This is what we get for complaining every time the Los Angeles Kings outplay an opponent and lose. Tonight, LA lost for the third straight time against an Eastern Conference opponent, and once again, they looked lackluster doing it. What made this game especially agonizing was that it was against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team that the Kings have had great success against in recent years. Credit to them, as they played well. Let's be honest, though: any team will beat the Kings if they play like this.
The Kings were spotted a goal early on, thanks largely to Matt Calvert . Calvert, for some reason, decided to cross-check Trevor Lewis twice before a faceoff eleven seconds in, and though the Kings failed to score, they showcased excellent puck movement and cooperation. (This would not happen much after this point.) After the penalty expired, Jarret Stoll and Trevor Lewis worked to free the puck in the corner, and Lewis was able to drive to the net and get a shot off. Dwight King was right there to tuck the rebound home past Sergei Bobrovsky. Unfortunately, this was the high point, and another power play after that wasn't quite as effective.
Columbus took full advantage of their first man advantage, after Slava Voynov's turnover forced Jake Muzzin into a tripping penalty. James Wisniewski took a point shot, and R.J. Umberger beat Robyn Regehr to deflect the puck past Martin Jones. Jones was called to action more as the Jackets took control of the period, and he made some decent saves before the defense let him down again. With one minute to go, Ryan Murray idled in his own zone as players swirled around the neutral zone. Suddenly, he made a long pass right onto the tape of Ryan Johansen, who caught Jordan Nolan napping. Johansen was able to beat Regehr around the edge and flipped a shot over Martin Jones, and the puck hit the crossbar and the back of Jones before going in.
Unfortunately, that was probably LA's best period of hockey. The Kings managed just three shots in the second period, one of which came about thanks to a bad turnover by Columbus. They cashed in on that one, though, as Mike Richards set up Jeff Carter for a typical can-opener backhand. The crowd booed relentlessly, drawing a troll-ish reaction from Jim Fox up in the booth. The crowd was calm after that, as Columbus continued to control the game. Alec Martinez made an impressive play to prevent Columbus from taking the lead when he dove to clear a puck behind Martin Jones; it was the one bright spot on a rough night for Kings' defensemen.
A minute or so after Matt Frattin shanked a rebound off the crossbar, the Blue Jackets finally got their go-ahead goal. For all their second-period success, though, they probably didn't deserve it; R.J. Umberger's bad-angle shot at 18:15 of the period was clearly going wide before Jones reached out and deflected it in with his own glove. Oof. It would have been bad enough to end the middle frame there, but Columbus tallied once more at 19:44, as Nathan Horton beat a helpless Jones after some nice passing. It wasn't going well. Case in point:
Jack Johnson has a positive Corsi against the Kings tonight which should tell you everything you need to know about this one.— Robert P. (@RobertJFTC) January 22, 2014
The Kings responded by... coming out flat in the third period and getting nothing going. Drew Doughty's penalty 22 seconds in didn't help, but neither did a long stretch of what we like to call "low-event hockey." After Jones stopped six shots on the Columbus power play, the teams combined for seven shots in the next 13 minutes. It's tough to come back from a two-goal deficit when nothing is happening. With five minutes left, Mike Richards let a pass go off his stick in the defensive zone, and Artem Anisimov skated past a stationary Dwight King and got around Slava Voynov to score the fifth Jackets goal. Not even a Regehr goal (scored, of course, off a defenseman's skate) could ease the pain after that.
Can the Kings dig deep for some good hockey as they scuffle into a home-and-home with the Ducks? If they can't, Saturday night might be pretty unbearable.