They had a surprising Sunday afternoon snarl, that edge you like to see in the final month and a half of the season.
Unfortunately, for the Kings, there was little else behind their scowls and growls. Winnipeg scored three second-period goals on its way to a 5-2 victory over the Kings at MTS Centre, extending the Kings’ losing streak to three games. Andrew Ladd scored twice for the Jets and had seven shots on goal.
The Kings’ offense was limited to center Jeff Carter, who scored his 19th and 20th goals of the season. His second-period goal tied it 1-1, but by the time he scored late in the third period, the Kings were trailing, 4-1, and his goal cut the deficit to 4-2 at 14:49.
They’ve dropped three straight after winning eight in a row, their longest winning streak of the season, and these recent struggles raise a myriad of questions heading into Monday’s NHL trade deadline.
Kings defenseman Matt Greene summed up their latest shortcoming in succinct fashion.
“We played a fast physical team and we couldn’t keep up,” Greene said.
Winnipeg moved six points ahead of the Kings in the Western Conference. The Kings are in fourth place in the Pacific Division, out of a playoff position by virtue of a tiebreaker. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, especially pugnacious for the afternoon game, was replaced by backup Martin Jones for the third period. Quick allowed four goals and faced 21 shots.
“I don’t like pulling goalies. I’m not known for that,” Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said. “But Jonathan has played a lot of hockey, what is he second in the league or something like that in terms of minutes played? I was thinking more about getting him ready for some time in March.”
What undid the Kings were turnovers and miscues by veteran players. Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr’s turnover led to the Jets’ first goal and Winnipeg’s Tyler Myers stepped around Kings captain Dustin Brown, to make it 2-1, at 10:43 of the second period, putting the Jets ahead for good.
“We turned the puck over for two goals,” Sutter said. “We lost Myers on his goal. We turned the puck over for two goals under no pressure at all. Brown lost Myers on one and that’s got nothing to do with the forecheck, does it?”
Regehr had a particularly difficult time all afternoon and was a minus-four after two periods and finished a minus-three. He started the game with newly acquired defenseman Andrej Sekera, but Sutter later tweaked the pairings and put Sekera with Brayden McNabb.
Carter said he had seen signs of concern even during the winning streak.
“We haven’t been playing well enough, that’s the bottom line,” he said. “We started to slip gradually over the last four or five games and we were lucky to pull a couple out near the end of that.
“Some bad habits crept back into our game lately and we’ve got to figure it out quick. They slowly creep in when you go on a little run. They start to creep in and you start to take your foot off the pedal and that’s what happens. We practice tomorrow in Edmonton and we need to get back to what we were doing and win some hockey games.”
The Kings have stalled at a most inopportune time.
It started with the loss to Ottawa on Thursday. Before Sunday’s game and afterward, Sutter spoke about the bad call, which took a goal away from Justin Williams. It came off a quick whistle when the referee, Ian Walsh, lost sight of the puck.
Before the loss, Sutter was talking about the tight race in the Western Conference and eventually wound his way to the Ottawa game.
“One bad call, one bad injury, that’s all it is.... That’s the difference in the teams,” he said. “Look at the Ottawa game. It’s one bad call. They apologized to us several times. An apology doesn’t do us any good. It should be 1-0. He [Walsh] apologized again [at Anaheim].”
Sutter made reference to the call again after the loss Sunday and talked about how some of the “older players” didn’t play well against the Senators or the Ducks, adding: “And tonight some of them didn’t play very well also, so it’s not a team thing.”