Light­ning jump all over de­fense­less Kings

Los Angeles Times - - NHL - he­lene.el­liott@la­times.com Twit­ter: @he­le­nenothe­len

The Kings gave up too many prime scor­ing chances to a team that has the NHL’s best record, a team that — like the Kings — used a non-play­off fin­ish last sea­son as in­spi­ra­tion to re­tool and re­con­fig­ure its lineup to com­pete at the quicker pace now re­quired for suc­cess.

The Kings knew the Light­ning would present a for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge be­cause of their speed, quick puck move­ment boosted by a mo­bile de­fense and ex­cep­tional scor­ing depth.

After the Kings’ morn­ing skate, Stevens called Tampa Bay the best team he had seen this sea­son. De­fense­man Drew Doughty was ef­fu­sive in prais­ing the top line of Vladislav Namest­nikov, NHL goalscor­ing leader Nikita Kucherov and league scor­ing leader Steven Stamkos.

“I don’t know if there re­ally is a bet­ter line out there right now,” Doughty said. “They’ve got three high-skilled play­ers, high IQ, they all know how to score, they all know how to get open, they all know how to pass. It’s just a tough line to play against.”

Doughty and the Kings learned just how tough that task is.

Tampa Bay scored three times in a span of 68 sec­onds mid­way through the first pe­riod and added a power-play goal to cap a four-goal bar­rage in 2:02. The Kings had too many missed cov­er­ages and made too many bad reads. Of­fen­sively, they didn’t muster enough sus­tained pres­sure on Light­ning backup goalie Peter Bu­daj, who did a solid job last sea­son while he was a mem­ber of the Kings and stepped in after Quick sus­tained a long-term groin in­jury.

“We just didn’t play very good,” right wing Tyler Tof­foli said. “There’s noth­ing re­ally to say. When you had the start that we had I think we just kind of, I don’t know if it’s panic or cheat, but we just didn’t do a good job of get­ting sticks in the lane and get­ting back. When that hap­pens against a team like that they cap­i­tal­ize and be­fore you know it you’re down 4-0.”

For the Kings, their big­gest mar­gin of de­feat this sea­son was a team ef­fort. They did push back, get­ting a goal late in the sec­ond pe­riod from Tof­foli and hav­ing an ap­par­ent goal by Anze Ko­pi­tar waved off be­cause of goal­tender in­ter­fer­ence, an­other of the NHL’s mad­den­ingly in­con­sis­tent rul­ings.

Kings de­fense­man Os­car Fan­ten­berg’s goal from the high slot in the third pe­riod, his first NHL goal, closed the gap to 4-2, but Tampa Bay put the game out of reach on a shot by Namest­nikov that car­omed quickly in and out of the net at 12:59 of the third pe­riod.

“We knew they’re a good team. We knew it was go­ing to be tough,” Fan­ten­berg said.

“There was a lit­tle bit too much back­ing up in the be­gin­ning, giv­ing them too much time and space, and they’re too good to give too much time and space.”

The Light­ning made some sig­nif­i­cant changes after last sea­son, in­clud­ing turn­ing over half of its de­fense. Of course, Tampa Bay has ben­e­fited from hav­ing a healthy Stamkos; he suf­fered a knee in­jury 17 games into last sea­son and didn’t re­turn. Sim­i­larly, the Kings have ben­e­fited from hav­ing Quick at full strength after his groin in­jury last sea­son.

“The one big thing for me is every­body’s bought into their roles,” Light­ning coach Jon Cooper said. “And when your play­ers are buy­ing into their roles, whether they’re play­ing eight min­utes or 28 min­utes, it’s good for your team dy­namic and I think that’s been a big rea­son for our suc­cess.”

A sim­i­lar be­lief sys­tem has been a strength for the Kings so far. It can help them now as they turn their at­ten­tion to re­pair­ing their de­fen­sive game. They can’t ig­nore the dan­ger signs any­more.

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