L.A. Kings woes in Buffalo continue in shutout loss to the struggling Sabres

How’s this for a head-scratcher: the Kings, winners of two Stanley Cup championships in three seasons, are still an absolute bust in Buffalo. The Sabres’ 1-0 victory Tuesday over the Kings gave them a 12-1-1 record in upstate New York, dating to a 2-0 victory for Buffalo on Dec. 17, 1993. The Sabres have outscored the Kings by a stunning 59-21 margin on home ice during that stretch. The Kings’ last victory in Buffalo was a 4-1 decision Feb. 21, 2003. The Kings have lost six in a row since then and have been outscored 31-8. Granted the Sabres were pretty good during part of that stretch, but that’s a remarkable streak of futility for the Kings.

Thanks to the Sabres’ media relations department for the facts and figures.

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L.A. Kings hit road and then the road hits back … and not for the first time

The Kings fell to 3-5-4 away from Staples Center after a 1-0 loss Tuesday to the Buffalo Sabres, the first game on a five-game trip. Last season, Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar and the rest of the Kings were the kings of the road during the playoffs. They won Game 7s in San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago en route to their second Stanley Cup championship in three years.

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Three things about the L.A. Kings victory over the Carolina Hurricanes

Here are the top few paragraphs of my game story:

Tanner Pearson chipped the icicles off his hockey stick Thursday at Staples Center. The rookie left wing ended an 11-game goal-scoring drought with a deft swat of the puck that propelled the Kings to a grinding 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.

So great was Pearson’s slump that he went from playing on the Kings’ most effective line, to sitting on the bench and watching for extended stretches, to nearly sitting in the press box and eating popcorn by the fistful as his teammates faced the Hurricanes.

It’s often that way with gifted young players, with their production ebbing and flowing. Kings coach Darryl Sutter hinted that a night in the rafters might not be such a bad thing, although he didn’t mention the 22-year-old Pearson by name.

Sutter didn’t pull the trigger Thursday, but Pearson did. Pearson’s goal gave the Kings a 3-2 lead only minutes into the second period and they held it the rest of the way against the Hurricanes. The Kings’ victory was their third in a row after a two-game losing streak.

Here are three things about the Kings’ latest victory:

First, Pearson’s slumps will be fewer and farer (is that a word?) between as he matures and gains experience. He was doing all the right things of late, but the puck wasn’t going into the net for him. He solved it by charging to the net and smacking a loose puck into it. Smart play by a gifted player who realizes that not all the goals are going to be masterpieces.Gritty goals count just as much as pretty ones.

Second, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty played 25:10 against Carolina, ending his streak of 30-minute games at four in a row. Injuries and the suspension to Slava Voynov have wreaked havoc with Sutter’s defense pairs and Doughty has been overplayed to the extreme at times. Sutter has acknowledged the disservice it’s done to Doughty and to the Kings. But what else can he do? Voynov won’t be back any time soon after the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced Thursday it would charge Voynov in a domestic violence case. Alec Martinez is expected back within a week or so after undergoing minor surgery on a finger. But the numbers are thin for Sutter, so expect Doughty to keep playing big minutes.

Third, the Kings’ power play, once a hindrance, is now a help. The Kings went 1 for 3 with the man advantage against the Hurricanes, which came one game after they clicked on 3 of 6 chances Tuesday against the Florida Panthers and two games after they were 2 of 3 on Saturday against the Ducks. The Kings went through a 1-for-27 slump over nine games and it appeared their power play was a lost cause. But that’s no longer the case if recent games are an indication. That’s a very big deal for a team that often struggles to score while skating 5 on 5.

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Three things about the L.A. Kings victory over the Florida Panthers

Here are the top paragraphs of Tuesday’s game story:

The Kings welcomed former teammate Willie Mitchell back to Staples Center on Tuesday night. They gave him his Stanley Cup championship ring and saluted his short but memorable tenure with the team in a video tribute that played on the giant overhanging scoreboard.

They also gave him a reminder of how they used to seize games and make them theirs, taking a 5-2 victory from his new team, the Florida Panthers. The Kings scored four times in the pivotal second period, including two while on the power play.

Matt Greene, Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik and Robyn Regehr scored for the Kings, putting them firmly in command entering the third period. Each of the Kings’ six defensemen – Green, Regehr, Drew Doughty, Jamie McBain, Brayden McNabb, Jake Muzzin – had a point in the middle period.

Here are three things that stood out about the game:

First, the Kings power play roared to life with two goals in Saturday’s victory over the Ducks and it didn’t slow in the least Tuesday against the Panthers. That’s a good sign for a team that often struggles to score. Period. They got three power-play goals, a season high, in six chances against Florida. Let’s see if they can keep it going Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes. A strong power play can make a good team great and a great team, well, it makes winning Stanley Cups easier.

Second, Greene and Regehr scored goals. Wait, what?  “At first I didn’t think it was ‘Greener,’” Kings center Anze Kopitar said, smiling, when asked about Greene’s first goal since Oct. 19, 2013. “I didn’t know he had that in his repertoire.” Regehr’s goal was his first since Feb. 26. So, that happened, which was a bonus for the Kings.

Third, Mitchell’s return had a surreal quality to it. He signed a two-season, $8.5-million contract with the Panthers during the offseason, but he said Tuesday that the reality of his departure really hit him during the warmup before his Staples Center return. He acknowledged that it was not a comfortable feeling. “Just actually skating out for warmups the first time and you see the signs around,” Mitchell said. “It’s, like, ‘This is real. I’m not playing here anymore.’”

 

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L.A. Kings forwards Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli benched vs. Ducks

There were, oh, about 1.5 million things that got overlooked during the Kings’ 6-5 shootout loss to the Ducks on Wednesday. One was the scant playing time given to young forwards Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, two-thirds of That 70s Line, the Kings’ leading offensive trio. Pearson played only eight minutes Wednesday against the Ducks, and Toffoli was on the ice for only 10:43. Jeff Carter, who centers the line, played his customary minutes, skating 21:33. More minutes than usual, in fact. Toffoli has scored a Kings-leading 17 points, including seven goals, while averaging 14:16 of ice time per game. Carter has 15 points, including six goals, and averages 18:11. Pearson has 10 points, including seven goals, and averages 12:56.

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Three things about the L.A. Kings wild and crazy shootout loss to the Ducks

Here are the first few paragraphs of my recap:

It was fast and frantic and full of unpredictable twists and turns. The Ducks and Kings rocketed around the Honda Center ice Wednesday in their first Freeway Series game of the season. No play could be taken for granted, and certainly no lead was safe.

When it was done, the Ducks took a 6-5 shootout victory from the Kings in front of a raucous sellout crowd of 17,245 in a game that felt more like it should have been played in the glare of the playoffs rather than in the uncertain weeks of the fall.

Jakob Silfverberg and Ryan Kesler scored in the shootout for the NHL-leading Ducks (11-3-3) and backup goaltender Jason LaBarbera stopped Anze Kopitar after Marian Gaborik scored and Jeff Carter misfired for the Kings (8-4-4).

Here are three more things about the Kings’ loss:

First, two-goal leads are usually money in the bank for Jonathan Quick and the Kings. Not Wednesday. The Kings led by scores of 3-1 and 5-3, but couldn’t prevent the Ducks from rallying to force the game to overtime and then a shootout. Said defenseman Drew Doughty: “We always feel good with the lead. We have ‘Quickie’ back there. We have, I think, one of the best defense corps in the whole league and all of our forwards play pretty good ‘D’ as well. Whenever we have that two goal lead we definitely feel secure.”

Second, Quick was superb in goal for the Kings. That’s never a surprise anymore, but he was under siege for most of the night, facing 49 shots from the Ducks. Quick needed to make several jaw-dropping saves just to keep the Kings in front in the early going, and then again in the middle of the game. The Ducks poured on the pressure late and there was no chance Quick could work miracles. He needed more help than he got from his teammates.

Third, the Ducks beat the Kings at their own (winning) game. The Ducks possessed the puck for extended stretches and controlled the play. They never led during regulation play or overtime, but they played the right way. You know, the way the Kings play. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The Ducks spent the offseason remaking their roster in order to be more like the Kings, who won Stanley Cup championships in two of the last three seasons. The question is how do the Kings counter the Ducks’ moves? Saturday’s rematch at Staples Center should be fun. Again.

 

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Three things about the L.A. Kings rout of the Vancouver Canucks

Here are the first few paragraphs of Saturday night’s recap:

Marian Gaborik scored his long-awaited, much-anticipated first goal of the season a little less than 10 minutes into the Kings’ 5-1 victory Saturday over the Vancouver Canucks. Then Jake Muzzin scored his first about five minutes later. Then Anze Kopitar scored his third about four minutes later.

In the end, the lifeless Canucks were a cure for what ailed the shorthanded Kings.

Robyn Regehr couldn’t play because of an injury suffered in Friday’s practice. Slava Voynov was banned for the ninth consecutive game, serving an indefinite suspension imposed by the NHL after his arrest on domestic violence charges last month in Redondo Beach.

Since salary-cap issues made it impossible for the Kings to seek replacements for Regehr and Voynov from their American Hockey League team in Manchester, N.H., they were forced to dress only five defensemen for Saturday’s Pacific Division showdown with the Canucks.

Here are three additional things that stood out:

First, Gaborik’s goal was the first hint of his presence this season. Is that too harsh? Well, he was the Kings’ leading goal-scorer with 14 during their charge to the Stanley Cup championship last spring. He was the key piece to their postseason offensive surge, too. He has been injured for all but seven of their 15 games after signing a mammoth seven-year, $34-million contract to stay in Los Angeles. All things to consider when assessing his lack of production to start this season.

Second, Drew Doughty’s minutes have increased because of the Kings’ lack of healthy and eligible bodies in their defense corps. He played 29:46 Saturday against the Canucks. That’s a ton, especially this early in the season.

Third, the Canucks were surprising pushovers in their first visit to Staples Center this season. They didn’t score only Chris Higgins ended Jonathan Quick’s shutout bid with a goal at 12:07 of the final period. The Kings built a five-goal lead before Higgins struck on a centering pass from former L.A. forward Linden Vey. In the end, it was a disappointing showing by the surprising Canucks (10-5-0).

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Three things about the L.A. Kings shootout loss to the Islanders

Kings forward Dwight King, left, scored the only goal in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Islanders. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Kings forward Dwight King, left, scored the only goal in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Islanders. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

 

Dwight King scored the KIngs’ only goal during a 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Islanders on Thursday at Staples Center. Brock Nelson countered for the Islanders, who also got shootout goals from Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen. Jonathan Quick robbed former Kings defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky from point-blank range after an excellent cross-ice pass from another ex-King, Thomas Hickey, in overtime.

Here are three things that stood out about Thursday’s defeat:

First, the Kings sorely missed winger Justin Williams, who couldn’t play after suffering an eye injury during their victory Tuesday over the Dallas Stars. Williams’ place on the Kings’ top line with Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik was taken by Jordan Nolan, a grinder who works his tail off but doesn’t have the scoring touch. The Kings couldn’t say when Williams might be back in the lineup. They hoped they would have to play without him for only one game. With goals at a premium, the Kings need all the offensive help they can get at this point in the season.

Second, Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin said it best when asked how the Kings can generate more scoring chances and more goals. “Instead of trying to look for cute plays on the outside, putting it (the puck) on net and driving it,” he said. “We’ve got to do a better job of getting pucks to the net.” The Kings played far too often on the perimeter. When they did drive to the net, King scored on a pinball deflection off a centering pass from teammate Mike Richards only 3:49 into the game.

Third, it’s obvious by now that the Kings are skating with targets on their backs. It comes with the territory as defending Stanley Cup champions. You could see from the opening minutes that the Islanders were not content with a split of their games in Southern California. They got two points in Anaheim on Wednesday and were determined to secure two more Thursday in Los Angeles. The Kings should know by now the rest of the league wants to knock them off their lofty perch. Thursday’s game was simply more evidence of it.

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Three things about the L.A. Kings victory over the Blue Jackets

Here are the first few paragraphs of Sunday’s game story:

One of these days, the Kings won’t be able to rely on only three players to score in order to win. One of these games, Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli won’t be able to continue to work their magic. Sooner or later, an opposing team will shut them down.

It’s bound to happen eventually, right?

Perhaps, but certainly not during the Kings’ 5-2 victory Sunday afternoon over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Staples Center. Pearson scored two goals in the third period, Toffoli added one goal and three assists and Carter recorded a goal and two assists. Overall, That 70s Line has combined to score 16 of the Kings’ 21 goals in the run of play.

Here are three things about the Kings’ sixth consecutive victory:

First, center Anze Kopitar suffered an unspecified upper-body injury after a collision behind the net in the second period and could not return to the game. How serious it is remains to be seen. Here’s what Kings coach Darryl Sutter said: “He’s all right,” Sutter then had the same response when a reporter asked if Kopitar could make the Kings’ five-game trip, which begins Tuesday in Philadelphia.

Second, the Kings’ depth is sure to be put to the test sooner rather than later, especially if Kopitar is sidelined for any length of time. Or if he’s at something less than 100 percent for an extended period. Marian Gaborik and Trevor Lewis are each sidelined by upper-body injuries and not expected to play soon. Defenseman Slava Voynov continues to serve an indefinite suspension by the NHL after his arrest last week on domestic violence charges. Salary-cap issues mean the Kings can’t recall a player from their AHL team in Manchester N.H.

Third, Dwight King’s second-period goal gave the Kings a fourth player to score this season. Tanner Pearson has seven goals, Jeff Carter has five and Tyler Toffoli four, Kopitar has two and King, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams have won each. That 70s Line, as Pearson, Carter and Toffoli are known, has accounted for 16 of the Kings’ 21 goals in the run of play this season. It’s an amazing run by a talented line, but it’s also potentially damaging since they’re bound to cool off eventually and others simply have to step up and contribute more to the bottom line.

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