|TOR||0||2||1||(0 - 0)||3|
|LAK||1||1||0||(0 - 0)||2|
This season-long eight-game homestand would be the Kings' panacea. It would lift them out of their doldrums, give them a nice cushion heading into a tough stretch of February games and serve as the spark for a playoff run in the second half of the season.
Or so the thinking went.
Now, the reasonable question is, how bad will it get? On Monday night, the Kings lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team that has been skimming the bottom of the Eastern Conference for most of this season, and the homestand has officially turned grim.
The loss dropped the Kings into 10th place in the Western Conference, and there's little to clearly suggest that a turnaround is on the immediate horizon.
``There's no panic in here, but there has to be more desperation,'' Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said. ``I'm not worried about the standings right now, but we are certainly digging ourselves into a huge hole. This homestand was a chance for us to move up in the standings, not down.''
The Kings played well in the first period, when they took a 1-0 lead, and in the third period, after they fell behind 3-2 early in the period, but everything in between was full of fits and starts, mistakes and other maddening set of quick back-to-back goals against.
Nikolai Kulemin's goal, 4:58 into the third period, broke a 2-2 and held up as the game-winner, as the Kings fell to 1-5 on this homestand, with only games against the St. Louis Blues (on Thursday) and Edmonton Oilers (on Saturday) left to salvage something.
The Kings had a power play, and pulled goalie Jonathan Quick for a 6-on-4 advantage, in the final 1:42 but couldn't score. Afterward, the players held a brief, closed-door meeting among themselves, and had harsh words for their own play.
``We're not where we need to be, if we want to have success,'' Kings assistant captain Matt Greene said. ``It's a wake-up call for a lot of guys. It needs to be. We've got to turn things around right now, in a hurry, or else this is going to slip away from us.''
``We can play well. We play well when it's convenient. I think that's it. When you're losing games, it's pretty easy to play desperate at the end of it. It looks good when you've got nothing to lose. You're putting forth your best effort at the end of the game. We need to play a tight game throughout the whole night. Even keel, throughout the whole thing, and right now we're not doing that.''
Charitably, the Kings played well for 45 minutes on Monday. They clearly got the better of the first period, when they outshot the Maple Leafs 8-5 -- and held them without a shot for the first nine minutes -- and took a 1-0 lead on Wayne Simmonds' goal.
Then, the cart started to wobble. Darryl Boyce scored 2:27 into the second period to tie the game and the Kings, following a season-long trend, quickly gave up another goal, as Phil Kessel scored 34 seconds later to give Toronto a 2-1 lead.
Michal Handzus' goal with 5:07 remaining in the second period gave the Kings some new life heading into the third, but the Maple Leafs got the better of the play early in the third, and got rewarded with Kulemin's goal at the 4:58 mark.
The Kings played strong in the final 10 minutes, and generated 17 shots on goal in the third period, but it was too little, too late. Jonathan Quick was hardly to blame in goal, but he took the loss after allowing three goals on 28 shots.
``There's a lot of hockey to be played,'' Kings captain Dustin Brown said. ``We need to figure out what we need to do here, and turn it around. There's a lot of hockey to be played, but this homestand was really important. We definitely let the opportunity slip by, playing at home.''
The Kings appeared to have gotten on track in late December, with four consecutive victories, but then were smacked around in a 6-3 loss at Phoenix on Dec. 29.
They headed home, confident that the season-long homestand would generate some momentum, but so far it has been a disaster. The Kings have been outscored 24-15 in the six games so far, able to celebrate only a too-close victory over Columbus.
After this homestand, the Kings play 13 of the following 16 gams on the road, including 10 consecutive road games. That led to postgame questions Monday about the level of panic and desperation that might exist in the Kings' minds right now.
``I don't want panic, that's for sure,'' Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``I want to play the game the right way for 60 minutes. We know how to do it for 40 minutes, 45 minutes, but we've got to get it done for 60 minutes.
``I don't like that word [desparation] either. I don't like desperation and panic and all that stuff. It comes down to doing things with confidence, executing with structure and system and team play. We know how to do it. You've got to go out and do it.''
The Kings took a 1-0 lead with 4:42 remaining in the first period, shortly off an offensive-zone faceoff win by Jarret Stoll. Simmonds controlled the puck in the corner, then decided to take it to the net. With a burst, Simmonds went around Dion Phaneuf, got to the front of the net and beat goalie James Reimer from close range. Scuderi also picked up an assist.
Toronto took the lead with two goals early in the second period.
First, Boyce took a drop pass from Colby Armstrong and entered the Kings' zone with speed. With Kings defenseman Alec Martinez directly in front of him, Boyce shot. The puck deflected off Martinez's stick and went between his legs, and the fluttering puck beat Quick high to the game at the 2:27 mark.
Then, just 34 seconds later, Joey Crabb's pass from the right side of the net, near the goal line, got through traffic and found the stick of Kessel, who one-timed a shot from near the goal line, on the left side, to give Toronto a 2-1 lead at the 3:01 mark.
``The pass goes through feet,'' Murray said. ``It's a great pass, there's no question. The player makes the pass, and finds their top scorer, and that's where his favorite place is, off the back door from that look. I think you've got to have that pass. That's a play that you've got to anticipate, not be surprised by, have your sticks ready, your feet ready, and just read it.''
Once again, the Kings allowed quick consecutive goals, a trend that has bitten them throughout the season.
``I don't know what it is, but it's killing us,'' Greene said. ``It's killing us, giving up goals in a short time span or giving up goals after we score. It's murdering us right now, and we've got to stop that immediately.''
The Kings tied the game with 5:17 remaining in the second period. Handzus went to the front of the net and got his stick on a centering pass from Alec Martinez. Reimer made the stop, but the puck trickled behind him and just got over the goal line as the Kings made it a 2-2 game.
Toronto took a 3-2 lead 4:58 into the third period. The Maple Leafs took the puck to the Kings' net and helped create a pile-up, with four players in the crease area. Kulemin picked up the puck to the left of the net, shot through traffic and beat Quick.
``I thought we did a pretty good job in the first period, and in the last 15 minutes, but it's not enough,'' Scuderi said. ``We found a way to do just enough to lose by one goal. That's been the case since Christmas, and it's got to turn around for us.''
|Wayne Simmonds (9) Wrist shot - ASST: Rob Scuderi (10), Jarret Stoll (16)|
1 - 0 LAK
|Darryl Boyce (2) Snap shot - ASST: Colby Armstrong (5), Kris Versteeg (19)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Phil Kessel (18) Wrist shot - ASST: Joey Crabb (5), Tyler Bozak (10)|
2 - 1 TOR
|Michal Handzus (6) Tip-in - ASST: Alec Martinez (3), Ryan Smyth (12)|
2 - 2 Tie
|Nikolai Kulemin (16) Wrist shot - ASST: Mikhail Grabovski (16), Clarke MacArthur (22)|
3 - 2 TOR
|Mike Komisarek Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Mikhail Grabovski Hooking against Marco Sturm|
|Tim Brent Kneeing against Jarret Stoll|
|Marco Sturm Fighting (maj) against Tim Brent|
|Tim Brent Fighting (maj) against Marco Sturm|
|Marco Sturm Instigator against Tim Brent|
|Marco Sturm Misconduct (10 min) against Tim Brent|
|Jarret Stoll Cross checking against Darryl Boyce|
|Dion Phaneuf Slashing against Ryan Smyth|
|SA: 32||TOI: 60:00|
|Saves: 30||EV: 25 - 27|
|PIM: 0||PP: 5 - 5|
|SV%: .938||SH: 0 - 0|
|SA: 28||TOI: 58:13|
|Saves: 25||EV: 22 - 25|
|PIM: 0||PP: 3 - 3|
|SV%: .893||SH: 0 - 0|