As usual for the Kings in this arena, the skeleton popped out like a jack-in-the-box. And then another.
They were fortunate just to get through Tuesday’s game, the second on consecutive nights, after defensemen Drew Doughty and Dion Phaneuf both went down with upper-body injuries at KeyBank Center, a site of so many bad scenes in recent years for the Kings.
They gutted through to a 4-3 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres behind goalie Cal Petersen’s career-high 43 saves and Jake Muzzin’s 30-minute game. Muzzin almost couldn’t believe the latest injuries in a when-it-rains-it-pours season for the Kings.
“She’s pouring right now,” Muzzin said.
Doughty is thought to have been struck by a shot in the first period. Phaneuf took a tumble over Buffalo’s Evan Rodrigues into the boards in the second period. Doughty’s injury is not believed to be long-term, but the diagnosis was preliminary. Interim coach Willie Desjardins said “I would think” Doughty is day-to-day, and rendered the same status for Phaneuf.
Doughty ran his franchise-record streak of consecutive games played to 360 just by playing Tuesday.
“Not only is he a big-time leader, he’s one of the best defensemen in the game, and he eats a lot of minutes,” Petersen said. “I thought that was picked up extremely well by the other five guys and then the four guys. But losing him, [he’s] a huge part of our team.”
This building is where Jonathan Quick had a major groin injury in 2013, and where Jeff Carter called out the team for being “fragile” in 2016. The Kings have one win here since the 2002-03 season.
But they shed those negative vibes early and took a 3-1 lead on goals by Muzzin, Adrian Kempe and Matt Luff. Down to four defensemen in the third period, the Kings surrendered goals to Jack Eichel and Johan Larsson. Jeff Skinner put in a pass from Rasmus Ristolainen 1:49 into overtime, on a four-on-three power play, the last of nearly 10 minutes of power-play time the Kings gave Buffalo.
Even with the adversity, Petersen called the loss “unacceptable.” He didn’t take any extra meaning out of playing the Sabres, who drafted him in the fifth round in 2013. But his play made a statement. Petersen stopped Eichel in the second period and managed the Kings through a harried finish and a point in the standings.
“He gave us a chance,” Muzzin said. “Without him it could have been worse. He’s just so calm and collected back there. I feel like if I do my job, he’s going to do his and make the save. He did that a lot tonight.”
Muzzin one-timed Anze Kopitar’s pass through bodies after Kopitar and Alex Iafallo kept the puck alive from goalie Linus Ullmark. Muzzin assisted Luff with a lob pass that Luff knocked down from defenseman Rasmus Dahlin and beat Ullmark with a backhand. Kempe pivoted to the net and scored on a quick shot for a 3-1 lead nearly 13 minutes into the second period.
Phaneuf soon left the game and the Kings swam upstream.
Buffalo started its scoring when Zemgus Girgensons stripped Doughty of the puck in the first period. But that ended up an afterthought, as did Iafallo’s return to his hometown.
Muzzin was the face of the game for the Kings, and when he assessed his legs, it was basically an assessment of the Kings as well.
“I was a little gassed,” he said. “You find a way to battle through. It’s a tough situation, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. I was a little gassed, though, late in the third.”