Several abbreviated thoughts on Monday’s 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning:
-I understood where Darryl Sutter is coming from when he said “We played a hell of a game,” but I don’t really put a ton of stock into that assessment. On one hand, the Kings were without two-thirds of the Holy Trinity and Tyler Toffoli (the Lightning also had several key players out), so I get it. They battled, they checked pretty well, they recovered to possess the puck and pour a heavy volume of shots on Ben Bishop. But on the other hand, their start was poor and they were fortunate to take a 1-0 lead on their first shot when Ben Bishop went for a leisurely walk behind Tampa Bay’s net. Their zone exits were extremely rough, whether through the pressure and forecheck of the opposition – more on that in a moment – or by their own unforced errors. And though they took more shots on net than their seasonal average, they weren’t generating the most high-quality opportunities down the center of the ice (see: Anze Kopitar’s absence) and were out-chanced by the opposition.
-This is all linked to an excellent performance by the visitors. The Lightning, who were without Victor Hedman, Ryan Callahan and Steven Stamkos, amongst others, checked as well as a Kings opponent checked in any Staples Center game this season. They shut down the center of the ice, they forechecked, they brought a committed physical performance and denied any surplus of high-grade opportunities. This isn’t out of character for Tampa Bay. The Lightning have dealt with some challenges this season that have lifted their goals against per game to 2.91. But this was a team that ranked fifth in the league with 2.41 goals against per game last season and has played with traditionally strong structure under Jon Cooper. There are two teams on the ice, and Monday’s game was a representation of a simple and effective performance by Tampa Bay more than any reflection of any sort of deficiency in Los Angeles’ game.
-This was still a game that could’ve been won by either team but was ultimately decided by a greasy goal that banked off Dustin Brown after Brian Boyle picked up Valtteri Filppula’s wraparound try. If there was a place where the Kings’ key players were particularly missed, it was on the power play. Without Toffoli and Kopitar, L.A. iced a second unit that featured both Jordan Nolan and Devin Setoguchi to the right of Dustin Brown and Nic Dowd. While they’ve had some success from the second unit this season, and while Nolan deserves to be rewarded for his play in December and as a netfront presence who has the capability to screen goalies and keep pucks alive around the goal crease, the Kings were ultimately scoreless in three chances. As such, special teams weren’t a huge factor between the two teams in a mostly even performance in which both goaltenders were effective in keeping the B-type chances out of their nets.