Monday, April 26, 2010

Season Post-Mortem: Your Los Angeles Kings

Viewed in a long-term lens, defining this season as anything but a success is a wild miscalculation. For the first time since 2002, the Kings made the playoffs. They earned a 2-1 series lead, and were, arguably, one second and one period away from sweeping a superior opponent*. Their best players were also their youngest, and Drew Doughty, Wayne Simmonds, and Anze Kopitar all had a relatively good playoff series, Doughty and Simmonds in particular. Jonathan Bernier had a taste of the NHL and exceeded expectations, while Quick was able to carry the team for stretches while proving to be an exceptional shootout asset.

Viewed from a short-term perspective, this season was a disappointment. The team was in first place in the Western Conference for some time but nearly missed the playoffs with an extended cold streak. They were unable to follow a double-digit unbeaten streak with post-Olympics consistency. Jon Quick was unable to match his effort from the previous year, particularly as the season drew to an end.Veterans such as Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams failed to produce in the second half after a stellar start.

Quick has drawn crticism for his postseason play, but it's somewhat undeserved. He deserved to win game 1, losing because Luongo had a fortuitous glove-swipe in overtime, and undoubtedly was the reason the game went to overtime. He earned the game 2 win as well, and played well enough in game 3 to win the game. However, I noticed his mechanical faults as early as game 2, and they became a liability in game 4. He stopped looking for the puck and spent too much time dropping into a blocking butterfly without actively seeking the shooter. He would drop into the butterfly and crouch far too low, inviting high shots and minimizing his ability to move. He insisted on using godforsaken paddle-down as a constant crutch for his poor positioning and vision.

Despite all those things, the Kings were very close to winning this series. Quick is being labelled as the goat, but Ryan Smyth was invisible, Matt Greene and Sean O'Donnell were routinely victimized by Vancouver forwards, and an effective penalty kill faltered in the final three games.

The season, as a whole, occurred during a sort of hockey renaissance for me. I played two semesters of ice hockey goalie, two semesters of broomball goalie, a semester of floor hockey goalie, and countless pickup roller hockey games, all while watching more NHL and college hockey than I have at any point in my life. What was once a mere distraction until baseball season began has become the central focus of my sports passion. Hockey, a game, both beautiful and misunderstood, which combines grace and physicality, speed and precision, and minimal interference from officials, has become my favorite sport to watch, to play, and to write. The Huskies winning, well, anything, or the Kings winning the Stanley Cup, would be as close to a religious experience as I am likely to have. An Angels World Series is a close second, but baseball and its interminable 162 game season and awful postseason format, can't compete with the elegance of the NHL.

With all that said, the Kings were a wonderful team to watch this season. My first experience with the Kings was Game 2 of the '93 Cup Finals, and my first extended taste came not until last season, so I have avoided much of the associated Kings misery that so many fans equate with the franchise. But the future of this team is so bright, so incredibly promising, that I am already delighted at the prospect of the season resuming this fall.

Thank you, Kings. Thank you Lombardi, Murray, Brown, Kopitar, Doughty, Simmonds, Scuderi, and Quick. Thank you Bernier, Greene, Handzus, Richardson, Johnson, and Stoll. Thank you Miller, Fox, and, of course, Bailey. It's been wonderful, and it's only getting better.

For those of you who come here for Angels coverage, here it comes. Baseball season is fully upon us, and the Angels are playing more like the Angels and less like the Bizarro AngelOrioles, hockey's over, and I'm finally able to watch games on a daily basis. Maybe you might even find occasional Lakers coverage, if they avoid losing to Seattle.

*Luongo's save on the goal line in game 1, the third period in game 4.