Slow starts have plagued the Kings all season, particularly on the road, where the team came into Calgary Saturday night with an overall record of 2-11-1 away from Staples Center. As if to tease its passionate fan base, the Kings’ much-maligned power-play put up two first period goals, the first by veteran Anze Kopitar six seconds into one penalty, and the second by Drew Doughty (who turns 30-years old Sunday) 13 seconds into another, before surrendering the 2-0 lead, ultimately falling to the Flames 4-3.
Calgary is now 5-0-1 in its last six games and 4-0 under interim head coach Geoff Ward. In his first start since November 17th, Cam Talbot made 30 saves for the Flames. In a losing effort, Jack Campbell finished with 26 saves for Los Angeles.
With tonight's early power-play success, many Kings fans were anticipating the team’s first road win since beating Winnipeg October 22nd, a streak that has now reached 11 straight road losses (technically they’re, 0-10-1). Kopitar, who leads the team with 14 goals, initiated the scoring at 11:09 of the first period with a blistering slap shot from the top of the circle.
Drew Doughty then put the Kings ahead 2-0 with another power-play goal at 14:43 of the first stanza.
The Kings, however, were unable to hold the 2-0 lead into the locker room, allowing a late first period power-play goal by former King, Milan Lucic, his 200th career NHL goal.
Lucic’s goal seized the momentum away from the Kings, who noticeably returned from the intermission without the swagger which propelled them to the early lead, a fact noted by both locker room leader Doughty and Coach Todd McLellan. Doughty told NHL.com after the game: “So after the first period, with that good start, we felt pretty comfortable in here [the locker room], maybe too comfortable. We didn’t push enough in the second. Maybe sat back a little bit too much and we allowed them back in the game.”
McLellan further told LA Kings Insider Jon Rosen that he felt fatigue factored into the Kings disappointing performance over the last two periods. “Yeah, we got it. Power play got us two [goals], and then after that they [Calgary] worked their way back into the game. I thought that the fatigue factor began to take over... I thought the team was a little tired tonight.”
The Flames tied the game early in the second period on a rebound goal by Dillon Dube, followed by the eventual game winner scored by Sean Monahan after a great rush and set-up by Boston College alum and former Hobey Baker winner “Johnny Hockey” Gaudreau. Dube added the insurance 1:29 into the third period.
Finally, I’d be remiss not to comment on Nikolai Prokhorkin. who assisted on Matt Roy's goal which closed the gap to 4-3 at 5:43 of the third period. However, what makes Prokhorkin’s play notable tonight was not just his assist on Roy’s goal but that (in terms of actual game action) it occurred so shortly after he was victimized by Flames forward Zach Rinaldo, who was not penalized on the play (but should have been) for leaving his feet to initiate head contact.
The head contact obviously affected the 26-year old’s time on ice (TOI), which fell to 8:45 tonight after posting TOI’s of 15, 14, and 11 plus minutes the last three games. Hopefully however, that tables any further discussion on the Russian’s ability to adjust to the “North American game” and to successfully play in the NHL.
Since beating the Jets last Saturday night at home the Kings are riding a four-game overall losing streak in addition to their aforementioned road woes. Because for some reason the NHL refuses to schedule home and homes every week between the Jets and Kings, the team returns to Los Angeles Tuesday night for a home contest versus the Rangers. They then head to Anaheim to begin a stretch of six straight and eight of nine games on the road.
I have been on Coach McLellan’s side all-year. He he has a proven career mark behind the bench, which entitles him to a honeymoon with fans and the press as he leads a team in transition between young pups and aging high priced veterans. But one last suggestion for the fans: Prepare yourself mentally for the next few weeks. The road is often cruel.