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Hockey

Kings shoot plenty of blanks as scoreless streak grows in loss to Sabres

Kings goaltender Jack Campbell turns away the shot by Buffalo Sabres left wing Johan Larsson.
Kings goaltender Jack Campbell turns away the shot by Buffalo Sabres left wing Johan Larsson during the second period of a 3-0 loss at Staples Center on Thursday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

As part of Staples Center’s 20th-anniversary celebration Tuesday night, the Kings orchestrated an actual laser show during the first intermission, synchronizing more than 600 neon beams of light in a Guinness World Record-breaking stunt.

Their hockey team proved far less precise. Despite flinging a season-high 47 shots on net, the Kings were blanked by Buffalo Sabres goalie Carter Hutton in a 3-0 loss.

“[The score] is what you play for,” coach Todd McLellan said. “You don’t play for the 47 shots.”

For a second straight game, the Kings hung with one of the NHL’s hottest early-season teams. Much like their 2-0 loss to the streaking Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday, the Kings produced more chances and pressure than a Sabres team that nonetheless improved to 6-1-1.

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After allowing a pair of early goals, the Kings spent much of the rest of the night in the Sabres’ end. In the third period, they fired 19 pucks on net to the Sabres’ seven.

Yet, they couldn’t capitalize. For the first time since February 2017, they were shutout in consecutive games.

“We’ve got to get hungrier in and around the paint,” McLellan said. “The secondary chances we get have to get up. Everything is on the ice and we don’t get anything up and over.”

McLellan paused.

Buffalo Sabres goaltender Carter Hutton stops a shot by Kings left wing Kyle Clifford.
Buffalo Sabres goaltender Carter Hutton stops a shot by Kings left wing Kyle Clifford, right, during the first period Thursday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

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“But that’s not my concern.”

What bothered McLellan most about Thursday was the Sabres’ opening pair of goals. Both came as the result of “long opportunities” that Sabres forwards Casey Mittelstadt and Conor Sheary capitalized on.

Both goals came against the Kings third line of Ilya Kovalchuk, Michael Amadio and Austin Wagner.

Both times, they made positional mistakes that allowed the Sabres to break for odd-man rushes in transition. Afterward, McLellan picked a pointed word to describe the breakdowns: “stupidity.”

“Everybody understands that nobody is perfect. It’s sports. That’s what it’s all about,” McLellan said. “But when you continually make the same one over and over again, you’re going to find your [butt] in the stands pretty quick.”

As the Kings try to rebuild their roster and restore their culture, Adrian Kempe is becoming a dubious case study for Todd McLellan’s playing-time philosophy.

Offensively, the Kings appeared snake-bitten. Forward Anze Kopitar couldn’t sneak a mini-breakaway chance past Hutton. Defenseman Joakim Ryan jumped into the play only to have a redirection ring off the post. Forward Tyler Toffoli was stuffed by Hutton on a wraparound.

After the Sabres added to their lead early in the second, scoring a power-play goal that was credited to Mittelstadt but appeared to bounce off Kings’ defenseman Alec Martinez and into the net, the Kings responded with more chances.

A Kovalchuk shot off the post. A close-range effort from Jeff Carter that Hutton kicked aside. Several other shots from dangerous areas that sailed wide of the net. Still, they had nothing on the scoreboard to show for it.

The Buffalo Sabres celebrate a second-period goal against the Kings on Thursday.
The Buffalo Sabres celebrate a second-period goal against the Kings on Thursday.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)
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In the third, the Sabres net became a shooting gallery. On an early five-on-three Kings power-play, Drew Doughty had a shot saved through traffic, Dustin Brown had a snap-shot stopped by Hutton, Amadio whizzed a pair of wrist shots just wide of the goal.

Later, Adrian Kempe was denied by Hutton’s block moments before Toffoli was robbed by Hutton’s glove.

After tallying 18 goals in the season’s first four games, the Kings have just two in their three contests since. They ended Thursday’s loss mired in a 135-minute, 89-shot scoring drought.

“I think the offense will come, and come back,” McLellan said, later adding: “At times during the game,I thought we were the better team. But that doesn’t get you anything. It’s the three and the zero at the end of the night that really counts.”

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