Los Angeles Hockey: Rob Blake

Lombardi takes elevator to the top

June, 15, 2012
Dean LombardiBruce Bennett/Getty ImagesDean Lombardi is humble when it comes to the Kings' accomplishments, but he had a major hand in helping them get there.

LOS ANGELES -- What must have seemed like the longest elevator ride of his life finally came to a halt shortly before 8 p.m. Monday night.

The Los Angeles Kings had just clinched their first Stanley Cup title in franchise history, and general manager Dean Lombardi, in his sixth season at the helm, was rushing from the press box inside Staples Center to the arena floor, hoping to reach the ice in time for the Cup presentation by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

"Hold on, Bettman. I've got to see this," Lombardi hollered at the elevator door, which was nearly pressed against his face.

A few seconds later, Lombardi and a handful of executives were speed-walking down the hallway and disappearing around a corner.

The 45-year wait was over.

The scene was in stark contrast to my first experience behind L.A.'s curtains, 4½ years ago.

It was just after Christmas 2007, when I was asked by a senior editor at another publication in town to cover practice the following morning. Eager to move up the chain after 14 years of mostly writing about high school sports, I enthusiastically accepted the assignment, even though I kept it to myself that I hadn’t been following the team in my spare time.

My first order of business was uncovering what the Kings had done lately. Much to my surprise, they had lost eight straight games, which remains their longest losing streak since dropping their final 11 in 2004.

Walking into the locker room the next day, it was as quiet as a college library during finals week.

Michael Cammalleri, nursing sore ribs at the time, didn't even bother to look up when asked about the progress of his injury.

Rob Blake, rumored to be heading to a playoff-bound team looking to shore up its defensive corps, said he would gladly waive his no-trade clause if approached.

Patrick O'Sullivan looked like the most sullen guy in L.A.

That was Season 2 of Lombardi's rebuilding plan, and he said everything was proceeding as planned.

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Kings: Jonathan Quick, Dustin Penner lead way in Game 1 victory

April, 28, 2012

Western Conference Semifinals

Game 1

Kings 3, St. Louis Blues 1

Eight keys to the game:

THE FACTS: Home ice doesn’t belong to the St. Louis Blues any longer, just as it was stolen from the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the playoffs. The Kings took care of that Saturday night at Scottrade Center in St. Louis behind two rare playoff goals by the defense, a bank-shot empty-netter by Dustin Penner in the closing seconds and another stellar performance by goalie Jonathan Quick.

THE STAT: The Kings have won six consecutive playoff games on the road and are 8-2 away from Staples Center over the past three postseasons. This is the fourth consecutive playoff series in which they've taken away home-ice advantage in the first two games.

TURNING POINT: With 1 minute, 13 seconds remaining in the second period and the score tied at 1, Kings rookie winger Dwight King checked St. Louis defenseman Alex Pietrangelo in the back, and Pietrangelo went forehead-first into the boards behind the Blues' net. Pietrangelo appeared to be bleeding, but King was given only a two-minute boarding penalty, rather than a five-minute major and game misconduct. On the ensuing faceoff, St. Louis forward David Backes won the draw, but his pass backward went off his skate, just enough to throw off defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. That allowed Kings forward Dustin Brown to take off a stride ahead of Shattenkirk. Brown’s shot attempt was stopped by goalie Brian Elliott, but Brown appeared to clip Elliott’s right pad as he skated by, knocking the netminder off balance while the puck lay in the crease. Kings defenseman Matt Greene came up from behind the play with no one defending him and shoved the puck past Elliott before he could recover for a 2-1 lead. It was Greene's first career playoff goal in his 36th game. The goal also was just the second short-handed goal by a Kings defenseman in franchise history. The other belonged to Rob Blake in 1993. To make matters worse, Pietrangelo, the team’s best defenseman and leader in ice time during the regular season and playoffs, did not return to the game.

HOT: Quick turned aside 28 shots for his fifth playoff victory in six games this postseason. No save was better than the three straight he kicked aside off the stick of Blues forward Andy McDonald when the game was still scoreless in the opening minute. Quick has allowed just nine goals in the six playoff games and has stopped 192 of 201 shots for a lofty save percentage of .955.

NOT: The Kings scored their third short-handed goal of the postseason, the same number they’ve produced on the power play. They went 0-for-5 in Game 1 against the Blues, including one stretch during the second half of the game in which they had the man advantage for eight minutes out of 8:47. They now are 3-for-31 on the power play during their playoff run. As for the Blues, Shattenkirk had a night to forget. Not only was he burned on the Greene short-hander, but he committed a delay of game penalty in the third period, just after the Blues had killed a four-minute power play. He was on the ice for all three goals, resulting in a minus-3 rating.

GOOD MOVE: Penner was given a promotion from the third to the second line late in Game 5 (the series-clinching victory) against the Canucks, and coach Darryl Sutter stayed with that lineup against the Blues. Penner obliged by setting up the first goal, holding the puck as he weaved below the goal line and then passing out front to rookie defenseman Slava Voynov, who hit the open side for his first career playoff goal and the first postseason goal by a first-year Kings defenseman since Alexei Zhitnik in 1993. Penner’s bank-shot empty-netter looked straight out of a billiards match, as he shot the puck from deep in his own end, off the wall near the red line and straight into the middle of the net with 14 seconds left in the game.

BAD MOVE: About two minutes before Greene’s goal, the Blues had a golden opportunity to break the 1-all tie when David Perron drove at the Kings' net. As he made his move, the puck went off the shin of L.A. defenseman Drew Doughty and was left in the slot with Quick out of position as he followed Perron across the crease. Scott Nichol skated in all alone but tried to be too fine with his shot and sent the puck just wide of the open side of the net.

NOTABLE: For the third consecutive year, the goalies with the top two goals-against averages in the regular season went head to head in the playoffs. ... The Kings had 44 goals by their defensemen during the regular season, the most by any team in the NHL except the Nashville Predators. ... When the Blues scored first during the regular season, they finished 34-8-3 for the sixth-best winning percentage in the NHL. The Kings were 9-23-7 when allowing the first goal, the third-worst winning percentage. ... St. Louis tied the Detroit Red Wings for the best home record during the regular season.

UP NEXT: Game 2, Monday in St. Louis, 6 p.m. PT.

Kings: A Wild return on tap at Staples Center

February, 24, 2011
Kings (33-23-4, 70 points) vs. Minnesota Wild (32-22-6, 70) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.

Five storylines to track:

1. Home sweet home – The Kings probably won’t need to turn on the GPS to find their way to Staples Center tonight, but they might feel a little like the visitor when they walk into the arena. Thanks to the Grammy Awards and the NBA All-Star Game, the Kings haven’t played a home game since Jan. 26, a 3-2 shootout victory against San Jose. A lot has happened between then and now, most importantly they reeled off a 6-1-3 record in the ensuing road games and moved from 11th to sixth in the Western Conference standings.

2. Sitting pat? – While other teams around the league continue to trade players like they're at a baseball card convention, the Kings seem content to forge ahead with virtually the same roster. By comparison, a night after allowing three goals against on 18 shots in a 3-2 loss to the Kings, Anaheim goalkeeper Curtis McElhinney was promptly traded this morning to Tampa Bay for goalie Dan Ellis. If you’re keeping track, both goalies who practiced with the Ducks on Tuesday were gone by Thursday. The Kings have until Monday to get that high-scoring forward they so desperately need.

3. Little separation – No team has played the Kings as closely this season as the Wild. All three previous meetings were tied at the end of regulation, with the Kings winning the first in a shootout, Minnesota winning the second in overtime and the third in a shootout. In another sign of just how even these teams are, both teams enter this game with the same number of points. Nashville and Calgary are also sitting on 70 points to round out the top eight.

4. Defensive competition --Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell scored his second goal of the season Wednesday night against the Ducks and it proved to be a huge one, breaking a 2-2 tie seven minutes into the third period and holding up to be the winner. Mitchell has now joined in the unofficial competition among the other two veteran blue-liners, Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene, to see who could score the most goals this season. Scuderi has two goals and Greene has one. All three scored on the recent 10-game trip.

5. Breaking the 20 --On the flipside, Ryan Smyth scored his 20thgoal of the season against Anaheim, putting him in a three-way tie for the team lead with Justin Williams and Dustin Brown. It’s the 11thseason that Smyth has scored at least 20 goals. Now, if Anze Kopitar (18 goals) and Jarret Stoll (16) can get to 20, it would mark the first time the Kings had five 20-goal scorers in the same season since 1993-94. Luc Robitaille (44), Wayne Gretzky (38), Jari Kurri (31), Mike Donnelly (21) and Rob Blake (20) were the team leaders that season.

Kings: From pretenders to contenders: the five-year plan

November, 11, 2010

Getty Images
Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Jack Johnson have a few of the keys to the Kings' hot start.

Dean Lombardi arrived in Los Angeles in the spring of 2006, taking over as president and general manger of the Kings and bringing with him an eye for talent and a track record of success.

He had his work cut out for him.

Right from the start, Lombardi spoke of a five-year plan that involved restocking the roster with young talent and bringing in veterans who could lead by example. Still, it was a painful renovation, as the Kings finished no better than fourth in the Pacific Division the next three seasons.

"It was tough coming in here," said defenseman Jack Johnson, who joined the Kings as a rookie in 2007. "You wanted to win every game and you ended up being the team that was expected to lose."

But the pain and sacrifices are paying off. The Kings qualified for the playoffs last season for the first time since 2002 and began this week with the best record in the NHL.

"The rebuilding part is over now," said Anze Kopitar, one of only two Kings who were on the team four years ago. "Everything is clicking for us."

The overhaul arrived in stages.

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