First the Kings ran short on bodies Saturday night. Then they ran out of gas.
After building an early two-goal lead at the Scotiabank Saddledome, the Kings allowed four unanswered en route to a 4-3 loss to the Calgary Flames. It was their 11th consecutive road defeat, tying a franchise low set in 1970. And unlike their previous losses away from home, Saturday’s story unfolded in reverse — a strong start squandered by tired legs and a contentious mid-game ejection.
The controversial tipping point came late in the second period, when Kings forward Nikolai Prokhorkin took a high hit from Flames forward Zac Rinaldo. Prokhorkin was left lying on the ice for a few moments before being helped back to the dressing room. He returned for the third period; teammate Kyle Clifford, however, did not.
As the game went into a television timeout with trainers tending to Prokhorkin, Clifford made his way toward Calgary’s bench. The 6-foot-2, 211-pound veteran, who was playing through an illness that kept him out of Friday’s loss in Edmonton, didn’t actually see Rinaldo’s hit in real time.
But “knowing that guy’s history,” Clifford said of Rinaldo, a fourth-liner with similar past incidents on his ledger, “he’s got a reputation for it.”
Clifford and Rinaldo stared each other down, shared a few words, then dropped the gloves. A linesman immediately got between them, breaking up the scrap before any punches were landed. Still, both players were ejected for fighting during an official timeout.
“I’ve never seen that in a timeout before; not in a long time,” Flames interim coach Geoff Ward said. “I was watching the girls trying to shovel the ice. They were terrified as these guys were getting ready to drop the gloves.
“According to Rino, Clifford asked him to go. He said, ‘Well, we can’t fight in a timeout,’ and [Clifford] goes, ‘Well, we’re going to fight anyway.’ So Rino went, ‘OK.’”
Clifford’s effort was appreciated — Kings coach Todd McLellan called it a “team move;” goalie Jack Campbell said he wasn’t surprised — but his absence was felt. With the Kings playing their eighth game in 13 days, McLellan had to make do being one player down. The team’s comeback bid suffered.
“We became a three-line team, basically, the second half of the game,” McLellan said. “Ran out of gas a little bit.”
At the time of Clifford’s ejection, the Kings already were behind 3-2, their first-period power-play tallies from Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty answered by Flames goals from former King Milan Lucic, Rinaldo and Sean Monahan. Less than two minutes into the third, Dillon Dube added to Calgary’s advantage.
“When you’re tired, you’ve got to be really detailed,” McLellan said. “In those situations, we weren’t and they made us pay.”
A Matt Roy one-timer pulled the Kings back within one with more than 14 minutes to play, but it proved to be too little, too late in the team’s fourth consecutive defeat — all of which have been decided by one or two goals.
“A pretty honest effort again by the group,” McLellan said. “Moral victories aren’t what we aim for, but that’s what we’re taking out of the last two games. I thought we were pretty competitive in a lot of areas.”
Afterward, the Kings questioned why Rinaldo’s original hit on Prokhorkin, in which the Flames forward appeared to leave his feet and make contact with Prokhorkin’s head, wasn’t penalized. Clifford called it “dirty.” McLellan didn’t mince words either.
“Of course I looked at it, and you guys looked at it too,” McLellan said. “What usually happens is, one coach says, ‘I haven’t looked at it yet.’ The other says, ‘I think the player was in a vulnerable position. I think the head was targeted. I think the weight went up. I think the feet came off the ice.’ Figure out which coach was which.”
It only added to the sting of another road defeat, this one coming despite the Kings taking early control.
“We’ve played very well with the lead,” Doughty said. “After the first period with that good start, we felt pretty comfortable in here. Maybe too comfortable. Didn’t push enough in the second. Maybe sat back a little too much. Allowed them back in the game. … It’s getting painful.”