We learned that this season is teetering at the point of no return—as in no return to the playoffs for the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings. It’s a stunning turn of events for a team that figured to have a good chance to repeat, but so much has gone so wrong that the problems are piling up and there’s no resolution in sight.
“We were a flat team out there, making mistakes,” defenseman Matt Greene said Tuesday after the Kings meekly yielded to the Capitals and fell to 0-2 on their five-game trip. “We’ve got to figure it out in a hurry or else it’s going to be too late.”
Because they’ve bounced back before doesn’t mean they’re capable of doing it again. They’re older than they were two years ago and have a lot more mileage on them. Their defense withstood losing Rob Scuderi to free agency after the 2013 loss to Chicago in the Western Conference final but the strain of letting Willie Mitchell leave as a free agent last summer and then losing Slava Voynov while he faces a felony domestic violence charge might be too much for them to handle. Goaltending, defense and center were their strengths in their two Cup championships. Their defense is no longer formidable and as Mike Richards faded, they lost that depth up the middle.
We learned that they can’t win on the road
With a road record of 5-11-6, the Kings are tied for the fewest road wins in the NHL. Their co-tenants in that undesirable spot are East bottom-feeder Buffalo and West bottom-feeder Edmonton. Those three Game 7 playoff road wins the Kings pulled off last season? History.
“We don’t have the intensity and the emotions that we did have in the past and we’re going to have to have in the future,” center Anze Kopitar said of the Kings’ road struggles.
Players maintained they’re confident they can make up their deficit, though it seems to keep growing and more teams are passing them.
“There’s 32 games left. Thirty-two games left to get this thing going and that’s it,” Greene said. “We’ve got a confident team. I’m confident in this group that we can get it going. It’s a matter of individuals to do it, to step up and play and get wins.”
We learned that Darryl Sutter is getting cranky
And with good reason. After Tuesday’s morning skate, he said he wouldn’t criticize his players and said reporters should be the ones to offer criticism. But after Tuesday’s game he singled out a bad line change by Dustin Brown and a bad penalty by Jarret Stoll as contributory factors.
Nor did Sutter buy Brown’s assertion that the Kings are lacking emotion, using that opportunity to identify Brown by name for the bad line change on Washington’s first goal.
Sutter has had little reason to criticize his team since he took over in December 2011. He coaxed and cajoled and got the Kings into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed in 2012 and they blossomed in postseason play, surprisingly taking a 3-0 series lead every round en route to winning the Cup. They were worn down by injuries the next season but still made it to the West final; they became comeback kids last spring by fending off elimination seven times.
This is a new dynamic, with underperforming forwards and defensemen who have been overextended. A tweak or two fixed things in the past. That probably won’t work now. It will be interesting to see how he handles this and how the team reacts.
We learned that key players might be burned out by playing a lot of hockey the past three seasons
Is their supposed lack of emotion due to fatigue or mental exhaustion?
“I think those are just excuses,” Brown said. “I think it’s just a matter of getting yourself ready to go. I think it’s an individual’s responsibility to get himself going. If he’s ready to play every night, then it’s helping our team. If he’s not ready, it’s one of those things where everyone has off nights but the emotion can always be there and the work can always be there.”
Brown believes the season can still be salvaged and a playoff berth can be won.
“You can look at it one way, that we’re out. The other way to look at it is we need to get better and there’s plenty of time to do what we need to do,” he said. “But right now it’s in our hands. We still have time to control our destiny. We can’t let it drag on to the point where you have to rely on other teams winning and losing games.”
The next lesson will take place Thursday against Mitchell and the Florida Panthers. No absences or lack of emotion will be accepted.
Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen