COLUMBUS, Ohio — This Kings’ loss could easily be distilled into 20 seconds that slipped away. One could also point to pucks they clanked off the posts at Nationwide Arena.
A step-back look, though, would reveal that it was all the nagging, season-long deficiencies that surfaced again Thursday. Their special teams didn’t execute, and they couldn’t get the puck against the hard-charging Columbus Blue Jackets, who turned a one-goal lead into three with two quick strikes to deal the Kings a 4-1 loss.
“It was a 2-1 game but we didn’t bring it today,” Jeff Carter said. “We have to be a lot better if we want to win games in this league. That’s the bottom line. We need to have more. Myself included.”
The last time the Kings played Columbus, on Nov. 4, they fired coach John Stevens the next day. Not much has changed. The Kings are 1 for 17 on the power play in the past eight games and have surrendered six on the penalty kill after Artemi Panarin’s second goal of the night Thursday.
“It’s been a common theme this year,” Carter said. “We’ve lost the special-teams battles way too much this year, and it’s a huge, huge part of where we’re at. A lot of it falls on us, the leaders of the team.”
Anze Kopitar agreed it was a difficult emotional turnaround game from Tuesday, when the Kings hung on for dear life as their defense got decimated against the Buffalo Sabres. They still took a 1-0 lead on Dustin Brown’s goal about four minutes into the game and were physical. But it was a bad sign when Alex Iafallo hit the post on a gaping net with the score 1-1.
“You look back, and it gives you nightmares sometimes, you know, those chances,” Iafallo said. “It’s just one of those things, it happens so fast. I’ve got to put those in. I’ve got to put those in big time.”
Iafallo wasn’t the only afflicted Kings player. Tyler Toffoli hit the post on the power play in the third period and fanned on another chance in the same advantage.
“Those are just excuses,” Kopitar said. “We have to score goals, and it doesn’t matter whether they go off our shin pads or it’s a nice play or it’s a great shot or whatnot … you’ve just got to get it done.”
Iafallo helped keep the possession going for Brown to backhand it in for his team-leading ninth goal. The Kings then succumbed as Columbus clicked into its game, led by the top line of Panarin, Cam Atkinson and Pierre-Luc Dubois. Josh Anderson looked off a pass and beat Jonathan Quick on a rush play, 20 seconds after Panarin’s power-play goal.
“For whatever reason, they were quick on us,” interim coach Willie Desjardins said. “They’re hard to handle in the corners. We couldn’t handle them in our d-zone tonight.”
The Kings were fortunate to get Drew Doughty back from an upper-body injury, as Daniel Brickley was the spare defenseman. Doughty did his usual yeoman’s work but was also stripped of the puck by Anderson. Overall, Desjardins liked the play from the leaders’ and said that was the least of their issues.
“It was our other cast that just didn’t match their intensity,” Desjardins said. “It showed we had some young guys tonight. We just weren’t at their level tonight at certain times.”
Brickley said he got the phone call to join the Kings while he was playing the video game “Fortnite” with teammates. His adjustment to the professional game hasn’t been as fun, though.
A sought-after free agent college defenseman that the Kings landed, Brickley is learning it’s a different game, even in the minors.
“[It’s] probably the strength of guys,” Brickley said. “I’m playing against men here, anywhere from 18-to-30-something, guys who have been in the league and they know how to play smart. It’s not the same as college. Guys will run around and try to kill you.”
Brickley was a minus-17 in 21 games with Ontario.
“It always can be better,” he said. “I’m still trying work on the defensive positioning and being more [of a] shutdown [defender], but it’s coming along.”