We were all pretty relaxed in the aftermath of an ugly loss at Joe Louis Arena; with the Los Angeles Kings coming off of a back-to-back, no one expected much. The reactions after a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes? Considerably different.
Who's to blame? Not Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik, who returned from injury to fanfares, rose petals thrown on the ice, and adoration from all sides. (At least, that's what I imagined in my head.) Kopitar's return wasn't a surprise, though it was difficult to shake the feeling that Gaborik was being rushed back a bit given his skating habits over the last week. Both players have work to do - Kopitar did a lot less carrying of the puck than usual, while Gaborik managed just 14 minutes of ice time and a single shot on goal - but their line with Justin Williams started the game with a good shift and continued to post decent possession stats. Kopitar had a golden opportunity to tie the game late, but Cam Ward came up with a strong pad save to deny him.
The Hurricanes countered with the recently healthy Jeff Skinner and Eric Staal, but neither ended up having a significant impact on the outcome. Lesser-known Carolina forwards did the damage in this one. Take rookie Victor Rask, who scored his first NHL goal by going hard to the net and tapping in a feed from Chris Kelly. Or Elias Lindholm, the 2013 first-rounder who now has five points in ten games and fired a wrister past Quick to give Carolina a 3-1 lead. Overall, the Hurricanes were the more confident team, and their movement and speed did a fine job of hiding their current place in the standings. Chris Terry's power play goal was set up by some of that movement, though LA's penalty kill didn't help themselves by lining up in the middle of the ice; Terry was off to the side, and had a wide open look.
For the first time this season, the Kings scored exclusively goals that did not come from That 70s Line. The three other games in which Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson, and Tyler Toffoli were shut out were, well, shutouts. Tonight, both Mike Richards and Alec Martinez picked up their second tallies of the season; Richards finally scoring the first power play goal of the road trip, and Martinez once again getting a goal simply by being persistent and taking a shot. I suppose that could be considered a bright side, as the three big scorers weren't actually bad against Carolina. Sutter swapped Pearson for Dustin Brown in the third, though, and Pearson's third-period penalty hurt the Kings' rally efforts.
Brown, Dwight King, and Jarret Stoll struggled. Brown had the puck on his stick quite a bit and managed to work the Kings into the offensive zone pretty frequently, but the line's ability to connect on passes in the zone and generate chances was nonexistent. Lots of pucks going off sticks and skates for them. The bottom line, back to their 2014 playoff look, also struggled mightily, though Richards and Lewis were on for Martinez's goal. Drew Doughty was on for five goals against in Detroit, but none of the defensemen had such a spectacularly bad showing; they just didn't really showcase themselves at all. The one exception: this hit by Brayden McNabb.
On a tough road trip, the Kings had two games which looked like probable wins: Thursday's outing in Philadelphia, and this Sunday matinee. They got one point in those two, and now have to win at Dallas to avoid a winless road trip.