Things have continued to go south for the Kings, and not just in the Sunshine State, where they made their way down from Tampa Bay to the suburbs of Miami for Thursday’s clash with the Florida Panthers, who have won eight games in a row.
The Kings have lost six consecutive games and if they were to fall in a seventh straight contest it would signify their deepest doldrums since they careened through a 10-game skid that consumed almost all of February 2019.
In the Todd McLellan era, which began the following season, the Kings have seldom faced the adversity they have of late and certainly never against a backdrop of lofty expectations. Their last slumps that reached six and five games, respectively, came early in 2021-22 and had a seven-game surge sandwiched directly between them when they were very much upstarts.
In the Kings’ loss to Tampa on Tuesday, their 2-0 lead was dissipated in the third period and then their losing streak was extended in overtime, where they fell to 2-7 in games that reached OT. They lost not only their sixth straight game overall but the third game during the slump in which they led by two goals and their sixth straight game that was decided by a single goal.
“I wouldn’t say it’s mentality,” Kings defenseman Matt Roy said before describing exactly how the team’s mentality might have changed. “I think we get the lead and we may not be as aggressive as we were to start the game, so I think that could be fixed. I don’t know, it’s just like I said, just sticking to details. We know we know we can win games. Every team goes through slumps and this is ours. We just need to fix it.”
McLellan said he felt his team was improving over their most recent loss, also by a goal, to the Washington Capitals, pointing more to individual instants – slivers of moments and plays, as he called them – and coverage errors than any weakened structural integrity.
Trevor Moore produced a multipoint effort in his 300th career game, the ninth most for a player born in California. He also misplayed his mark on the game-winner, which was set up by a tenacious effort from the Lightning’s Brandon Hagel. He had also scored the equalizer after a daring dash through traffic, and on both plays he sloughed off checks from Pierre-Luc Dubois, a man 40 pounds heavier than Hagel.
Dubois, who struck the post with a potential game-winner late in regulation, saw his saga continue Tuesday when he was demoted to the fourth line to start the game, a rarity for a player earning $8.5 million against the salary cap.
A player who received greater opportunity and ran with it was Jordan Spence, who returned to the lineup after being scratched in favor of Brandt Clarke a game earlier. His intrepid engineering of Phillip Danault’s goal on Tuesday had the feeling of a scrambling quarterback as he created space with his feet and then threaded the needle to Danault amid four defenders.
McLellan has alternated Spence and Clarke in the three games since Clarke’s recall from the minors and seemed to imply in his postgame comments that they’d continue rotating.
The Kings will try to shift their fortunes against Florida, the defending Eastern Conference champions and a team that the Kings defeated, 2-1, on Nov. 16 at Crypto.com Arena.
Notably, the Panthers were without their two top defensemen in that affair, 2014’s No. 1 overall pick Aaron Ekblad and the flashy former Duck Brandon Montour. Ekblad has been stout defensively but Montour has struggled to regain the form that saw him nearly double his previous career high in points last year with 73. The Panthers are paced in scoring by Sam Reinhart, who is trailed by Aleksander Barkov, the three-zone force who has stacked up 14 points across the Panthers’ current eight-game win streak.
KINGS AT FLORIDA
When: Thursday, 4 p.m.
Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise, Fla.
How to watch: Bally Sports West