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Hockey

What we learned from the Kings’ 3-2 loss to the Rangers

Mika Zibanejad, Drew Doughty

Rangers center Mika Zibanejad falls as he is tripped by Kings defenseman Drew Doughty during a Jan. 23 game at Madison Square Garden.

(Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)

The Kings dropped their fourth straight game in a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Monday night. That moved the Kings to 22-21-8 and another step back in the Western Conference wild card race. It was the Rangers’ (31-16-1) third straight win and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist’s second victory in as many days.

Below is what we learned from the action. 

A hollow number

The Kings finished with 38 shots on goal, which was their second-highest total of the season. But they only had two goals to show for it at night’s end, and one of those came with one second on the clock and the result all but sealed. 

Jordan Nolan scored his third of the season on a slap shot in the second period. Kyle Clifford netted his fourth of the year in the closing moments. The Kings were otherwise stifled by Lundqvist and their inability to cash in on scoring opportunities. 

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“It’s been our theme this year,” said Nolan, specifically about the Kings not scoring on 14 first-period shots. “We get a lot of good opportunities but we can’t find a way to put it in. Sooner or later we have to find or it’s going to be too late and we’ll be out of the playoffs.”

Kings Coach Darryl Sutter nodded to Lundqvist when assessing the scoreless first period. He said he was pleased with his team’s ability to repeatedly create chances, but was not satisfied with the final result. 

“Well, you’re up against obviously one of the top goalies in the league,” Sutter said. “You’ve got to go toe to toe with him in terms of positioning. We didn’t get saves and they did.”

Zatk-off

Jeff Zatkoff started in net for the Kings and, like his last start, was not particularly sharp. 

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The previous start was a 4-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 5. His last appearance was when he relieved Peter Budaj in the middle of the third period of a 6-4 loss to the Dallas Stars on Jan. 9. On Monday, he allowed three goals on 17 shots on goal. The Rangers’ goals were scored by Brandon Pirri, Matt Puempel and Mats Zuccarello. 

It is likely Sutter will turn back to Peter Budaj in the second game of a back-to-back against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday. Lundqvist’s strong performance only illuminated Zatkoff’s shaky night. 

“At the end of the day we need better goaltending in there,” Sutter said, right after lamenting his team’s lack of finishing. 

Mixing and matching

With Nic Dowd out with a lower-body injury — he left in the second period of the Kings’ 4-2 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday and did not return — Sutter plugged in Trevor Lewis as the third-line center. Andy Andreoff, who has now appeared in three of four games, was on Lewis’ left. Devin Setoguchi, who was scratched against the Islanders, was on his right. 

“I think [Lewis], it’s tough. We go shorthanded, [Lewis] goes back, plays center for us,” Sutter said. “I thought whoever he played with in that line did a good job.”

The Kings scratched Dowd, Matt Greene and Tom Gilbert. The 34-year-old Gilbert, who has been a regular scratch this season, played on Saturday in place of Brayden McNabb. 

Sutter said that McNabb’s performance Monday gave the Kings “a real step forward.” McNabb was paired with Kevin Gravel, blocked three shots and fought Kevin Klein in the first period after Zuccarello crowded Zatkoff after the whistle. 

Greene has been dealing with lingering injuries to his back and groin, Sutter said after Greene did not practice on Sunday. The Kings will not hold a morning skate in Newark on Tuesday so any injury developments will materialize closer to their 4 p.m. matchup with the Devils. 

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jesse.dougherty@latimes.com

Twitter: @dougherty_jesse


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