Kings’ dispirited 4-0 loss to Capitals leaves them far from repeat hopes
Just to get it out of the way, the last team that won the Stanley Cup and missed the playoffs the following season was the Carolina Hurricanes, who triumphed in 2006 but couldn’t crash the postseason party in 2007.
That bit of NHL history is becoming increasingly relevant for the Kings, whose lifeless 4-0 loss to the Capitals on Tuesday at the Verizon Center dropped them further out of contention for a playoff spot and made their repeat hopes a distant dream.
They mustered little resistance in losing for the sixth time in seven games and ninth in their last 11. They never pressured goaltender Braden Holtby and were outshot, 3-0, on their power play in the second period with the game theoretically still within reach.
“We know we’ve got to come out and get points and we came out here and laid an egg,” defenseman Matt Greene said. “We’ve got to erase this game and get our game back quick. We’re in trouble right now. We’ve got to find a way to right the ship.”
The details differed but the outcome Tuesday was familiar for a team that’s 5-11-6 on the road: Troy Brouwer scored the Capitals’ first two goals, snapping a shot home from the slot at 17:11 of the first period and capitalizing on a power play following a bad penalty in the second period. Nicklas Backstrom and Eric Fehr made it a rout early in the third after the Kings coughed up the puck and abandoned Jonathan Quick, who was sharp in the early going.
“It’s not good,” team captain Dustin Brown said.
No, it wasn’t.
Coach Darryl Sutter, who said Tuesday morning he would resist reporters’ attempts to get him to criticize players, didn’t hold back after the game. “The first goal is a bad change by a veteran player,” he said, referring to Brown. “The second goal is a bad penalty by a veteran player,” Sutter added, referring to a tripping penalty on Jarret Stoll that gave Washington a four-on-three edge. The Capitals, who began the game with the NHL’s third-most potent power play, scored during a five-on-four edge.
These aren’t the cohesive, resilient Kings of recent seasons. “We’re not the same team. It’s quite a bit different team,” Sutter said. “We’ve been able to manage it at home but [it’s] a little bit more difficult on the road.”
At home they can create matchups to get center Anze Kopitar away from opponents’ checking lines or shutdown defensemen. Without an effective second-line center — Mike Richards’ role during their 2012 Cup run — they can’t free Kopitar from those matchups. Kopitar on Tuesday took two shots, both wide of the net. He has two goals and seven points and a minus-13 defensive rating in 19 road games; he has 31 points and is plus-6 in 28 home games.
As Sutter noted, their personnel is different. Their defense has been stretched by losing premier penalty killer Willie Mitchell to free agency — which they anticipated because of salary-cap considerations — and by losing Slava Voynov to an indefinite suspension while he faces a felony charge of domestic violence, which they couldn’t have anticipated. Drew Doughty has played too much. Other defensemen haven’t stepped up enough.
Are they too tired and battered to play the “heavy” game that brought them success? Brown said the problem “starts with our emotion….We need everyone to be invested in the game emotionally and from there we can work on Xs and O’s and all that but you need the emotion first.”
Sutter was dubious when told Brown blamed a lack of emotion. “He did?” Sutter said. “He made a bad change on the first goal.”
Sutter said there’s enough time to recover, a process he said can begin with a victory Thursday at Florida. But time is growing short and they can’t go to the well of “we’ve done it before” and expect to rally again. Holding team meetings won’t do it, either.
“I don’t think we need that. We’ve talked enough,” Kopitar said. “Now we’ve got to do it on the ice.”
If they don’t, they’ll join Carolina as another footnote in an inglorious history.
Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen
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