Sealing a fate made all but inevitable with back-to-back losses to St. Louis and Arizona two weeks ago, the Los Angeles Kings’ regulation loss to the Coyotes Sunday night at Staples Center was decided over a 9:42 stretch of play that bridged the first and second periods. Over that span, between Trevor Lewis’ redirection with 3:42 remaining in the first, and Adrian Kempe’s power move that was denied 6:00 into the second, Los Angeles did not register a shot on goal – Drew Doughty actually chose to pass the puck with an open look from the slot on a three-on-two – and yielded the go-ahead and game-winning goals to an Arizona team that took advantage of poor penalty killing coverage and puck management on their two markers. It was again a carbon copy of the same game this team has played dozens of times this season: possess the puck heavily in the offensive zone, ultimately win the scoring chances and shots on goal battle, get rebuffed on a cavalcade of B-type chances, struggle to score goals, lose a game. The Kings again relied on shots from the perimeter getting to the front of the net, but all second chances and deflections turned into near-misses as Mike Smith stopped the shots he would be expected to stop, plus a high-grade glove denial on Doughty’s bid from the slot in the second period. Though the Coyotes took four consecutive penalties in the third, the lone goal scored on Mike Smith came on a fluky dump-in attempt from the neutral zone that caught Jordan Martinook’s leg before ricocheting into the net.
Los Angeles won 53% of all faceoffs in the game, but if there was a particular challenge in finding the game-tying goal, it was that the team lost seven of 11 power play draws, including three of the four to open man advantages in the third period. Kempe lost seven of his 10 faceoffs last night, and while the 20-year-old forward has shown speed and flashes of creativity and scoring competence in five-on-five play, he’s at just 43.2% through his first 22 NHL games. He’s got a good size and the aforementioned speed, but, like many young players, would benefit from another summer of bulking up and another season of becoming more familiar with the league and the tendencies of divisional opponents. The son of a hockey coach, he’s mature and responsible and doing so should come naturally.
There have been questionable performances and outputs this season, but as the Kings’ playoff chances soured, Dustin Brown still brought it every single night. This isn’t an opus to a player who has 11 goals and 32 points in 75 games and comes with a $5.875-million cap hit, but rather to acknowledge a veteran player setting an example and playing his blue-collar, north-south role effectively. This is someone who had been embarrassed by the public transfer of his captaincy, who has been the subject of trade attempts and speculation and who has had his name casually linked to the upcoming expansion draft. I’m not sure if there has been another player, other than maybe Tanner Pearson, or Jeff Carter, who consistently absorbed punishment for carrying the puck into the hard areas of the ice, something he has shown a particular willingness to do for the past two or three weeks. Under difficult circumstances, his performance has raised, and he has continued to set as good of an example as any even though he no longer wears a letter on his jersey.