Most of the Kings had to work Monday despite the holiday. But the one guy who got the day off was the player the Kings missed most.
Captain Anze Kopitar called in sick, and without him the team’s offense fizzled in a 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“You always miss really good hockey players you don’t have,” Coach Darryl Sutter said.
Especially when they’re on a streak such as Kopitar has enjoyed recently, one that has seen him score one goal, assist on six others and win nearly 60% of his faceoffs in his last four games, three of which his team won.
Kopitar skated in practice Sunday but didn’t dress Monday. That left a big hole in an attack whose only goal came on a gift from the Lightning, who also won the faceoff battle to end a Staples Center losing streak that dated back to 2009.
“You lose your top guy like that, everyone’s going to have to help out,” forward Trevor Lewis said. “Unfortunately, we were missing a little bit of that today.”
Tampa Bay also was missing one of its top offensive threats after All-Star Victor Hedman was ruled out during pregame warmups because of illness. But after a costly early mistake by goalie Ben Bishop, the Lightning stepped up.
With the Kings rushing up the ice midway through the first period, Bishop wandered behind the net to collect a loose puck only to have Kyle Clifford swoop in from the right side, take the puck off Bishop’s stick and jam it into the goal with a backhanded wraparound at the post. It was his first goal in more than two months.
That was the Kings’ first shot of the day but it proved to be the only one that got by Bishop, who was making just his second start since returning from a three-week absence after suffering a lower-body injury. He finished with 31 saves, including splendid back-to-back stops on Marian Gaborik and Devin Setoguchi with about 2 minutes 40 seconds left in the third period, turning back a point-blank Gaborik shot from the slot, then smothering Setoguchi’s wraparound off the rebound.
Tampa Bay’s first goal came 5:27 before the first intermission when Tyler Johnson took a pass from Jonathan Drouin at the right faceoff circle and buried a smart one-timer at the far post to tie the game. The game-winning goal was a quirky one, though, with Brian Boyle deflecting a shot off Kings forward Dustin Brown and in with 1:13 left in the second period.
The sequence started with Kings goalie Peter Budaj sprawling on the ice to stop Valtteri Filppula on a sharp angle at the right post. But the puck bounced off Budaj’s pads to Boyle, who lifted it over the goalie toward the net, where it struck Brown and dropped in.
“I was behind the goal line. I wasn’t going to score on a direct shot,” said Boyle, who admitted he aimed the puck at Brown rather than the net.
“The goal that probably shouldn’t go in went in,” said Bishop, who won in Staples Center for the first time in his career. “It’s an accomplishment to win in this building.”
The win also was Tampa Bay’s second in its last 12 road games and its second anywhere in 2017. The Lightning accomplished it by killing three power plays — leaving the Kings one for 12 with the man advantage over the last three games — and pressuring the Kings into turnovers.
“Their defense comes around the boards a lot and keeps a lot of pucks in. They were … stepping up a lot, forcing us to make those bad plays,” Lewis said.
“The Lightning play a fast game and we need to play better in the defensive zone,” added Clifford. “We didn’t do that tonight and allowed the Lightning to use their speed.
“We had our chances. We had a couple of power plays and just have to find the back of the net and bear down.”