If the Kings are looking to contend in Act 2 of this lost campaign, they’re off to a miserable start.
Tampa Bay made it look all too easy Thursday at Staples Center in a 6-2 rout, the Lightning’s seventh straight win. The NHL points leaders looked every bit the Cup contender they’re advertised to be. The Kings too resembled the squad they’ve been all season in Game 42.
The Lightning, whose only loss over the last 16 games came in overtime, appeared to be playing a different sport. The pace. The passing. The Kings couldn’t even begin to keep up with the league’s best offense.
“I think guys … they’re scared when you play a team like that,” Kings coach Willie Desjardins said. “You know you have to play well or they can make you look bad in your own rink.”
And that’s exactly what transpired. The Lightning boast the league’s best power play, converting 29.2% of chances. The Kings knew they couldn’t give the Lightning many opportunities, but they allowed a prime one 5 minutes 20 seconds into the game.
Brendan Leipsic was sent to the box for four minutes after a high-sticking infraction. Less than a minute later, Dustin Brown was called for hooking, giving the Lightning an extended look at a five-on-three power play.
Seventeen seconds into the two-man advantage, NHL points leader Nikita Kucherov collected a juicy rebound and fired it into a mostly empty net. The goal meant Tampa Bay would still have a two-man advantage for almost two more minutes.
With three Kings on the ice, the Lightning capitalized again. Steven Stamkos faked a shot from the slot, then dished it over to Brayden Point, whose one-kneed one-timer made it 2-0 with his 24th goal of the season.
A sloppy turnover by Jake Muzzin in the neutral zone sprung Ryan Callahan on a breakaway, and he easily beat Jonathan Quick [27 saves on 33 shots] with a deke before pushing the puck off his backhand into another empty net.
“You’re always unhappy with turnovers, especially against that team, they’re really explosive,” Desjardins said. “We talked about it before the start of the game, that we have to make smart plays at the blue line.”
The goal, scored at 14:05 of the first period, hushed the crowd of 17,551; a fan base watching the massive gulf between their league-worst Kings and Cup favorite Lightning.
A Derek Forbot giveaway in his own zone led to a Ryan McDonagh goal 25 seconds into the second period to put the game out of reach if it weren’t already. A Stamkos power-play marker late in the second gave the Lightning three goals on four such chances.
“It doesn’t matter who’s on the ice they’re always dangerous,” the Kings’ Anze Kopitar said. “They’re a little more offensive-minded, obviously, but they backed it up.