The Kings’ superb goaltending and team defensive play were crucial to their Stanley Cup triumph last season. Their mental and physical toughness and attention to defense became their identity as they rolled out one cohesive performance after another.
And this season...
“Not this year we haven’t,” Coach Darryl Sutter said dourly Saturday after his team’s sloppy 7-4 loss to the Ducks before a standing-room-only crowd at the Honda Center.
Ducks fourth-line center Nick Bonino had a hat trick and Long Beach native Emerson Etem recorded his first two NHL points as the Ducks (5-1-1) chased playoff MVP Jonathan Quick from the Kings’ net after he gave up two goals on three shots five minutes and 49 seconds into the game.
The Kings came back but were always playing catch-up, and unsuccessfully.
“Resiliency, that’s been one of our mottos,” Bonino said. “If they strike, we strike back... I haven’t scored a ton of goals in my career so far. It feels really good to get three here.”
The Kings (2-3-2) were terrible on the penalty kill, yielding three goals in four disadvantages as they started a five-game trip with a resounding thud. The absences of defensemen Willie Mitchell (knee) and Matt Greene (back surgery) loom larger every day.
“We were not hard in the areas that we’re known to be hard to play against, in front of home plate,” Dustin Brown said, referring to the slot area.
“Our PK correlates really well to how we’re playing five-on-five and we gave up three power-play goals tonight. They got skill and their power play is clicking along pretty good but our PK is the staple of our game and to give up three out of four, it’s one of those indications that we’re not being as hard as we need to be in hard areas.”
Or, as Justin Williams said: “We’ve let ourselves down and shot ourselves in the foot by poor defensive play.”
Sutter replaced Quick with Jonathan Bernier, a ploy that seemed to work when the Kings pulled even at 2-2 on goals by Brown and Jarret Stoll. But this wild game tilted in the Ducks’ favor in the third period, when Bonino completed his hat trick with a power-play goal at 8:39 off a nifty pass from Bobby Ryan. Teemu Selanne finished things off with an empty-net goal, his 666th career goal and 12th-most all-time.
“I’m not a guy who changes goalies. In 20-some years probably done it five times. I don’t enjoy doing that,” Sutter said.
Then why did he do it?
“Because we were 2-0 five minutes into the game,” Sutter said. “I’m not faulting our goaltenders. Everybody’s got to play better than that.”
That’s an understatment.
The Ducks’ goaltending and defense had some holes Saturday, too, but they never trailed and managed to respond each time the Kings pulled even. The 11 goals matched the highest-scoring game between the teams in their 109-game series, and the Ducks’ seven goals equaled their most against the Kings in their history.
Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau’s main concern was the head injury suffered by defenseman Cam Fowler early in the second period on a hit from behind by Kings center Jarret Stoll. Fowler didn’t return. Boudreau said NHL executives “have to look at that,” though that’s not guaranteed. Any hit is subject to review for the purpose of supplementary discpline.
“He obviously is not feeling very well right now,” Boudreau said.
Bonino scored while sliding on his knees at 2:30 and struck again at 5:49. He beat Kings defenseman Drew Doughty to the puck and beat a befuddled Quick with a wrapround.
The Kings cut their deficit to one at 9:15. Crisp, precise passing made it possible, with Anze Kopitar finding Brown alone by the left post, where Brown had the open left side.
Stoll brought the Kings even at 9:49 when he took a pass from Simon Gagne and shot from the right circle, with Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller seemingly not seeing the shot.
A defensive mistake allowed the Ducks to regain the lead, at 13:30. Center Colin Fraser inexplicably left Anaheim counterpart Ryan Getzlaf alone in the slot and Getzlaf finished off a slick pass from Corey Perry.
The second period was equally frantic. Brown scored his second goal of the game, at 1:15, when he swept in the rebound of a shot by Doughty. Soon after, hostilities became fisticuffs when Stoll pushed Fowler into the boards. Jordan Nolan and Bryan Allen each got five minutes for fighting; a woozy Fowler was helped to the locker room.
The Ducks capitalized on a tripping penalty on Kopitar to take a 4-3 lead at 9:35, when a blistering shot by Sheldon Souray found its way through heavy traffic and past Bernier. The Kings matched that at 14:12, when Justin Williams’ wraparound attempt hit Hiller in the shoulder and bounced behind in and in.
Everyone in the Honda Center -- which seemed evenly divided between Ducks and Kings fans -- knew that wouldn’t be the final goal. They were right. With Nolan off serving a holding penalty, Kyle Palmieri whipped a shot past Bernier from the high slot at 16:14, giving the Ducks a 5-4 lead.
Bonino completed his hat trick at 8:39 and Selanne applied the final flourish at 17:54, leaving the Kings to put the pieces of their defense back together and the Ducks to enjoy another step forward.
“Everybody’s got to play on the right side of the puck to win in this league. You play on the wrong side of the puck, there’s a good chance you’re going to lose,” Sutter said. “You give up four goals, you’re not going to win.”
And they didn’t.