Lombardi: Now the games matter

Question: You’re on pace for 85 points, which would be a 14-point improvement over last season. In the past, you defined “success” largely by how well you could build the reserve list and develop young players. At what point do you start measuring success based primarily on wins and losses?

LOMBARDI: “I think we’re starting with that. If you look at Saturday’s game — and (Ron Hextall) said this and he has been in enough of them — that was the first game in which the two points were critical. When, in the last three years, have we had a game when we needed those two points? Now, this year we’ve had what you might call critical games, in terms of how we responded.

“Like the Calgary game. We get blown out and go into Edmonton. But it wasn’t so much the two points there, it was getting a feel for the character of your team. How good are you? What’s the makeup and character of your team? They responded in Edmonton. After Montreal…we started that road trip and we got screwed. And we’re at the beginning of the road trip. It’s an awful schedule, because we have to fly in the day before and play in the afternoon. We should have got two points out of that. Then we’ve got to go to Ottawa, and we’ve got to find a way. We weren’t that great in Ottawa, but it was pretty good and we got the points and got out of there.

“But there have been a lot of games here where…I talk about building a soul and a culture. I look for little signs of that, as this is coming together. What I see in the room after the Islanders game…that was the first game we had where we expected to win. That’s the other thing that happens. Which games have we had where we went into a building and said, `We know we’re the better team, now go out there and win the game’? Every game this year, it’s been…we don’t know how good we are. That’s one of the things about a young team.

There’s some truth to saying that you have to learn to compete. You lose those games at the end, and you have to figure out a way to tie them and then you have to figure out a way to win them. So this has come along a lot faster than San Jose. This is way ahead of San Jose, in terms of that part. It’s younger and faster, and I think I’m seeing this group come together faster. I like the fact that the back end could be pretty special.

“But I think, to answer your question, Saturday might have been the first game. Think about it. When have we had a game, in three years, where we said, `We’ve got to get these two points’? I thought, overall, in that first period, that was a hard game. That was a playoff type game. It was physical, there was fighting and we get down two goals. It was a battle to get them back. We’re going to have a lot of those now.

But the other thing too is, like I say, when you’re building, those are the stages where you’re starting to get some respect in the league. Some of those wins you were getting before, it was like, `Oh, it’s the Kings,’ and they take you for granted. We play hard most nights and we catch some people. The next step is, people are ready for you. People start to respect you. We go out east there, and there were a lot of positive things about the way we’re going, but now we’re not going to sneak up on anybody. I’m not saying that people are looking at us like we’re the Detroit Red Wings, but you’re not looked at the same way any more. Teams are saying, `You know what, we better be ready here, these guys aren’t that bad.’ That’s, again, part of the process of dealing with expectations.

“It’s like Dustin Brown said the other day. When has Dustin Brown played a meaningful game? You’ve got guys…not only has it been the last three years, you’ve got guys who, in their entire career, have never played a big game. Frolov. Brownie. Brownie said the other day, `This might be the biggest game I’ve ever played.’ How can that happen, in five years? You talk about measuring things, and again, that goes back to the culture and the soul. Again, the way they responded after that first period in Edmonton… You know what? That was pretty friggin’ good.

“Now, keep it going. That was the first big one, where you say, `We need these two points.’ There are going to be a whole bunch of these now, down the stretch. Again, we’ve come along pretty quick in some areas. What I saw, after that Islander game, was the right type of emotion. They were happy, but it wasn’t like it was overboard. It was the feeling of a team, and we’ve got to keep that going.”

Question: So is the next logical step, from there, to say, “Hey, you can’t just be satisfied with this. We’re going to be disappointed if we don’t make the playoffs this year”? Is that the message now?

LOMBARDI: “(Terry Murray) sets the tone in the locker room, and I think that’s been his message from day one. He has believed in them. Going back to November, it was pretty interesting. Again, we were going through that process of finding out how good we are. We’re trying to evaluate, and the players aren’t sure and goals aren’t really set. I remember Murph saying, `Hey, this is a pretty good team. This team isn’t as bad as everybody is making it out to be. We can make the playoffs here.’ He has never wavered from that. Once he got a look at them in October, he said, `We can make the playoffs here.”’

Question: Did you believe that?

LOMBARDI: “I don’t know. I don’t know how I’m supposed to answer those. I’ve answered that question. Somebody asked me, `Did you expect this?’ When you’ve got the youngest team in the league, how in the hell do you expect anything? Every day, you’re evaluating. It’s kind of the one fun part of the job. Every day, you’re learning something, from what they do on the ice and what they do when you call them up here (to the office) off the ice.

“To say you know, you don’t know. Who would have known Drew Doughty was going to do this at this age? You don’t know that. Simmonds. Who would have said Simmonds would have made this team? Or Moller would still be here? If I would have said that to you in August, you would have said I was crazy. Stoll and Greene. Stoll took a little time to fit in, right? Now you’re starting to see the real Stoll in the last month, the one we traded for. Handzus, after last year. This is the Handzus we signed and that’s the Handzus that was in Philly. That’s the guy who everybody is calling for right now, going into the playoffs. So, those guys are doing what I expected of them and, in some cases, more.”

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