Comments from LA Kings GM Dean Lombardi and coach Darryl Sutter in advance of the Western Conference Final against the Chicago Blackhawks…
Q. Darryl, one of the things talked about in this series is your size versus their speed. What do you have to do with your size to negate their speed?
SUTTER: “I think their size, if you look at it, the lineup they had last game, our lineup we had last game, is identical. So the size is the same, so I guess we have a problem with their speed.”
Q. How do you deal with that?
SUTTER: “Use our size. Everybody’s fast, everybody’s big. It’s just something that somebody pulled, said those are factors. I think both teams got to this point because they have some size and they have some speed.”
Q. Darryl, there’s been a lot of praise for the Detroit/Chicago series, the style of it, the attractiveness of the game. Probably you guys are getting the other side of it, the feeling you’re not playing somehow attractive enough hockey. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on the philosophical debate or whether you care at all.
SUTTER: “Well, I don’t really care what you think, if that has anything to do with it. Is that what they’re saying in Boston, too? I don’t really know what that means. I really don’t understand the question. Maybe we’re fourth or fifth in offense during the year, fourth or fifth in defense. That generally allows you to make the playoffs and generally allows you a chance to get to the series, so…”
LOMBARDI: “I can answer that a little from our perspective. It’s a bigger issue. The St. Louis series, I don’t know if that fits with your question, but by far generated as much, if not more, buzz in Los Angeles than the Stanley Cup Final. You had guys on ESPN radio who had never been to a hockey game, went to those games. The way they were talking about those players, the way they played so hard, my seven years in L.A., I never heard so many people outside the circle start talking about the excitement and how hard that series was. I don’t really understand the question either from having lived it in L.A. for the seven years. From hockey people to people outside, they were talking about how impressed how hard the players played. In terms of attractive hockey, I’ve never seen so many people turned on by the game itself.”
Q. Any update on Jarret Stoll?
Q. Dean, a few years ago you talked about the progression of a team, an organization, from hoping you can win, thinking you can win, expecting to win. Have you now gotten to the point where you expect to win again?
LOMBARDI: “Well, there is a progression here. I know Darryl talked about this with the players before the series. There’s another level that an athlete should want to reach, even after they’ve won one. To be part of a franchise in the mode of those, where it’s the Red Wings, the Packers, the Patriots, there’s another level they should strive for. You’re far from being the best you can be as an individual and as a team.
“I think we’re progressing towards that. I think just like this year, too, I cited critical moments last year. There were several of them this year where they were severely tested. They keep finding a way to fight through, as they’ve done at times during the playoffs. I still think it’s a process, but I keep seeing strides every day. Some of our young players, you talk about improved players, you tend to forget about guys like Doughty and stuff like that, how much better players him and Voynov are, and they’re only going to continue to get better.”
Q. Talk about some times this year when they were tested.
LOMBARDI: “He lives it at the micro level every day, so he knows better than I do. Sitting up there, the game in Detroit, we were struggling. We go into Detroit, arguably completely outplayed them, tied it up in the last minute, then they scored with 10 seconds left. Given where we were, trying to get our feet on the ground, the way they responded after that, said a lot.
“Again, there’s a critical moment to rise. Unless you have character, competitiveness, leadership, I think a lesser team says, Heck with it, we’ll do it next year. That’s what jumps out to me, but he can speak to it better than I can.”
SUTTER: “I agree with Dean. That was a critical set of games for us. But we didn’t get here by accident. We won the Stanley Cup last year. So in terms of critical points during the season, we had to overcome a lot of adversity just because of when you win it, not just playing the games, but everything that comes along with that. Our players did an outstanding job of that. I told them several times all season, from day one, you have to remember, when the lockout was on, we had seven days of training camp, we come back, basically our training camp, you had to fit on-ice into off-ice, still part of the celebration part of it in terms of the interview functions. Our players did an awesome part of handling that. There’s adversity there. Then naturally we lost to the Blackhawks, then win on the road for two, naturally there’s people following you that are critiquing every shift they play. Players handled all that very well. If you look at it, our goals coming into this season were — you can’t say our goal is to win the Stanley Cup, because everybody’s goal is to win the Stanley Cup. You have to do it in steps. Our step was to improve on things we wanted to get better at from last year. That’s what we focused on, that’s what we did. At the end, everything we talked about, we accomplished, which says a lot about the group.”
LOMBARDI: “I think the other thing you forget, too, coaches and players did a great job. We lost two defensemen that were critical. We didn’t have them all year. Those two guys are arguably two of the best penalty killers in the league in Greene and Mitchell. We didn’t have them all year. They were a big part of our team and our identity. I know they’re not the rock stars, but everybody knows how important they are in that room. We didn’t have them all year. People forget that. That’s pretty significant.
“On the plus side, that gave Doughty and Voynov, kid like Muzzin comes in. You forget about the responsibilities put on Doughty and Voynov. We were fortunate last year to go through the playoffs. Darryl talked about it. That’s the type of adversity you have to overcome. But it’s coming. We took it in a big way with those two guys.”
Q. Dean, you mentioned the growth of Doughty and Voynov? Where has Doughty’s growth taken place, either on or off the ice?
LOMBARDI: “Darryl lives it every day. I know I see it. Darryl, why don’t you speak to that.”
SUTTER: “He’s a big-game player. If you look at how many games we played last year, 20 playoff games, he’s a big-game player. He got better as we went along. You have to remember, he’s been part of championships before, been a significant part of it, even as a younger guy. He did that again last year. At the end, as a staff, at the end of the playoffs, you evaluate the experience. It’s not the regular-season experience. There’s not many guys his age that have accomplished what he has accomplished. That in itself is the experience of doing it.”
Q. Last years you were 16-4 in the run to the Cup. A lot of us thought that the Kings breezed to the Cup. This year you have a tough series against St. Louis and the Sharks. How deceptive was that number last year? How much harder was it than those figures led on?
SUTTER: “Well, I think what’s significant is we were the 8 seed and we had to play the 1 seed. That’s the toughest part. That’s the most significant part. The next part is Rounds 3 and 4. We had trouble scoring. If St. Louis scored three or four more goals in these playoffs, you wouldn’t be asking that question. I don’t think we lost an overtime game last year in the playoffs. This year, what are we, 1-3 in overtimes? There’s the difference.”
Q. Darryl, obviously you have to win a road game to win this series. Last year you won on the road often. This year not as often. What has been the difference?
SUTTER: “If you were listening, we lost three overtime games in a row, and we have to be a great defensive team, as the team we are playing is. But to score that big goal is the difference.”
Q. Darryl, I know the Blackhawks and the City of Chicago have always been special to you. To come here in this situation with so much at stake, with two teams that are at this level, are you able to enjoy this or maybe take this all in?
SUTTER: “I always enjoy coming back here. Obviously the hockey environment of the building. I was a part of that. I was part of that, got beaten in the Conference Finals by Detroit. That’s what I take from it. Doesn’t matter if you’re home or away, that’s the biggest part.”
Q. Dean, is the size on this team by design? Is it a philosophy of yours to build a big team or did it just almost develop that way?
LOMBARDI: “Yeah, kind of (laughter)…I think Darryl and I agree with what wins in this league. We’ve been together a long time. Basically a very similar model we used in San Jose. Part of it is size. But if that size doesn’t compete and have the will to win, it doesn’t matter. It certainly is an asset just like speed. We see in the playoffs, we see how hard and physical it is. There’s never going to be much space. It does have an advantage. But whether you’re scouting or building a team, to just grab size can be a very dangerous philosophy if you don’t look at the other elements. But I’d say for the most part it’s a similar model we used in San Jose.”
SUTTER: “Very simply we were struggling in February or March – not this season, but the previous season. We wanted some more skill in our lineup. The skill was Dwight King and Jordan Nolan. You’re saying size, we’re saying skill. If you look at our playoffs this year, whatever that means, we haven’t played our biggest guys all the time. In fact, some of the guys aren’t even playing. We’ve used 24 guys plus Jonathan, which is 25 guys. If you base it on that to date, we certainly didn’t have, Let’s just dress our big guys. We dressed what was best that night. If it was just about that, then there would be 25 guys in work boots.”
Q. Darryl, at the Blackhawks press conference, Jonathan Quick deservedly was a big point of the questioning. Not much about Corey Crawford, maybe deservedly. I’m curious, your thoughts about Corey Crawford. Is he a goalie that teams feel teams have to beat or is it just Blackhawks’ defense?
SUTTER: “We have to beat Corey Crawford to win a game. You can’t win 0-0. You can get 0-0 in the regular season, but you can’t get wins in playoffs.”
Q. Is there anything about his game?
SUTTER: “He’s had a helluva year. Didn’t he win the Jennings? You better give Corey Crawford lots of credit.”
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