Peter Budaj grabbed a plate of food and made his way down a hallway at the Kings’ El Segundo practice facility Friday when Coach Darryl Sutter reached out and gave his goaltender a friendly pat on the back.
Then he gave him a verbal kick in the butt.
Budaj has allowed 17 goals in his last four starts, three of which the Kings have lost. And though defensive breakdowns have contributed to many of those scores, Sutter said the puck needs to stop with his goalie.
“It’s goaltending,” he said. “There are mistakes every shift. Goaltending takes care of all that.”
“The team’s as good as the goalie behind them and the goalie’s as good as the team in front of him,” he continued. “We need better goaltending to be a better team. Very simple.”
Until the last two weeks, Budaj had been brilliant, posting a league-best seven shutouts, winning 25 of his first 45 games and giving up just more than two goals a game. He gave up that many in the first five minutes Thursday.
His teammates said the goalie doesn’t deserve all the blame.
“The majority of them are coming off our mistakes, pretty significant mistakes,” captain Anze Kopitar said of the goals. “That’s what’s killing us right now.”
Added forward Dwight King: “The majority of them are just coverage plays and basic reads that usually guys are sharp on. Throughout the season most teams have little lulls with the intensity of the game and the attention to detail that needs to be in place.
“And we’ve wavered there.”
Sutter has little choice but to stick with Budaj, at least until former all-star Jonathan Quick comes back from the groin injury that interrupted his season after one period. Quick returned to the ice for practice a couple of weeks ago but he’s not expected to be ready for game action until next month.
“He’s doing more and more,” Sutter said. “The next part for Jonathan is … what he wants in terms of the structure and guys shooting at him. The next thing is traffic because that’s what a game is — traffic, react, seeing and all that stuff.”
In the meantime, the Kings face some traffic of their own, playing seven games in 11 days, beginning with back-to-back games with Florida and the Ducks this weekend.
“The good thing is we’ve got two games right now to build in the right direction,” King said.
KINGS NEXT UP
When: 7 p.m. Saturday.
On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 790.
Update: The Kings (28-24-4) pounded the Panthers, 6-3, just 10 days ago, starting a three-game spree that saw Florida surrender 15 goals heading into Friday night’s game in Anaheim. But the Panthers won two of those games, scoring 13 times in the process. Much of that damage has been done by a first line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Jaromir Jagr and Aleksander Barkov, who have combined for eight goals and seven assists in Huberdeau’s first four games back from injury. The Kings’ recent scoring has centered on Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson, who have seven goals and eight assists among them in the last two games.