Last night, the Kings played their first two (yes, two) preseason games. Half the team was in Kansas City playing the Blues, while the other half remained in LA to play the Coyotes. The game in Kansas City sold more tickets. The attendance there was 11,603. The official attendance at the game in Staples Center was 8,221. A lot of those seats were empty, of course. I don’t know the official count of fans in the building, but a lot of season ticket holders don’t attend preseason games, so Staples Center was very empty.
The fans who did attend the preseason game in Staples Center got a good show. Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Jack Johnson were all at the game in LA.
Not too long ago, fans were booing Dan Cloutier in net (and when he was announced at the start of a game). They were chanting to put in LaBarbera. When Mathieu Garon and Jason LaBarbera were playing for the Kings, I knew fans who would only show up to the games Jason was supposed to start and many fans shouted that they wanted to see LaBarbera in net.
Last season, the fans pretty much got their wish and LaBarbera was in net… until he got injured. Cloutier was booed whenever he played and fans cheered if he got pulled from a game. That’s a rough situation for a goalie and I’m sure the fan reaction didn’t help Cloutier’s performance in net.
This season, it looks like Jason LaBarbera will be the number one goalie for the Kings and (partly because of his injury and rehabilitation from that) he’s feeling like he’s in better shape than ever. LaBarbera has really paid attention to his eating habits and training program and is ready to go. That being said, he hadn’t played in a hockey game for over 7 months. When I asked what happened last night, since he looked a bit off (allowing 4 goals in 17 shots), he said it was rust. He hadn’t played in over 7 months and was rusty. Jason’s not at all concerned about getting back into the swing of things and I think the fans need to give him a little slack before attacking him.
The fans in Staples Center last night were very quick to boo Jason LaBarbera. One fan near me shouted that LaBarbera sucked and that there had only been x shots and there were already y goals. I realize that Kings fans are looking for a hero in net and want a miracle this season. They’ve been waiting a long time for the Kings to do well. Who wouldn’t like that? Any fan of a team that’s predicted to do poorly would be thrilled if they got into the playoffs, but it’s different to dream than it is to hold the players of your team to unrealistic expectations.
When Cloutier was playing poorly the Kings fans gave him the benefit of the doubt. Many argued that Cloutier was doing great when he won games, though I argue that if a team wins 5-4, the goalie performed just as badly as if they lost 4-0 and you have to factor in the kinds of goals that are being scored, whether the goalie was well screened, etc. The score doesn’t tell you everything about how a goalie is performing. Even the save percentage (though more accurate than the goals against average, which takes into account the rest of the team, especially the defense) isn’t a perfect indicator of how the goaltender is performing. Maybe there was a crazy deflection or the goalie was well screened and couldn’t see that shot from the point.
Even if all four of the goals by the Coyotes had been easy goals (which I don’t think anyone would argue) for a goalie to see and ones that any goalie would think they should have gotten and beat themselves up over, Jason LaBarbera hadn’t played a game of hockey in over 7 months. After his injury, he only had 4 days of on-ice training camp (counting the day of the game) to prepare for his first hockey game in 7 months. I think the fans need to think about how difficult it is to bounce back from an injury and give LaBarbera a bit of time before they judge him and decide he’s not worthy. Jason LaBarbera is a good goalie. One the fans have requested in the past. They got what they wanted and now they’ve decided they prefer Bernier. While Bernier may be the goalie of the future for the Kings, he probably has some more development to do and I don’t think he’ll be in the NHL this season. I would like to see the fans step up and support the team the Kings coaching staff decides to put on the ice, rather than making their own rash judgments and condemning players before they’re given a chance.
The fans who were at Staples Center last night are the die hard fans. They’re the fans who refused to give up their season tickets after years of poor performance by the Kings and care enough to attend preseason games, which don’t count and have some players who will not be in the NHL this season. When looking around at all the empty seats last night, it was clear that most season ticket holders couldn’t care less about a preseason game. I expect more from the die hard fans than booing a player who has always tried his best to do a good job in net for the Kings and cares about the organization. I hate seeing fans boo any player on their own team and it bothers me more when the player in question is a great guy who’s determined to play well for the team and the fans.
If you’re a Kings fan, please consider the impact you could have on a player by booing him. How would you feel if every time you made a mistake in your job a big red light went on to highlight the fact and the fans booed (or in an opposing team’s arena they chanted your name taunting you)? I can’t remember who pointed out that being a goalie is really one of the most difficult jobs anywhere, but I agree with them. Think of all that pressure. Fans are very quick to blame a goalie for their problems, but Jason LaBarbera had the same save percentage as Evgeni Nabokov, Jose Theodore, & Martin Gerber last season. He was tied for 20th out of 44 ranked goalies. Just about the middle of the pack. Not at the bottom with Johan Holmqvist or Ray Emery. Give him a chance to show that he can do a good job.
I realize the Kings fans are passionate (they wouldn’t still support the Kings if they weren’t), but I would like to attend a game without hearing fans boo their own team. I think the fans who booed Jason LaBarbera last night should be ashamed of themselves. I believe it’s incredibly rude to boo someone who is trying so hard to please the fans. If he weren’t trying it would make a bit more sense, though I still think booing your team is wrong. LaBarbera tries. Fans should at least give him a month or so of the regular season to do his best before they start berating him, but even if they get to that point I’d like them to think about the fact that Jason LaBarbera is a person and he is doing his best to win (which is clearly what the fans want). He and the rest of the Kings want to win more than the fans want the team to win. Losing isn’t fun. Everyone has played some sort of sport or game in their lives, so I’m sure everyone can relate to the fact that winning is more fun than losing. Players try to win. Please give your team a chance – especially during the preseason when lines are being changed and the team is getting used to new players and (in the Kings’ case) new coaches.