The Kings approached this season with hope, stability and a lineup that oozes promise at every position. The Phoenix Coyotes approached this season with Coach Dave Tippett in place for only a week, no clue about where they’ll play next season and a hodgepodge lineup sprinkled with untried kids and retreads.
The clueless team Saturday was the Kings, whose defense collapsed in a 6-3 season-opening loss before a stunned sellout crowd at Staples Center.
“This is definitely not the start we wanted,” Anze Kopitar said. “I don’t know what went wrong. We didn’t handle the puck good and we had breakdowns in our defensive zone.
“Nobody expected it to be like this, our home opener and the crowd so excited.”
And no one expected Drew Doughty to play the worst game of his career. Whoever was wearing Doughty’s uniform -- can you please give it back?
The Doughty who gave the puck away twice to set up Phoenix goals and took two needless penalties -- one of which the Coyotes scored on -- couldn’t be the same kid who was an all-rookie team selection last season and established himself as a likely franchise player.
He scored the Kings’ final goal, a lunging, power-play strike from the left circle at 11:56 of the third period, but it was too late for the Kings to escape the chasm they had created with their own carelessness.
Rob Scuderi, making his Kings debut, declared himself shocked at the result. “I thought in practice and preseason games we had, at least, good habits, if we didn’t win every game,” he said. “We went down a goal and the second one was tough to take. But we’ve got to be able to stay together and play our system no matter what.”
The Coyotes used their speed to score twice in the first period. They converted their first power play at 5:31, when Radim Vrbata took a long lead pass from Ed Jovanovski and fired a 35-foot shot over Jonathan Quick’s left shoulder. Matthew Lombardi, deep on the right side, tried to throw the puck across the crease to Scottie Upshall, but it glanced off Kings defenseman Matt Greene and past Quick, who faced 30 shots.
Daniel Winnik’s downward redirection of a shot from the blue line by Zbynek Michalek eluded Quick at 8:22 of the second period to give Phoenix three goals on 13 shots and leave fans restless. They got something to cheer at 10:37, when Kopitar jammed the puck inside the right post and celebrated by pounding the glass behind the net twice.
That elation was fleeting. The Coyotes forced a turnover by Wayne Simmonds along the boards and turned it into a give-and-go between Vrbata and PetrPrucha. Vrbata finished it off from close range at 14:08.
The Kings cut their deficit to two during a four-on-three advantage late in the period. Doughty took a shot that clanged off the left post and caromed out toward the blue line. Stoll corralled it and made a no-look pass to Alexander Frolov in the left circle, and the Russian winger one-timed a blistering shot from about 45 feet that got past Bryzgalov at 19:17.
The Coyotes rebuilt a three-goal lead 31 seconds into the third period. Doughty made an awful pass through the middle that was intercepted by Upshall, who ripped a shot home. Another Doughty giveaway made it 6-2 before his goal finished the scoring.
“This was probably the worst-case scenario,” Coach Terry Murray said, but that’s not quite true. It was only one game -- a clunker, but only one. The test for this young Kings team is to make sure it’s a rare occurrence.