At first blush it seemed like a good idea.
Starting this season each NHL team would get a midseason bye week, a five-day break from games and practice to rest and recuperate from the rigors of a demanding six-month schedule.
But the R and R has mostly resulted in Ls, with just three of the first 13 teams to take their league-mandated vacation returning to the ice with a win. That’s a trend the Kings continued Thursday, ending their bye week with a wild 5-3 loss to the Arizona Coyotes at Staples Center that kept them a point behind Calgary in the race for the Western Conference’s final wild-card playoff berth.
The Kings needed a while to get back into the swing of things, stumbling through an opening five minutes that saw Brendan Perlini and Tobias Rieder score 16 seconds apart to give the Coyotes a 2-0 lead.
The first came with Jeff Carter in the penalty box for hooking, marking the first power-play goal the Kings have allowed in nine games and 27 penalty-kill opportunities.
Rieder doubled the lead seconds later, driving hard to the net at the goal line, then jamming the puck between goalie Peter Budaj and the near post from a tough angle.
Both goals would come back to haunt the Kings in the third period, when Tanner Pearson brought them back to life by knocking in a rebound for his 16th goal of the season.
That set off a five-minute flurry that saw Arizona’s Perlini and Jordan Martinook score, sandwiched around a Kings goal from Dustin Brown. The Kings had another score disallowed when the officials ruled the play had been whistled dead before the shot.
“He said he lost sight of the puck and blew the whistle,” Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said of the explanation he was given by an official. “That’s their call.
“We were coming back all the way through there. It was 2-0 going into the third, you still believe you’re going to win,” Sutter added, pounding a wooden podium in frustration and for emphasis.
Martinook and Pearson exchanged goals again in last 90 seconds — with Pearson’s coming on a power play — to account for the final score. Lost in the wild finish was the fact the Kings have allowed 18 goals in their last four games, three of which they lost.
“It’s just too many,” captain Anze Kopitar said. “And the majority of them are coming off our mistakes. Pretty significant mistakes.
“And that’s what’s killing us right now. We’ve just got to play better.”
Bye weeks, part of the NFL schedule since 1990, were adopted by the NHL this season in exchange for the players’ support of changes in the All-Star game format. Yet judging from the early results, it appears the short breaks have left many teams unsettled.
The Florida Panthers gave up a season-high six goals to the Kings in their first post-vacation game last week and the Calgary Flames matched their worst loss of the season, falling 5-0 to Arizona, in their bye-week return last Monday. Eight of the first 13 teams, including the Kings, gave up at least four goals in their first game back while two were shut out and five others scored just once.
Judged by those standards, the Kings weren’t bad Thursday. But they weren’t good enough either.