NASHVILLE – When a team’s best minute of the game is its first minute, that’s rarely a good sign. For the Kings on Thursday night, it certainly wasn’t.
The Kings took the lead over Nashville at the 54-second mark, then did little for most of the next 59 minutes as they fell to the Predators 4-2 at Bridgestone Arena.
A poor all-around effort sent the Kings to only their second regulation loss in their last 14 games. Coming off their strong effort two nights earlier, in a road victory over Dallas, the Kings’ effort against the Predators was a bit difficult to figure out
The Kings recorded four shots on goal in the first minute, capped by Alexander Frolov’s goal at the 54-second mark, and Drew Doughty scored a power-play goal 6:40 into the third period to pull the Kings within 3-2, but in between, the Kings didn’t show much.
``Our intensity and our compete level has to be a lot higher that that,’’ Kings center Anze Kopitar said. ``We didn't show up. That's the bottom line. We got the first goal and instead of building on that, we sat back and they kept coming. That was the game.’’
Nashville outshot the Kings 15-4 in the second period and scored three consecutive goals to take a 3-1 lead early in the third period. The Predators then held onto the lead as the Kings improved their play, but only marginally, in the third period.
When was the game lost? Arguably, when it became tied.
The Kings had all the momentum after Frolov’s goal, but lost it at the 4:32 mark, when a bad bounce off the stick of goalie Jonathan Quick, behind the Kings’ net, led to the puck being in the crease and J.P. Dumont shooting it into an open net.
Doughty and Kopitar said the Kings didn’t get down on themselves after the tying goal, but for the next 35 minutes, they often looked like a team in slow motion. Asked about the turning point of the game, Murray didn’t hesitate.
``The first goal against is the one that unraveled us,’’ Murray said. ``From that point, we did not regain our composure in the game in the proper way. It just became easy for them. We ended up, at times in the second period, just watching. They recognized that and just kept building off the momentum they got off plays earlier in that period.’’
The Kings had any possible momentum stunted by penalties, and allowed a second-period goal and a goal early in the third period to trail 3-1. Quick, despite the behind-the-net misplay, had a strong game overall and made 29 saves.
Nashville continues to be a problem for the Kings, who are 0-5-1 against the Predators since the start of last season. The teams have two games remaining this season.
``For the past several years now, they've put themselves into situations where they've been a playoff team or they've been right there, in trying to get in late in the season,’’ Murray said. ``So they know the importance, and they know how to dig in and do things. They recognize that critical point in the game. Again, to me, that goal in the first period was one of those, `ah ha' moments for them, and they said, `OK, now we've got to get our legs going and start skating and start putting pressure on them,' and they did.''
The Kings, looking to maintain their hold on fourth place in the Western Conference, played their first game with forwards Jeff Halpern and Fredrik Modin, who were acquired in separate trades in advance of Wednesday's trade deadline.
Halpern and Modin went into the Kings' lineup. Halpern centered the fourth line, with Modin on his left wing and rookie Scott Parse, called up from Manchester on Wednesday, on his right wing. Halpern and Modin each played slightly more than 10 minutes, including a couple shifts each on the penalty kill.
The new-look Kings took the lead just 54 seconds into the game. Jarret Stoll won an offensive-zone faceoff, and Frolov went to the front of the net, steadied the puck and slipped a backhand shot past Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne.
Nashville capitalized on a Kings mistake to tie the game at the 4:32 mark of the first period. Quick attempted to play a dumped-in puck behind his net, but it took a bad bounce off his stick and it went out front to Dumont, who knocked it into an open net.
The Kings didn’t do much, offensively, late in the first period and early in the second period, but they at least kept the game even. The Kings killed Nashville's first three power plays, and nearly killed a fourth, but the Predators scored on the power play with 6:51 remaining in the second period.
Martin Erat made a nice cross-ice pass, through traffic in front of the net, to Jason Arnott in the left circle, and Arnott beat Quick with a high shot to give Nashville a 2-1 lead.
It was a dreadful second period for the Kings, who were outshot 15-4 and didn't record their second shot on goal in the period until five minutes remained.
The Predators took a two-goal lead with a back-breaking goal 2:30 into the third period. Erat's centering pass got through the crease and onto the stick of Goc. Before the Kings' defense could react, Goc scored on a wrist shot.
Doughty pulled the Kings within 3-2 with a power-play goal 6:40 into the third period. Anze Kopitar held the puck near the goal line an, as Doughty went to the net, Kopitar fed a pass through traffic and Doughty one-timed the puck from close range.
The Kings had some pressure in the second half of the third period, and had a chance to tie the game with another power play but couldn’t score. Former Kings forward Jerred Smithson scored into an empty net in the final minute.
``We're pretty disappointed as a team in our effort tonight,’’ Doughty said. ``In that second period, we really held back. Some people might blame the refs, but we were holding back and that's why we were taking those penalties. It was, in the end, our fault, and we've got to learn from it.’’
1 - 0 LAK
1 - 1 Tie