The Kings were involved in their fourth consecutive shutout. Just not the type they wanted.
Coach Terry Murray’s much-debated decision to sit goalie Jonathan Quick -- after three consecutive shutouts -- in favor of backup Jonathan Bernier basically turned out to be a moot point, as the Kings had trouble on the other end in a 3-0 loss to New Jersey before 18,118 at STAPLES Center on Tuesday night.
Bernier was far from perfect -- he couldn’t cover a rebound on the Devils’ first goal and got beat cleanly by a medium-range shot on the third goal -- but the Kings could have had a militia standing in front of their net and it wouldn’t have prevented them from making bad turnovers that led to all three New Jersey goals.
``There are 82 games in the season. We’re not (always) going to be on top of our game,’’ captain Dustin Brown said. ``I think what we need to avoid is a night like tonight. When we’re not really playing at optimal level, we have to have our compete. Tonight, it wasn’t there the whole game.’’
The teams met for the second time in less than two weeks, and unfortunately for the Kings, this one went much like the first, as the Kings had little sustained offense against goalie Johan Hedberg.
As they did in Newark, the Kings struggled to get through the neutral zone with possession and get set up in the offensive zone. They outshot the Devils 31-23 but had only a handful of memorable scoring chances. The Kings scored one goal in six periods against the Devils this season and, overall, have scored only three goals in their last three games.
On the defensive end, a New Jersey lead seemed only a matter of time. In a four-minute span, late in a scoreless first period, the Devils hit a post then had a goal disallowed because of goalie interference.
The Kings held tight until less than seven minutes remained in the third period, but that’s when the Devils broke through with three goals. Dainius Zubrus’ two goals, with 6:48 and 1:34 remaining, respectively, served as bookends for Patrik Elias’ goal as the Devils took a 3-0 lead into the third period.
``The game, tonight, is about turnovers,’’ Murray said. ``All three goals that New Jersey scores end up being plays that we have possession of the puck and we just don’t execute and they come right back at us and end up scoring. The bottom line is, the best players on New Jersey -- you look at the score sheet -- they’re the guys that determine the outcome of the game. We need to be better. Our best players have got to be better players in order to win games in this league. We just were not on top of it.’’
That was more than enough for Hedberg, who must like the sight of the Kings. When the teams met in Newark, Hedberg replaced starting goalie Martin Brodeur -- who suffered a shoulder injury -- at the start of the second period. Hedberg then shut out the Kings for five consecutive periods.
Before the game, the major topic of discussion was Murray’s decision to start Bernier.
Quick, in recent days, had been the talk of the NHL, as he recorded three consecutive shutouts and set a new franchise record for consecutive shutout minutes in goal. But Murray turned to Bernier, with the explanation that he wanted Quick ready for some upcoming Western Conference opponents.
``When I saw Quick with three shutouts, I really thought (Murray) was going to change his mind,’’ Bernier said, ``but he didn’t so I have to thank him. He was confident about putting me back in the net tonight.’’
Bernier has now allowed seven goals in two games, compared to Quick’s five goals allowed in six games.
``Bernier was fine,’’ Murray said. ``Bernier, I thought, made some big stops in the early going. We gave up some quality chances in the first period and he played well. This was not about the goaltending. This was all about managing the puck, and turnovers and giveaways that ended up being very easy goals against.’’
The Devils broke the scoreless tie with 6:48 remaining in the second period. Bernier made a save but the puck stayed in the crease. Zubrus crashed the net and, as he slid into the crease, was able to direct the puck past Bernier to give the Devils a 1-0 lead.
New Jersey extended its lead to two goals just over two minutes later. Forecheck pressure forced the puck away from Anze Kopitar in the defensive zone, and then the Kings got caught chasing the puck due to some nice lateral passing. Petr Sykora's cross-ice pass found Elias in the right circle, and before Bernier could slide across, Elias shot into an open net to put New Jersey up 2-0 with 4:29 remaining in the period.
The Devils took a three-goal lead with 1:34 remaining in the period. Matt Greene's neutral-zone turnover brought the puck back into the Kings' zone, as Sykora found Zubrus with a pass. Zubrus shot from near the top of the right circle and cleanly beat Bernier short-side to give the Devils a 3-0 lead.
``With their style, they’re going to capitalize,’’ defenseman Matt Greene said. ``When you turn pucks over, they’re going to jump with four players every time and outnumber you, with those outnumbered attacks coming back on you. That’s what they did tonight and we didn’t have an answer tonight. We have to be better.’’
1 - 0 NJD
2 - 0 NJD