The Kings returned from their bye week Thursday and, following established NHL tradition, welcomed themselves back with a 5-3 loss to Arizona. Only three of the first 13 teams to have a bye week have won in their return, with eight of those teams — including the Kings — giving up at least four goals.
Here’s a few other things worth noting:
1. Rookie Adrian Kempe is going to help
The 20-year-old, who made his NHL debut Thursday, would probably help the team more if he could play in goal (more about that in a minute) but he acquitted himself well at left wing, nearly scoring late in the first period after picking the pocket of Michael Stone at center ice and skating in on a breakaway. He may have rushed the shot, which missed both high and wide.
“He’s got wheels,” captain Anze Kopitar said. “Obviously for him, it being the first game, he’s got to feel a bit more comfortable in the next few games. But he can skate, definitely. He can make plays, so I think he’ll be fine.”
Kempe got 15 minutes, 18 seconds of ice time and took two shots.
“It’s a fast game and I think that fits me pretty good,” he said. “First couple of shifts I was just feeling [nervous] a little bit, and then I think after that I got into it.
“I tried to use my speed as much as I could, too, so I think that was good.”
2. The Kings have sprung a leak in goal
After starting the month with consecutive shutouts, the Kings have allowed 18 goals in their last four games, three of which ended in losses. And what may be most troubling is the fact many of them were soft goals.
“Third goal is a bad goal-against. Fourth goal is a long shot, shorthanded goal,” Coach Darryl Sutter muttered after Thursday’s game.
Whether that leads to a change in goal remains to be seen. Peter Budaj, who opened the season in the minors, has started 46 games in place of the injured Jonathan Quick. He’s played in that many games just one other time in his NHL career and that was eight years ago. But Sutter appears to have little confidence in backup Jeff Zatkoff, who has started just twice since Christmas.
Quick is on the mend from the groin injury that interrupted his season after one period. The question now is whether he come back soon enough to stop the bleeding.
3. Tanner Pearson is helping pick up the scoring slack
Jeff Carter, an MVP candidate, has carried the slumping attack all season. But Pearson has begun to step up, giving the team a second offensive option.
He had two goals and an assist Thursday, giving him six multipoint games and a career-high 18 goals for the season. Half those goals have come since New Year’s, yet he and Carter (29 goals) remain the only Kings who have scored in double figures. And that lack of offense is one reason the team is still looking up at Calgary in the race for the final Western Conference playoff berth.
“The way the standings are right now, we’ve got to win a majority of the games,” Kopitar said. “It doesn’t matter if [the opponents are] bottom of the standings or top of the standings. We need the points and that’s what we’re focusing on.”