Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick is beat by Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz… (Jayne Kamin-Oncea / US Presswire )
Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi resolved to be patient during the 1-4-2 slide that followed his team's 5-1-1 start, cutting players slack while they got accustomed to new teammates and overcame jet lag after their European opener.
"I didn't want to rush to judgment on some of these efforts, which we knew were below standard, given what they had been through," he said. "Some of the things here I've been a little more lenient."
That tolerance is about to vanish.
With numerous home practices behind them and an easy travel schedule ahead, Lombardi is ready to cast a critical eye on a team that hasn't scored consistently. He took the Kings' solid performance Saturday in a 3-2 shootout loss to Pittsburgh as a sign that his players have hit their stride and that he can now regularly demand high-caliber efforts. However, he didn't get it Monday in a 4-2 loss at San Jose that extended the team's winless streak to five.
"It's a matter of getting our competitiveness and our emotion where it needs to be," he said. "If we come out and play where we did [Saturday] or give that type of effort, a lot of these other things will fall into place.
"That said, obviously we're not getting some production from some key sources."
After experimenting with newcomers Trent Hunter and Ethan Moreau, Lombardi said it's time to settle on the top 13 or 14 forwards. "We want to get in a position where we see them play at their best, get a handle on what exactly fits, then get the people in their roles and away we go," he said.
First he will have to curb Kings Coach Terry Murray's compulsive line juggling, which hasn't spurred Dustin Penner's production. But that might require a miracle, not a remix.
Lombardi likes that the Kings have gotten strong high-end scoring but frets over inconsistent results from the sixth through 10th slots. "I think we're all trying to see exactly what can fit," he said. "That's where we have a number of new bodies. I do anticipate us getting a little more certainty there."
That would help. So would production from defenseman Drew Doughty, who has four assists and a minus-three defensive rating.
Lombardi said Doughty was "working through" the effects of missing nearly all of training camp before signing an eight-year, $56-million contract and sitting out two weeks because of a shoulder injury. He said Doughty, with good intentions, sometimes unnecessarily forces things.
"I never questioned this kid's competitiveness. I never questioned his ethics as far as wanting to win," Lombardi said. "In the end, put it all aside. It's over. Go play. And it does take a little time to get into that frame of mind."
It's time for the Kings to play to their talent level. Unless they're not as good as Lombardi thinks, which means he can't hold back on making some harsh judgments.
Precocious kids lead Oilers' revival
The Edmonton Oilers have leaped from worst to first, leading the Northwest Division and sitting third in the West. Drafting left wing Taylor Hall and center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall the last two seasons accelerated their rebirth, but Coach Tom Renney won't let anyone forget the pain required to reach this point.
"The process started a year ago with the courage to do what we had to do, and that was to knock it down to build it back up," he said. "We had a tough year last year, but it was very, very important to all of us to go through that and develop a certain resiliency and resolve to deal with it and to galvanize our look and our character."
Nugent-Hopkins (six goals, 12 points), Hall (three goals, nine points) and Jordan Eberle (three goals, 11 points) have remarkable skill and poise. Ryan Smyth, 35, has provided six goals, 12 points and mentorship. "He kind of took me under his wing," Nugent-Hopkins said.
Most impressive is the kids' complete, two-way game, a concept most youngsters need years to grasp. The Oilers, who have won six of their last seven games, lead the NHL with a team goals-against average of 1.51. Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin's resurgence has been part of that, but he's getting a lot of help.
"If you looked at our team at the start of the year, people would have pegged us to be a more offensive team, a team that plays a run-and-gun style," Hall said. "But our goaltending has been just awesome and we've played really well away from the puck defensively. That's been a staple of our team since day one."
Renney has effectively used his biggest asset — playing time — to get players to buy into his system.
"If we can continue that and stay relatively healthy, we've got a shot at doing something that a lot of people don't think we can," he said.