Inexplicably, the Kings have seen their hottest streak of the season dissolve into the most frigid of cold spells in the space of consecutive 5-0 losses. The second came Tuesday in Tampa, where a fast start that featured 19 first-period shots fizzled, allowing the Lightning to sweep the season series from the Kings for the first time since 2008-09, when the teams met just once. And that has produced more questions than answers:
1. Does goalie Peter Budaj need a break?
Clearly something is not right with Kings’ defense. One game into the team’s four-game East Coast roadtrip, the Kings were working on a 144-minute scoreless streak after posting three shutouts in four games. But Budaj, who had stopped 91 of 93 shots in those four games, has allowed nine goals on the last 36 shots he has faced.
Teammates Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty came to their goalie’s defense Tuesday, blaming the skaters in the middle of the ice.
“If you look at the goals, there’s odd-man rushes, there’s breakaways, there’s 2-on-1s,” Kopitar said. “We’ve just got to clean the game up. We’re not on our game right now.”
Said Coach Darryl Sutter of Budaj: “He wasn’t very good.”
Sutter pulled the goalie after two periods of Sunday’s loss in Washington. Might he make a change from the start Thursday against the Florida Panthers? Backup Jeff Zatkoff has had eight starts this season but only two since Christmas. Budaj, on the other hand, has already played more NHL games this season then he has since 2008-09.
After Thursday the Kings go six days without a game so Sutter may decide to stay with Budaj against the Panthers, then let him rest during the break.
2. Check, please
The Kings pride themselves on being a physical, checking team. But evidence of that was hard to come by Tuesday when the Lightning continually beat them up on rushes up the ice, scoring all five of their goals from close range.
“We don’t give up five goals. That’s not the way our team has been taught to play,” Doughty said. “And when you’re giving up breakaways? We’re not used to doing that. It’s embarrassing to lose 10-0 in two games.”
Sutter was critical of his veterans, especially the defensemen who, he said, “have not done much for us this year” on the road.
A score to settle
The Kings’ defensive breakdowns have been so spectacular over the last four days no one has paid much attention to the fact the team hasn’t scored a 5-on-5 goal in a week, with Jeff Carter’s overtime winner in Philadelphia standing as the only score of any kind on the road trip.
“Our start was good,” Kopitar said the first 20 minutes in Tampa, when the Kings built a 19-6 advantage in shots yet trailed 1-0 in goals. “We had chances right away. I had about three in the first 5-10 minutes so it could’ve been a lot different game.”
It was a lot different game over the final two periods, with the Kings getting off just nine shots, few of them dangerous. The team has a mandatory off-day Wednesday in South Florida, a break Doughty hopes will help change the team’s luck.
“I think it’ll be good to kind of just get together with the boys and kind of hang out a little bit and not talk too much about hockey…and then come ready to win a game,” he said.