As they seek to avert a sixth straight defeat, the length of the Kings’ slump has become concerning and so too has the nature of their losses.
Already mired in their deepest funk in two seasons with a five-game winless stretch in progress, the Kings could either snap the string or arrive at their longest losing streak since October of 2021 when they confront the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Of their five defeats, two have come in shootouts and two others have also been by one-goal margins. While those results indicate they’ve hardly been blown out of games, they also highlight a broader pattern that has seen the Kings dropping close contests. They have won just a third of their one-goal games, the second-lowest winning percentage in the NHL behind lowly Columbus, and they have been quieted in each of their last five squeakers. Most recently, they gave up a goal in the final minute of a 4-3 loss to the Capitals in Washington on Sunday.
“We’re not going to win every game, but obviously now we have five in a row, losses, so that’s not acceptable,” said Kevin Fiala, who scored two goals in Sunday’s defeat. “We’re going to make sure that, next game, we’re going to do everything that we can to win. We have to be better.”
One of Fiala’s two goals came on the power play, as did Adrian Kempe’s tally, which gave Kempe six goals in his past six games. That defrosted the Kings’ man-advantage units, which had struggled to generate goals or even momentum of late.
“We worked on it and it was just a good night, but it’s only one night. We just have to dial in and win the next one,” Fiala said.
Even though Fiala’s goal was not exactly the product of a brilliantly executed offensive sequence – he scored from the doorstep just four seconds after the initial draw – it came as a result of another facet of the Kings’ game that Coach Todd McLellan has emphasized, faceoff coverage. Quinton Byfield’s read, denial and puck recovery after a lost draw led directly to Fiala’s goal.
From the Kings’ ongoing construction areas to the foundations of their franchise, captain Anze Kopitar and alternate captain Drew Doughty assisted on Kempe’s goal Sunday. Per the NHL, that marked the 295th time the duo had been credited with a point on the same goal, surpassing Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang. Only Boston’s Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr (306) and Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey, who were teammates with both the Kings and Edmonton, have connected more frequently (350).
That center-defenseman duo has been as foundational for the Kings as the one of Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman has been for the Lightning. Stamkos was taken ahead of Doughty as the first pick in the 2008 entry draft, and Hedman went No. 2 overall a year later.
Both players have put up a point per game this season, as has forward Brayden Point. They, like every other NHL player, trail teammate Nikita Kucherov, the Art Ross Trophy favorite whose 67 points pace the league. Notably, they are missing a top defenseman, Mikhail Sergachev (foot), who will be on long-term injured reserve until at least Jan. 13 when the Bolts will host the Ducks.
Tampa recently pieced together a run on par with those of both the Kings and Penguins in the 2010s, winning two Stanley Cups and losing in a third Final between 2020 and 2022 after turning in a record-setting regular season in 2019 and losing the 2015 Final. But this season, the club has struggled to gain positive momentum. The Lightning haven’t won more than three straight games all season and have a negative-nine goal differential. If the playoffs started today, they would find themselves narrowly excluded.
KINGS AT LIGHTNING
When: Tuesday, 4 p.m. PT
Where: Amalie Arena, St. Petersburg, Florida
TV: Bally Sports West