The LA Kings are nearing the completion of their 8th season with Dean Lombardi as their General Manager. Presuming the Kings make the playoffs this year, it will mark the 5th season in a row they qualify for post-season play after seeing the Kings only qualify a total of 4 times in the 15 seasons preceding Lombardi’s reign. True to his word, Lombardi built his team to last, culminating in what appears to be a perennial Stanley Cup contender here in Los Angeles for years to come.
The style of play Lombardi and his quintessential coach Darryl Sutter (and Terry Murray before him) have implemented, however, has raised concerns by onlookers that its emphasis on defense and heavy forechecking has not only taken a toll on core players – both mentally and physically – but that such a rigid style lacks the offensive excitement fans yearn for, especially when forking out the cash equivalent of a days worth of work for a couple of hours of live entertainment.
Compounding what is often called a “boring style” of play, the Kings have also developed a nasty habit being excessively streaky. Winning cures all ills, they say, but when a team consistently mires in the doldrums of regular season funks, playoffs can be seen as a “wake me up when” event rather than the culmination of an inspiring season.
Not even the most critical of fans would so much mind a lack of flashy play if the Kings would simply sail on a more even keel between October and April while waiting for the playoff storm to begin in May. Like the players, however, many fans find the Kings propensity for navigating rough seas all season long to be mentally draining and frustrating – let alone boring – leaving both players and fans alike tattered and torn heading into the most treacherous part of the year in the waters around Cape Cup.
This is only one perspective and certainly not all fans or players feel like a weary seaman in search of the nearest port at the end of April. And rather than looking at ways to perhaps correct such perceived consistent inconsistency in Kings play, I’ve chosen to take a look at some trends during the Lombardi era and leave the validity of the above representation for you to agree with, expound on, or dispute completely.
Back-to-Back Losses: They say the very best teams often bounce back with a win immediately following a loss. You can see above the total number of Kings back-to-back losses during the regular season since GM Dean Lombardi took over. Since making the playoffs in ’09-’10, they’ve averaged around 10 B2B losses per season. Even with an abbreviated season of 48 games last year, the Kings managed 7 B2B losses, which would have likely resulted in at least 10 if a full season was played. This year, with just 13 games remaining, it appears the Kings have a chance to earn their lowest B2B-loss output in a regular season since Lombardi took over. This isn’t a surprise considering the Kings got off to their strongest start in franchise history. What is a surprise is how close they’ve managed to fall back to their average despite the great beginning to the season.
Losing Streaks: Back-to-back losses are one thing, but lengthy losing streaks are the real killer in terms of player, coach and fan frustration. Above you can see the Kings losing streaks of 3 or more games in a row for every season since GM Dean Lombardi took over. There is a clear drop in extended losing streaks starting in ’09-’10 going from 8 down to 4. I think it’s safe to assume this was a key factor in helping the Kings start their post-season appearance run. Unfortunately, with the exception of last year’s marked drop during the shortened season, the Kings are still consistently finding ways to go on extended losing streaks during the course of the regular season. With 69 games played so far this season, the Kings are currently mired in their fourth 3+ game losing streak. Hopefully it will be the last one or else a playoff birth may fall out of reach as history suggests.
Longest Streaks: Lastly, the other factor that helps shed light on a team’s ability to limit the “snowball effect” of losing is the number of games of those unfortunate streaks. Even before the Kings current playoff streak starting in ’09-’10, they began a regular pattern of allowing approximately 5 losses in a row before finally notching a victory. As you can see, the Kings have allowed 5-game losing streaks twice in the past 3 (really 2 1/2) seasons. The second of the 5-game losing streaks during the ’11-’12 season resulted in Terry Murray’s dismissal. So far, Darryl Sutter has managed to weather both of his 5-game losing streaks this year. If the Kings lose their next 2 games, it will mark their third 5-game losing streak.
There are many similarities between the the ’11-’12 season (the year the Kings won the Stanley Cup) and this current one, including a low goals per game average, a highly ranked defense and a struggling power play. Only time will tell if they can put it all together for another magical run, but one thing is certain: very few teams over the past 15-20 years have won the Stanley Cup with such a low-ranked “boring” offense during the regular season.
Exactly how the above charts stack up against the other 29 teams is a very intriguing question and one I’d love to have the answer to. Maybe someone knows how to easily find such statistics or take the time to collect the raw data. I suspect that most of the teams who have proven to be contenders are considerably more inconsistent in their inconsistency than the LA Kings have been during the Dean Lombardi era.
Which begs the question: Will the appearance of a perennial contender here in Los Angeles result in more championships? Or will the Kings style of play, more often than not, leave them limping into the post-season with little hope of attaining their ultimate goal of becoming a truly consistent Cup threat year after year?