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Hockey

Takeaways from the Kings’ 6-1 loss to the Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad (5) is unable to defend against Los Angeles Kings right win
Kings forward Dustin Brown scores on Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo during the first period of the Kings’ 6-1 loss Saturday.
(Joel Auerbach / Associated Press)

There was an inescapable feeling Saturday that the Kings will be in a much better place, mentally, after the trade deadline, when the dust settles for the final 20 games.

But that doesn’t explain all of the Kings’ issues, which were put under a harsh fluorescent light Saturday in a 6-1 loss to the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center.

The Kings have deep issues and their leaders, to their credit, have owned up to their mediocrity. It’s a painful stage of the season and for the organization as it moves toward the next phase.

Of course, there are games to be played and pride to be retained, and the Kings aren’t doing either well as they lurch to Monday’s trade deadline. Saturday’s showing might have proved that that can’t get here soon enough.

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Here’s what we learned:

This was a different level of embarrassment. On the surface, if there were one winnable game on this trip, this was it. Florida is a sixth-place team in the Atlantic Division, albeit with some impressive offensive weaponry and a dangerous power play.

But the Kings were never in the game once the Panthers scored the go-ahead goal on Jonathan Huberdeau’s breakaway. Adding to the misery were goals allowed to Jamie McGinn, who missed most of this season with a back injury, and Ian McCoshen, who scored his first goal since Nov.10, 2017.

If it’s a question of leadership, then coach Willie Desjardins said that’s not an issue when asked postgame.

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“It’s a good group,” Desjardins said. “You have to look at the big picture. We’ve played lots of good hockey. We haven’t won. We’ve played against some good teams and we’ve played hard. We’ve been right in every game. This is the first one we haven’t been in. That’s a sign of a leadership group. When you lose some guys out of there, they know that, and it’s hard. But that whole group has been good.”

Drew Doughty is struggling. It’s time to acknowledge Doughty’s minus-23 rating. That is partly explained by the Kings’ defense overall, but Doughty has had some poor games in trying to bail water out of a sinking Kings ship.

He was on the ice for four goals against Saturday, although two were on Florida power plays. Doughty couldn’t collect a missed shot by Anze Kopitar on the rim around, which led to Huberdeau’s breakaway out of the penalty box. Desjardins recently talked about the additional pressure on Doughty on a depleted defense.

“I think it’s hard for Drew,” Desjardins said. “He’s a proud guy and he’s played hard. I think it’s tough for him logging those minutes, because you can’t log those minutes and be fresh all the time. You just can’t.

“But at the same time, it’s our job to put out who we think can give us the best at that time and lots of times, Drew gets called on, even though he’s not at the top of his game. He’s still a guy we feel’s got to do it and he’s performed great for us.”

The penalty-killing unit is dragging them down. Perhaps it’s too much to ask of any unit to kill almost nine minutes of power-play time, let alone against the NHL’s third-ranked power play team.

But the Kings have been stuck at the bottom of the league rankings for some time now and it’s a major weakness for a team that used to define itself with defense. It doesn’t help that they’ve lost Jake Muzzin and Carl Hagelin, and that they didn’t have Trevor Lewis for most of the season.

That also doesn’t excuse eight power-play goals allowed in the past seven games.

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“For years, we’ve been a top team,” Jeff Carter said. “We’ve won games by defending and killing off penalties when we take them, and winning tight games. We’ve clearly gotten away from that.”

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curtis.zupke@latimes.com

Twitter: @curtiszupke


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