To say that the Kings would be out of a playoff spot would have been unthinkable a few months back. They got off to a torrid start and held second place in the Pacific Division firmly as recently as the bye week.
They’re now falling like a broken television set tossed out of a high-rise building. A 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday was their fifth straight, and it put them on the outside looking in for the first time this season — at ninth in the Western Conference, or out of a top-eight playoff spot.
Here’s what we learned:
They need to play with a lead. To borrow a phrase from former coach Darryl Sutter, they haven’t had a lead since Christ was a child. It’s actually been five games, since Jan.4.
The Kings took a 2-0 lead in the first period of a Jan. 4 game against the Calgary Flames. They have since been outscored 19-8. Early goals have killed them. They allowed goals 43 seconds into the game and 26 seconds into the third period Thursday, the first on a weak shot that made it through Jonathan Quick.
“The first one was tough,” coach John Stevens said. “Those types of goals don’t go in very often and I thought we got off to a really good start, so you start chasing the game against a really good hockey team. The funny thing about hockey is when you’re playing catch-up, it takes a lot of energy.”
There are [surprise!] differing opinions on Dustin Brown’s boarding major. Brown felt that Justin Schultz was stumbling on his way down when he hit him, and didn’t think it warranted anything more than a two-minute minor penalty. It got a five-minute major and game misconduct.
Schultz, who lay prone for a bit before he got up, took umbrage, to say the least.
“I can’t believe he hit me like that,” Schultz told reporters. “I’m on my knees. You saw it. Unreal.”
Schultz also told reporters that he passed concussion protocol. Whether there is supplemental discipline is up to the NHL’s often unpredictable player safety department. Brown considers himself an honest, hard-nosed player, but he does has a history of crossing the line. He was suspended for an illegal elbow to the head of Jason Pominville in 2013.
Adrian Kempe could stay on the top line. Kempe played his first game at top line left wing with Brown and Anze Kopitar and looked fine, especially on a breakaway goal, his 14th this season.
Kempe is one of the Kings’ better forecheckers, and his tenacity in the corners could complement Kopitar and Brown. Stevens said he liked Trevor Lewis in Kempe’s former spot at second-line center, so it could hold for at least another game.
“I thought Adrian brought to the line what we thought he might,” Stevens said.