Reality Bites the Kings
Three minutes, 41 seconds. That's the time it took for the reality to hit the Kings, the reality of having to defend a championship. Reality bit the Kings as they lost their season opener 5-2 to the Chicago Blackhawks.
"We weren't as sharp as we wanted to be," captain Dustin Brown said stating the obvious.
The Kings were on the wrong end of a 5-on-3 power-play thanks to penalties by Matt Greene and Trevor Lewis 43 seconds apart from each other. Needing to stave off the Hawks for 77 seconds, the Kings had done an admirable job. Of course they benefitted from Patrick Kane missing Patrick Sharp on cross-crease passes a couple of times.
Kane eventually dispensed with the generosity after a Marian Hossa pass from the top of the right circle. Kane shot it past Jonathan Quick with eight seconds left on the two-man advantage. Three minutes, 41 seconds and the Blackhawks had the 1-0 lead.
One thing went right for the Kings. In a pregame ceremony hosted by Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Miller, the Kings received their rings, passed the Stanley Cup around the boards to one another and lifted the championship banner to the rafters of the arena.
The Kings honored the victims off the Sandy Hook tragedy by having the family of Ana Marquez-Greene, a victim of the shooting, help present the banner alongside Marcel Dionne and Rogie Vachon to the Kings captains before its ascension to the ceiling.
With all of the pomp and circumstance of the nearly half-hour ceremony, it's no surprise the Kings came out flat and gave up that first goal. However that didn't wake the Kings up in this "pajama party" as head coach Darryl Sutter is fond of calling these weekend matinee gatherings.
"It shouldn't," Greene said about whether the pregame ceremony affected the team at the outset of the game.
Hossa drove from the right wing and tried to dish the puck to Jonathan Toews who was driving in through the slot. Instead Drew Doughty got in the way. Normally that would make the sellout crowd of 18,545 at STAPLES Center content, a Norris Trophy hopeful blocking a shot.
Unfortunately for the fans and the Kings, Doughty did his best impression of Slava Voynov instead of a Norris Trophy candidate, the puck bouncing off of Doughty and past Quick for the 2-0 deficit.
So it was hardly a surprise when, a couple of shifts later, Michael Frolik got another one past Quick.
It is amazing how quickly STAPLES Center can go from deafening to as quiet as a library.
The Kings finally managed to get their act together at the end of the second period putting together a couple of good shifts. Rob Scuderi from the left point scored the team's first goal of the season thanks to a good screen by Kyle Clifford down low in front of Chicago netminder Corey Crawford. If the names weren't an indictment of how the Kings played this game, I don't know what is.
Jordan Nolan added a goal midway through the third period to cut the deficit to two goals, but the Kings promptly gave up a goal to an open Hossa 15 seconds later saving me the burden of having to rewrite the story.
Of note, Clifford assisted in both goals making it his third multi-point game of his career. Quick had 18 saves on 22 shots for the Kings while Crawford had 19 saves on 21 shots for the Blackhawks.
Normally a season opening game like this would hardly elicit panic or anxiety. There's usually plenty of time to shore up the defensive holes, time to work on passing that was perhaps the worst I've seen in the three years I've been covering this team, time to make up ground.
But in a compressed 48-game season?
"Yes it's compounded just because the points aren't there," Greene said of the loss. "You've got to start hot, and you've got to get points in every game to be successful. That's it. We didn't tonight."
Brown acknowledged there is more at stake thanks to the schedule, but he's not ready to run around in a panic.
"That doesn't change our approach," Brown said of the schedule. "We need to have the same approach we did last year. When we struggled up and down last year it was a matter of rebounding and staying even-keel. That's been our m.o. as a team the last few years — we haven't made it easy on ourselves, but we also found a way to battle through the tough times."
Granted Anze Kopitar was out still dealing with a knee injury, the Kings missing their best offensive weapon.
"He's a tremendous factor," Scuderi said. "He's probably a top-five center in the league on both ends of the ice. We missed his presence offensively and defensively in the lineup."
Having said that, Scuderi didn't want want to use that as an excuse for this loss.
"Injuries are going to happen. We've got to find our way around it."
The Kings will lick their wounds and take in the championship games tomorrow before returning to practice on Monday to prepare for their games at the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday and at the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday. We'll see if the Kings bite reality back.