Another quirk in a remarkably quirky schedule has given the Kings four days off after their failed comeback attempt Saturday in a 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. It’s their last chance to breathe before they finish the regular season with 17 games in 32 days — including four back-to-back sequences — and it should be enough time for them to correct the defensive shortcomings that have contributed to their 4-7-2 slide since Feb. 4.
Or is it?
“We’ll get one good practice in,” Coach Darryl Sutter said, noting that Sunday was a mandatory day off. “You’re not practicing winning right now. Anybody’s who’s got to practice winning right now is on to next year, if you look at the schedule. We’re trying to get guys just healthy enough and fresh enough to play games.”
The loss to the Canucks dented the Kings’ playoff chances. They slipped out of the second West wild-card spot Sunday when the St. Louis Blues beat the Colorado Avalanche, 3-0, and moved a point ahead of the Kings while still holding a game in hand.
What’s more ominous is the erratic nature of their all-important defensive structure. General Manager Dean Lombardi, handcuffed by underperforming players’ big contracts and unable to acquire an impact scorer before last Wednesday’s trade deadline, decided to emphasize defense and goaltending and hope his dormant scorers awaken. The defense has been mistake-prone lately and goalie Ben Bishop is 0-1-1 with an .882 save percentage after being the victim of some unfortunate deflections Saturday. Of the Kings’ three goals Saturday in a 41-save performance by Ryan Miller, two were generated during power plays and one was short-handed.
“The first two periods there were odd-man rushes against more often than not, almost. That’s definitely not the way we want to play and the way we should play in order to win,” said center Anze Kopitar, who scored the Kings’ first goal with a wrist shot from the circle at 16:40 of the second period. “We’ve got to take a look at that and definitely get better.”
One of the few bright spots for the Kings was the play of rookie forward Adrian Kempe, who got the primary assists on Trevor Lewis’ power-play goal at 12:03 of the third period and Alec Martinez’s short-handed goal with 1:21 to play. The 20-year-old Swede, who was drafted 29th by the Kings in 2014, adds much-needed speed and promising playmaking skill. “I think he was moving really well,” Kopitar said Saturday. “He was carrying the puck up the ice and really playing to his strengths, which is skate and make plays.”
The Kings have until Thursday to brood about their predicament or come up with ways to do something about it. “It’s kind of like a sweet/sour thing,” Kopitar said of having time off. “Yeah, you’d like to get back at it tomorrow and correct what we didn’t do, but at the same time I think now we’ve got, what, 17 left. We’ll take these four days to prepare ourselves for the final stretch.”