing them 4th (a position they occupy in a lot of categories this season) in the NHL near the end of the 2008-09 season. Offense was clearly not the Kings’ main focus this year, but improving their face-off percentage is definitely a good step in the right direction offensively. This season’s power play is currently ranked 13th, compared to last season’s 17th. Not a big improvement, but the Kings were concentrating on defense this year and improving their penalty kill was a lot more important.
I can understand someone not looking at the whole picture saying that Lombardi hasn’t done a good job. However, if you look at all the stats, I don’t understand how anyone could argue that Dean is on the wrong track. It’s clear to me that the Kings have made a lot of improvements and now that their goaltending issues have settled down a bit, they should be in good position to advance to a point where it will be easy for anyone to recognize the strides the Kings have made next season.
Hang in there, Kings fans. Your time is coming. When that time arrives, the Kings should be good for years, since Lombardi has been building a very strong foundation of young talent that goes deep into the AHL & ECHL.