What we learned from the Kings’ 4-3 loss to Vancouver on Saturday:
A four-goal deficit is a lot to erase.
Well, duh. They came close to pulling even with the four goals scored by the Canucks, who are all but sure to miss the playoffs and sold off some players before the trade deadline. But four goals were simply too many to match for a team that hasn’t been filling with any regularity this season.
Goaltender Ben Bishop, making his first home start, said the difference was the two Vancouver goals that deflected off Kings players — Henrik Sedin’s first-period goal that hit Drew Doughty’s stick, and the goal by Sven Baertschi that gave Vancouver a 3-0 lead in the second period after it deflected off Nic Dowd. “If those two don’t go in, it could be a 3-2 game for us,” he said. But they did go in, and it wasn’t a 3-2 victory.
Rookie forward Adrian Kempe was a bright spot in a dull effort. Kempe, the 29th pick in the 2014 entry draft, had two noticeable assists Saturday and has four assists in nine games since being recalled from Ontario (Calif.) of the American Hockey League on Feb. 15. The 6-foot-1, 198-pound Swede earned praise Saturday from Coach Darryl Sutter and from team captain Anze Kopitar after spending most of the game on a line with Trevor Lewis and Dustin Brown.
“I think he was moving really well. He was carrying the puck up the ice and really playing to his strengths, which is skate and make plays,” Kopitar said. “I thought he did a good job tonight.”
Sutter echoed that. “He played a real fast game for us. I think the Kempe line and the Dowd line kept us alive,” Sutter said.
The Kings’ trade-deadline strategy looks debatable.
Instead of acquiring a potential difference-making goal scorer before last Wednesday’s trade deadline, General Manager Dean Lombardi got Bishop from Tampa Bay to share the goaltending duties with Jonathan Quick, and brought in 39-year-old Jarome Iginla from Colorado in the hope that Iginla’s scoring instincts would revive while playing for a possible playoff team. Both are impending unrestricted free agents, so there’s little long-term risk for the Kings in taking on two rental players.
Lombardi was banking on his team continuing to play staunch defense and that having two No. 1 goalies would limit opponents’ scoring to a level where his own team could win by 2-1 or 3-2 scores. That bet wasn’t looking so good Saturday, after a series of defensive mistakes eased the way for Vancouver to take a 4-0 lead before the Kings’ offense awoke.
Part of the problem is that getting a difference-making scorer was beyond the Kings’ budget, the result of some big contracts coming back to haunt them and eat a lot of salary-cap space. Think Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik for starters. And maybe Kopitar’s scoring problems can be traced to him trying to justify the eight-year, $80-million contract that kicked in for him this season.
Asked about the most disappointing aspect of Saturday’s loss, Sutter had a familiar reply. “Probably our top guys didn’t have a very good night,” he said.
A few more of those not-very-good nights and their hold on a playoff spot could be loosened for good.
Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen