After the LA Kings went down to Tampa Bay 6-4, Coach McLellan spared no criticism. He wasn’t angry, on the surface at least. But he methodically dismantled the first three goals against. Make that four, because he added the fourth as a kind of afterthought.
“We ran into a little bit of everything,” McLellan said after, “you’ve heard us use the word ‘identity’ a lot in the last month, and it’s gotten away on us a little bit.” He went on to mention San Jose (see below on that game) and then said, “Tonight, the Stanley Cup champs come into town, and the first goal’s a gift. You can’t give a team an easier goal than that. The second, and you’ve got to remember we’re playing the Stanley Cup champs, and we don’t get it cleared and it’s in the back of our net. So if we wonder why our penalty kill’s numbers are where they’re at, that plays a big part in it.” It didn’t get better as he went through goal three and four.
The Kings were coming off a night-before dismantling by one player, where they lost 6-2 to the Sharks and Timo Meier scored five goals. They flew home, albeit a short hop, and came in perfectly bland against the Lightning.
The game featured a short bench for Tampa Bay, which dressed two defensemen fewer than the six allowed, and had 12 forwards and two netminders to go with them. That was hardly a detriment to their play, especially when you consider that one Dman, Victor Hedman, potted two goals and added an assist.
Of the four TB defensemen, Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev, and Cal Foote, the latter, with just over 25 minutes, played the least. Hedman was past 32. He and Nikita Kucherov tied for the lead in shots, each having four.
Interestingly, despite the low number of bodies, Tampa Bay’s lesser-used forwards were remarkably under the typical number of minutes: Boris Katchouk had 7:34, Taylor Raddysh had just under ten, and Ross Colton had 8:14.
What else happened? The Kings’ goals came mostly from the up-and-comers, including Blake Lizotte, Alex Iafallo, and Arthur Kaliyev. Philip Danault had a fight—his second in a short burst of time (his prior, and other one this year, came January 8thversus Detroit’s Larkin), and scored the LA side’s final goal.
Goaltending for LA was handled by Cal Petersen, who had won two recent games. Once more, as has happened so often of late, the Kings outshot their opponent, on this night 36-25. Andrei Vasilevskiy carried the mail for the visiting team.
For the Kings, Brown was with Kopitar and Iafallo; the other notable line was Fagemo-Kupari-Turcotte.
As for the TB goals, and McLellan’s reaction, it was almost remarkable how bad some of the giveaways were. For the first, for instance, Hedman got what might be described as an almost accidental breakaway. He motored right down the ice, no dekes, and just fired the puck in without ceremony. But then again, you could say the same for LA’s first two goals, both scored in the second period, and both, like Hedman’s, unassisted. And it’s not like the Lightning ran away with things on the scoreboard. The game was tied, in fact, with a few minutes to go in the second period after the Kings recouped from being down 3-2.
The game was not a blowout, despite the score and the sag on LA’s part. To rewind a bit in the second, for example, Brown and Iafallo made some noise on a rush that didn’t end up connecting for a shot by Iafallo at the end. Iafallo later got the LA second goal, on a turnover in the TB slot. He grabbed the puck, wheeled, and shot, a wrister that went in on the stick side. Tampa Bay’s answering goal to make it 2-2 was a one-timer by Kucheroz from Hedman which Petersen had no chance on. Their go-ahead 3-2 goal was more suspect, not on Petersen’s account, but on the team defense of the Kings. It was a shorthander, a pass back against the grain to Bellemar, who went in alone, deke-deke-deked, and slid it past the goalie.
The Kings had their chance with a power play early in the third, a disaster that they got no shots out of. Their color commentator, Jim Fox, said at one point that this might be something they could work on in the Olympic (or whatever we’re calling it) break. He knows, as do loyal fans, that the LA PP has been awful for more than a decade and won’t be fixed in one three-week span.
But to win, you can’t help the other side, and particularly not by collapsing with the remaining minutes of the third period rolling past, but that’s what happened.
The real dismantling came only after the midway mark of the third, when Tampa Bay scored three goals, coming at about ten minutes, 15, and 17 (empty net). The Kings got their fourth after Stamkos had potted that empty-netter, Danault as mentioned scoring while playing on a line with Moore and Arvidsson. That was at 19:05, and it marked his tenth. (So as a side note, forget that stuff about “why get him when he never scores” as was said after he signed with the Kings in the summertime.)
Brendan Lemieux also made himself evident in a couple of ways. He was in with Lizotte early in period two, causing havoc while Lizotte rushed down the right side for a wrist shot. He was then summoned to Lizotte’s defense when the latter was cross-checked after scoring the Kings’ first goal.
But McLellan’s main message must still be the final word: “You play the defending Stanley Cup champs [third time], you give them three goals like that, it doesn’t matter what happened with goals four, five, and six.” He later did end up talking about goal four, though he prefaced it by saying there wasn’t much point given how they got there with the first three goals. He labeled the pressure points of the game the team’s “growing up moments,” though he was clear to say that it was everyone, youngsters and veterans alike, whose play was the cause of the loss.
The Kings showed the Willie O-Ree tribute in Boston. It was 64 years ago exactly that O’Ree made his NHL debut.
The Kings now have Colorado coming in on Thursday. The Lightning play Anaheim on Friday.