The air in the Kings’ locker room at BB&T Center took on a humid feel immediately after their latest embarrassment. Every player was still in their skates and pads when the room opened to reporters, and the tight space carried a thickness.
It didn’t take long for the Kings’ leaders to cut right through it, metaphorically.
Their seventh straight loss, 6-1 to the Florida Panthers, happened to be the last game before Monday’s trade deadline, and players acknowledged that weighs on their minds.
“I wouldn’t doubt it, right, that it’s got to be,” Drew Doughty said. “I’m assuming I’m not on the trade block but it’s got to be tough for those guys … it’s got to be really hard trying to play your best for a team, knowing you might get traded. But if you look at it — the way that you’re playing for your teammates and the guy beside you — then that [shouldn’t] be in the back of your mind.”
With three trades made in the past month, there is curiosity about Kings veterans who are attractive to opponents seeking last-piece additions. The Kings are pitifully out of the race, and there is the matter of playing these games knowing what could happen.
“We’re all real people, right?” Jeff Carter said. “It’s going to wear on you when the team’s not doing well and there’s changes being made. It’s just the reality of it. But when you step on the ice, you’ve got to play hockey, too. We’ve got to show up. You’ve got to do your job. Myself included, it’s been a struggle.”
In probably their worst showing since a 7-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche last month, the Kings doubled down on their last-place status. They gave the NHL’s third-ranked power-play unit nearly nine minutes of advantage time and crumbled upon Jonathan Huberdeau’s goal that was the first of five straight scores by Florida.
The Kings took four shots in the third period, which made easy work for Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo to tie Ed Belfour for third-most wins all time with 484. At the other end, Jonathan Quick was charged with all six goals and was mercifully removed for Jack Campbell.
“It’s embarrassing,” Doughty said. “It’s the fact that we’re not playing with any pride. We have a chance to come back in the third period. We got four … shots on net. In a third period where, we’re supposed to absolutely blow everything on the table offensively, and we get four shots on net, and they score two goals. The fact that we’re not playing with pride and we’re not working for each other, that’s the scary part about what’s going on right now.”
Pride was the theme postgame for the Kings, mainly the lack of it in one of their worst seasons. They are a mixture of older players with some caginess, as witnessed by Dustin Brown’s steal and break-in goal on Luongo for their only score, in the first period. But they are also breaking in younger players who are trying to thrive in a losing culture that can’t be good for their development.
Doughty said it’s up to the leaders to lay down that path. Carter said performances like Saturday just aren’t acceptable, especially in a dire point of the season.
Asked if a lot of this is about pride, Carter said, “You’ve got to be real with yourselves at this point. It is, right? You’ve got to play for the guys in the room. You’ve got to play for the Kings and we have to be better. That’s the bottom line. I don’t question the guys’ work ethic, but there’s more there. I know it’s a tough time of the year, but we’ve got to deal with that and we’ve got to go out and do a job.”
That might start with their 30th-ranked penalty-killing unit, which took on water late in the second period because of penalties by Derek Forbort and Oscar Fantenberg. Florida made the Kings pay on a two-man advantage with Aleksander Barkov’s shot from the slot. Sixty-six seconds later, on a five-on-four power play, Keith Yandle found the net through a screen for a 4-1 lead at second intermission.