The Kings surged late but ultimately fell, 6-4, to the Dallas Stars at Staples Center on Monday night.
The Kings scored three goals in the first 5 minutes and 18 seconds of the third period, but could not recover once Jiri Hudler put the Stars ahead. Below is what we learned from the game.
Bad night for Budaj
The loss brought the Kings' (20-17-4) to the 41-game midpoint of their season, which could have been worse without the stabilizing presence of 34-year-old goaltender Peter Budaj.
Budaj, who was not on the roster to start the season but is now the de facto replacement for the injured Jonathan Quick, has made 35 appearances and helped the Kings rank eighth in the NHL in goals allowed per game (2.49).
Monday, however, was his worst start of the season. Budaj allowed five goals on 22 shots — good for a crippling save percentage of 77.3 — before he was pulled for Jeff Zatkoff midway through the third period. The Stars' first score came off Brett Ritchie's stick at the end of the first, and goals from Tyler Seguin, Jamie Oleksiak, Devin Shore and Hudler followed.
Patrick Sharp later scored an empty-net goal when Zatkoff was pulled in the final minute.
"I think when you give up five goals it's probably a little of both," Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said of whether Budaj or the defense were to blame. "But our goaltender was certainly fighting seeing it, finding it, knowing where it was."
Diamond in the rough
Five goals proved too much to overcome, but that does not discount the four the Kings put past Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen.
It was the first time the Kings scored more than three goals since they beat the Nashville Predators, 4-0, on Dec. 22. They came on a shorthanded goal by Nick Shore, a power-play goal by Dustin Brown (his first since Nov. 30), a top-shelf wrist shot from Anze Kopitar (his first goal since Dec. 13) and a screaming slap shot from Drew Doughty.
The Brown, Kopitar and Doughty goals bettered the Kings' season average (2.46 goals per game) in 3 minutes, 2 seconds. That forced Stars Coach Lindy Ruff to pull Lehtonen in favor of Antti Niemi, who played the last 14 minutes and 42 seconds of the game.
"Maybe battling back," said forward Tanner Pearson when asked whether the offensive outburst could be a positive takeaway. "I don't think there were a whole lot of positives when it comes to losing, so we have to refocus and get ready for the next one."
Right back at you
The Kings' comeback ultimately was mired by the Stars' ability to respond. And, it should be added, respond quickly.
Oleksiak scored 2:38 after Shore trimmed the deficit to one goal late in the second period. The Stars' Devin Shore beat Budaj 43 seconds after Brown cut the lead to one early in the third. And then Hudler scored the game-winning goal 2:26 after Doughty tied it, 4-4.
Sutter, however, did not think the Stars repeatedly answered goals with goals. He and the box score will have to disagree.
"Actually, they only had to respond to us scoring once, didn't they?" Sutter said. "They scored the first two, and then we tied it up. And then we gave it back to them behind the net, and they shot it into the empty net, so that was their response. That's the way I saw it."