Adrian Kempe’s stick stood no chance. With a mighty hack, the Kings’ center smashed his fiberglass twig across the iron post of the Kings’ goal. The metal pipe won, sending the stick’s blade fluttering into a net that the Canucks breached seemingly at will Wednesday night.
The Kings didn’t go empty-handed in their first road trip under new coach Todd McLellan, but they did end their three-game swing through Western Canada on the flattest of notes. In an 8-2 loss to the Canucks at Rogers Arena, they quickly fell behind in the first, faded after a brief second-period surge and were buried by four-straight Canucks goals in the third.
Kempe shattered his stick after the fifth tally, one of several odd-man rushes the Canucks put in the back of the net. He skated back to the bench with just a severed stick, a snapshot of the Kings’ first truly frustrating night of the season.
What parts of Wednesday’s loss did McLellan dislike?
“All 60 minutes,” he said. “I think it’s pretty obvious.”
Less than six minutes had elapsed by the time the Kings fell behind. During an early Canucks power play, defenseman Quinn Hughes beat Kings goalie Jonathan Quick high on the glove side with a blast from the point. Forty-two seconds later, Canucks forward Brandon Sutter fired a one-timer past Quick in a similar spot.
“Right off the bat, we got ourselves in trouble,” McLellan said. “We weren’t under control. We took penalties, we weren’t able to kill it. Turned the puck over.”
As the Kings’ last line of defense, Quick couldn’t bail them out either. In two games this season, the 33-year-old goalie has stopped just 42 of 56 shots. Though he was left on an island at times Wednesday, with many of the Canucks’ 25 shots coming from dangerous areas, his eight goals allowed still represented a career high.
Entering the year, McLellan had been encouraged by Quick’s preseason play, hopeful the player who once vied annually for Vezina trophies could rediscover a similar form. Instead, after just the season’s first week, he was already being asked his evaluation of Quick’s shaky start.
“We’ll look at it,” he said. “He’s part of the group. … He, as well as everybody else, has to be better.”
The Kings were down 3-0, after Canucks forward Elias Pettersson beat Quick from close range early in the second, by the time they finally got on the board. A Ben Hutton breakout pass and Carl Grunstrom centering feed sprang Kings forward Tyler Toffoli on a minibreakaway midway through the second period. He deked Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom for his second goal in as many nights.
Early in the third, with the Kings again trailing by three after Canucks forward JT Miller banked a pass off Kings forward Ilya Kovalchuk and into the goal, Kings defenseman Sean Walker patiently stickhandled into the slot before rifling a wrist shot by Markstrom as well.
Those were the only blemishes on Markstrom’s masterful night. He turned away 37 of 39 shots, including all 10 the Kings generated during four unsuccessful power plays.
Meanwhile, the Kings fell apart in their own end. Over the final 13 minutes, the Canucks scored four times. On a night that began with a grandiose celebration of the Canucks’ 50th anniversary season, their fans chanted “Beat LA!” as they ran up the score.
“We didn’t stick to our systems,” Hutton said. “We were trying to be too cute sometimes, making some hope plays. When they were given an opportunity, they were capitalizing. We shot ourselves in the foot, and every time we did, they buried [us].”