In Loss to Sharks, Kings Can’t Help Themselves
The “march to the playoffs,” as the Kings’ marketing department is calling the final few weeks of the season, has slowed to a crawl.
With the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference waiting to be taken, the Kings lost for the third time in four games and remained in ninth place after a 5-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks in front of a rapidly exiting crowd of 18,118 on Thursday at Staples Center.
The reasons for the loss were as obvious to anyone in attendance. The Kings’ penalty-killing unit, a sore spot throughout the season, allowed three power-play goals, and goaltender Roman Cechmanek was yanked after allowing four goals in the first two periods.
Cechmanek, playing in his first game in a month because of a strained groin, took the blame.
“I feel bad,” he said. “I think I lost this game. I was poor and slow on the ice. I can’t play like this. I have to be ready for this game, and I wasn’t.”
The Kings are one point behind the Nashville Predators and two points behind the St. Louis Blues. With nine games left, the Kings now have to figure out who their No. 1 goalie will be.
Cechmanek stopped 11 of 15 shots, a miserable .733 save percentage. Cristobal Huet, who had started 12 consecutive games in Cechmanek’s absence, stopped all seven shots he faced in the third period.
The Kings play the top team in the West, the Detroit Red Wings, on Saturday at Staples Center.
“At this point, I’d have to expect that [Huet] would play,” King Coach Andy Murray said.
On Thursday, Cechmanek started slowly. Very slowly.
The Kings opened the scoring on a short-handed goal by Esa Pirnes, but the Sharks answered quickly and got to Cechmanek on their first shot, a power-play slap shot by Alexander Korolyuk 3:04 into the game.
The crowd hissed.
The Sharks then scored on their second shot, a partial breakaway by Curtis Brown at 6:43.
The crowd booed.
Cechmanek made his first save at 9:23 on a soft shot by Todd Harvey.
The crowd cheered sarcastically.
“We needed some saves,” Murray said. “We go out with a lot of energy, get a big goal, and give up a power-play goal when the shot’s in the middle of the net. We definitely needed some saves.”
King defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky tied the score at 2-2 at 17:20 of the first period, but the Sharks’ third goal was painful to watch for King fans, a five-on-three San Jose advantage that seemed to last much longer than the 52 seconds it actually did.
Shortly after the Sharks settled into the five-on-three, Cechmanek lost his stick while going behind the net to play the puck.
He had to play almost a minute with defenseman Aaron Miller’s stick, creating an awkward, almost comical, scene on the ice: Two King skaters with their sticks, one without a stick and a goalie with a player’s stick.
Sean Avery returned to the ice to make it a five-on-four advantage, but Jonathan Cheechoo poked in a rebound of Patrick Marleau’s shot eight seconds later for a 3-2 lead.
Cheechoo scored on another rebound at 15:39 of the second period to give the Sharks a 4-2 lead.
Cechmanek’s night ended shortly thereafter, although Murray also pointed out the Kings’ scoring deficiencies.
“Anson Carter has to be much, much better,” Murray said. “He’s a quality person, we need him to be a quality player.”
Murray also said he expected improvement from the line of Carter, Alexander Frolov and Jozef Stumpel, which had a combined two shots.
The Kings’ penalty kill, which came into the game as the fifth-worst in the league, overshadowed two goals by the Kings’ power-play unit.
The Kings, trailing Nashville by a point in the Western Conference playoff race, have nine games remaining in the regular season, all against teams competing for a position in the playoffs.
HOME: Sat., DETROIT; Mon., EDMONTON; March 31, SAN JOSE; April 2, CALGARY.
AWAY: March 24, VANCOUVER; March 26, EDMONTON; March 27, CALGARY; March 29, COLORADO; April 4, SAN JOSE.
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