the promise of missing the postseason

It was always going to be an uphill battle for the Kings to make the playoffs this year. Sure, we had that slivered glimmer of hope at the end of January/beginning of February, given all the more potency considering historically that’s the time of year when you start wondering how much scratch you could pull down for the remainder of your season tickets (of coure, if you’re a true fan, you never finish that wonder… partly because you know the kind of hit you’d take). But in the end, the team just didn’t have the juice to cross that finish line, jump those four hurdles otherwise known as St. Louis, Minnesota, Edmonton, and – fuck me – Anaheim. I hate fucking Anaheim.

But while many people might be disheartened by getting so close and yet so far, I for one am ecstatic by the fact that our boys in black didn’t cross the threshold into postseason territory. It’s not some masochistic desire left over from last years bomb to the bottom. See, for a team as young as ours, I want them to stay hungry for next year. I want them to have seen that door crack open, see the crooked finger taunt them into coming just a little bit closer, only to have them fall down the trap door underneath the rug, slide down the chute, and end up in the Pacific division dungeon with – gasp – the Phoenix Coyotes (another team I disdain). If they know how close they got after rebuilding/rebounding from such a horrible ’07-’08 season, then the appetite to go all the way in ’09-’10 will only be fed by the feeling that it doesn’t have to be a dream anymore.

See, the Kings have already made huge strides in the organization, and while I gotta give my propers to GM Dean Lombardi, the man I really want to kiss on the mouth is head coach Terry Murray. He took a team with arguably the worst defense – worst penalty kill, 2nd worst goals against numbers with 175 – and in one season pushed all the numbers up into the top 10 – 7th best penalty kill, 10th best goals against with 139. His focus on the defensive system and the “home base” spots clustered in front of their defending net gave the Kings a solid chance to win every night, especially after the deadweight of goaltender LaBarbera was shuffled off to Vancouver (for a measly 7th round draft pick – ouch!) and Ersberg, then Quick – especially Quick – were allowed to come into their own between the pipes. The aptly-named Quick proved himself to be a formidable rookie goaltender, in a way paying off the promise that Jonathan Bernier all-too-quickly instilled in fans after twin wins last season over the “defending cup champion” Ducks (man, I still hate saying that) that quickly became distant memories after subsequent 4-5-6 goals allowed losses.

And while Quick ended this season with a winning record, it wasn’t his play that kept the Kings from moving into that 8th seed in the west. It was the lack of offense. Perhaps it was only due to the attention to defense and checking  that was installed in the previous off-season, or the push for two-way play from previous goal-scoring superstars like Kopitar and O’Sullivan (who was sent to Edmonton in a trade that will always break my heart a little – Justin Williams better earn his keep next year). Either way, the Kings failed to generate the offense necessary to overcome the 1-goal deficits of which they found themselves all too frequently on the short end.

But, again, this is good news. While your best offense is actualy, despite the popular phrase, a good offense, you can’t build an offense from the center circle alone. It’s got to come from the blue line, and with the foundation already intact, especially considering the bright young futures of  Jack Johnson, Matt Greene, Kyle Quincy and, of course, Drew Doughty – who incidentally was just named to Team Canada for the IIHF World Champions and will most likely stick around for the Olympics next year in Vancouver – the road to a full team of 20 and 30 goal scorers isn’t off the map. We’ve already got Frolov, who had a team-leading 32 goals this year. Plus, considering Kopitar, Brown and Williams all had over 30 goals a piece last year (with both Kopi and Brownie scoring in the high 20’s this year), you’ve got some big guns in your arsenal who could definitely benefit from a little more offensive support and playmaking. And the weaponry doesn’t end there. Jarret Stoll and Michel Handzus have been stepping up their play both in the goals and face-off categories. Wayne Simmonds has continued his surprise rookie streak, scoring 3 goals in his final 5 games. Oscar Moller still shows significant promise, despite the major setback after being injured during his release to play as captain for Team Sweden in the World Junior Leage Championship last December. And our blue line boys have been playing their part, too, namely with major numbers in the assist column from Quincey, Doughty and Jack.

So what I’m saying here is the foundation is set. Quick is coming back, with Ersberg waiting in the wings. Doughty and Jack are holding the D. So let’s finish this remodel of the best hockey club south of San Jose (yeah, I’ll say it: I love San Jose, and I loved ’em before they got good… which happened, might I mention, under the guidance of then-GM – you guessed it – Dean Lombardi). Let’s pound in those pilings, lay up some dry wall and put the roof on this sucker. Let’s mix our metaphors and give these boys upfront some guns and a posse to back ’em up. And let’s take this pistol-packing homestead all the way to Lord Stanley’s cup. Build off the proven system and use the hunger from the disappointing finish to take us into an ’09-’10 playoff run and a ’10-’11 finals championship. And you can quote me on that.

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But in the meantime, we got ’08-’09 playoffs starting up tonight, so I’m gonna give a few cents on the current matchups. This is all western conference stuff, since I don’t have as many opinions on the east (except to say that the pittsburg/philly match-up is going to be the SHIT, and the caps are going to best the east and push their way into the finals, against… well, read and see):

1) Blackhawks v Flames – the easiest call of the bunch for me. Blackhawks have the young guns in Toews and Kane. Flames have the hot hands in Camalleri and Iginla. Hawks are getting solid play from Kabibulin in net. But the Flames’ Kiprusoff leads the league in wins. I’ve loved the Hawks since the Ed Belfour days, but, come on, I don’t think these guys are quite ready for prime time. Expect a showing not dissimilar to the freshman Penguins falling to the 5th year senior Wings last year, except a little faster. Flames in 4. Yup. They’re gonna take it in Chi-town.

2) Wings v Jackets – It may seem from the above comments that I have an affinity for the boys from motor city. In fact, I have a general disdain for the Wings, mostly because I hate the arrogance of their self-proclaimed moniker “Hockeytown”. Really? Not Montreal, or Edmonton? Is it just because you have to get an impoverished community excited enough to pay for your overpriced tickets? Whatevs. I will say this about Detroit, though: they have an intense line-up of guys to defend their reigning title of champion. Thankfully, Osgood has been more like Os-okay recently, perhaps faltering just enough to give these surging Jackets the sliver of space to swoop in for the upset. It’s their first post-season hunt, and a hungry Rick Nash I think will prove himself to be a pillar around which the rest of the offense can rally. And let’s not even begin to forget the anchor that is Steve Mason, the upstart goaltender who leads this season’s rookies in shut-outs and will most likely take home the Calder trophy for best rookie (as much as I’d like Doughty to win it). Although, man, Detroit has such a deep line-up… Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Lidstrom, Hossa, Franzen… aargh. Wings in 7.

3) Canucks v Blues – I secretly love the Canucks, and Roberto Luongo has been, as Bob Seger put it, like a rock in net (okay, I added the “in net” part). But the Blues are another upstart team that could upset their higher-seeded opponent. And the Canucks did falter quite a bit around the All-Star break, even after Luongo returned from his injury. While both teams have been pretty solid, I’ve always been a fan of Blues coach Andy Murrary since a) he coached the Kings to their last playoff appearance, and b) he reminds me of my grandfather. Now, perhaps you might say that family resemblance does not a playoff victory guarantee. I’d say, you obviously never met my grandfather. Blues are hungrier. I’m calling upset. Blues in 6.

4) Sharks v Ducks – did I mention I hate the Ducks? Never have I hated a sports franchise with such fervor and focus. They’re named after a fucking movie, for christ’s sake. And they’re just thuggish. They think they can just waltz in to Southern California – Kings territory – and just act like they own the place? Man, I hate the Ducks! Alright, back to the task at hand: San Jose just has too many weapons with too many veteran players putting in some of the best minutes of their careers: Blake and Roenick were both lackluster in their individual years down in L.A. but have found a way to turn it on up north. And Claude Lemieux still laying checks and getting in fights at the age of 43 after 6 years of retirement? I’m sorry, what’s that, son? Yeah, that’s what I thought. You sit back down and eat your Gerbers. Plus, with Marleau finally leading by example, Thornton consistently using his magic touch, and Nabi staying strong in the cage, the Ducks are going to have to rely on something other than George Parros’ mustache to get them out of this one. Sharks in 5.

Oh yeah, and while we’re on the subject of the Sharks, let’s talk Stanley Cup, because that’s what Marleau is going to be hoisting when they finish off the Capitals in 6 games. You can tell all your friends that you heard it here first.

That’s all for now, kids. Let’s rock this postseason.

Published in: on April 15, 2009 at 12:18 am  Comments (1)  
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