A show like the one that Jonathan Quick put on often ends in gap-toothed smiles and head taps. This ended with a mighty two-handed stick whack of the goal post by a seething Drew Doughty.
The Kings got the stand-on-his-head performance from Quick. They got a lift from Dion Phaneuf in his Kings debut. That alone was enough to keep them in the game against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. It was also the only things that prevented them from being blown out and shut out Thursday in a 3-1 loss at PPG Paints Arena.
Quick’s 36-save night was underlined by a stunning right-leg save on Phil Kessel in the second period. But the Kings couldn’t grab any points because their attack never materialized late. Pittsburgh won on goals by Ryan Reaves and Zach Aston-Reese, plus an empty-net goal that ignited Doughty.
“We’ve just got to find a way to finish those games,” Anze Kopitar said after the Kings’ third loss in a row. “That’s what separates a good team from a playoff team.”
Phaneuf is expected help the Kings become the latter. With his visa paperwork completed hours before the game, Phaneuf pinched on the left side in the second period and banked in a shot off goalie Matt Murray to tie it, 1-1.
He played nearly 19 minutes and was sometimes booed by the crowd of 18,604 fans who know him as a longtime Eastern Conference nemesis. Phaneuf said “we did a lot of good things we’ve got to build on” but couldn’t take much more from a loss. His firsthand look at Quick as a teammate was a big takeaway.
“He was incredible,” Phaneuf said. “The saves that he made, I think they’re big momentum saves. They kept us in the hockey game. He was really good to play in front of. He talks. I thought he really gave us a chance and made some spectacular saves at key times of the game that really kept us in the hockey game.”
The loss exploited the Kings’ lack of depth and puts an onus on the return of Jeff Carter, who is expected to begin practicing with the team next week. “As far as progressing, everything is on track,” general manager Rob Blake said. “He’s doing as much as he possibly can on his own.”
Blake will look for offensive help before the Feb. 26 trade deadline, but he’s not in a position to give up prospects or draft picks. He has taken a long-term view of the organization and intends to build its depth without sacrificing the future.
“If it’s a hockey trade that makes sense, yes,” Blake said. “If it’s a rental, no. We’re not in that market. We’re not [in a position to trade] first-round picks, second-round picks. We don’t have a list of top prospects playing in the minors. The guys that are right up right now — [Adrian] Kempe, [Michael] Amadio and [Jonny] Brodzinski — they’re good players. They’re not going anywhere. They’re going to stay and help us.”
The Kings looked helpless after Pittsburgh’s top-ranked power play converted on Aston-Reese’s deflection for the deciding goal. Kings coach John Stevens watched his team put eight shots on goal in the third period, none of high quality.
“I thought our wall play let us down, got us in trouble tonight,” Stevens said. “We had pucks on walls that could have got out [but] didn’t get out.”
Nate Thompson also made his Kings debut. The veteran is familiar with the Kings from his tenure with the Ducks and thinks his grinding game fits in with their style.
“It’s a simple hockey game, the way they play, but it’s a hard-to-play-against game, north-south,” Thompson said. “It’s the way I like to play, so I don’t think it will be a hard transition at all.”
Follow Curtis Zupke on Twitter @curtiszupke