The pauses in Jeff Carter’s answers were telling.
Carter isn’t a regular public voice in the Kings’ dressing room, but when he emerged into a hallway at American Airlines Center, the weight of the Kings’ five-game losing streak could be measured in the silences after a 4-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday.
“We’re in a situation,” Carter said. “It’s frustrating. I think we’re the only ones that can get us out of it. We’re the ones on the ice. We’re the ones that play. It’s individually frustrating for everybody because our games aren’t where they need to be.”
The Kings are running out of patience and answers. They haven’t won or led a game since they held a fun day off playing football in Ottawa on Oct. 14. Tuesday represented one of their better final 40-minutes during their losing streak. They got goals from Anze Kopitar and Tyler Toffoli but gave the momentum back on late penalties.
Adrian Kempe took two, in the offensive and neutral zones. The last allowed Dallas to take a 4-2 lead on Tyler Pitlick’s goal. Kempe has taken seven minor penalties in nine games, enough to draw a sarcastic laugh from coach John Stevens.
Stevens is fine with Kempe getting position but said “there’s no need for it. Again, those are big momentum swings in a hockey game, especially in the offensive zone, when you’ve got some pressure going on there, they’re not helping your cause to win hockey games.”
Defenseman Sean Walker did his part in his NHL debut. He got his first point when he spotted Toffoli for a partial breakaway, and Toffoli beat goalie Ben Bishop with a snap shot far side to pull the Kings to 3-2.
Asked whether he would take a peek at the pretty replay, Walker said, “Of course.”
Walker’s first shift was against Dallas’ top line led by Jamie Benn, but he soon settled his nerves. Walker set up Nate Thompson for a golden chance that Bishop stopped in the third period.
“It’s amazing,” Walker said. “Your first NHL game. It’s something you dream about your whole life. To get out and play with some of those guys is pretty amazing. It was a special night for me.”
Drew Doughty sprung Kopitar on a breakaway and Kopitar beat Bishop with a backhand for his first goal since his second game. He unleashed a big fist pump and the Kings were energized for all of 22 seconds, because Dallas struck back on John Klingberg’s point shot that deflected off Carter’s stick.
Carter had a goal taken away with 29.7 seconds remaining because the puck hit his glove. It was emblematic of the frustration mounting.
“We can’t beat up ourselves too much,” Kopitar said. “This was a step in the right direction but you can’t just get satisfied being close. We’ve got to take the next step, build off some good things that happened tonight. Just get a lot more from each and every one of us, and we’re going to start to win games.”
It was a matchup of teams that carried a combined seven consecutive losses, by an aggregate score of 31-7. Beneath those unsightly numbers was a personal connection.
Stevens and Dallas coach Jim Montgomery were teammates on the Philadelphia Phantoms in the late 1990s, and won a Calder Cup together in 1998. Montgomery before the game said Stevens was a great teammate who “also knew how to relay the coach’s message in his own words. He wasn’t a parrot. He was his own man.”
Stevens now must find the words to prod his team to a win. But the leadership group put it on themselves postgame.
“We were better tonight, but we’ve still got a ways to go,” Carter said.