Kings’ defensive unit bands together in win over Canucks

The Los Angeles Kings have taken more than their fair share of hits through the first 15 games this season.

Injuries mounted and the Kings lost two top-line wingers, a third-line center and a top defenseman. Just when everyone was finally healthy again, the Kings lost another defenseman, indefinitely. Friday, Robyn Regehr was injured in practice, leaving them with only five.

With Slava Voynov’s salary still counting against the cap and no room for an AHL call-up, the Kings rolled with five Saturday night at the Staples Center. The result was as good as it could have been given the circumstances: A 5-1 rout of Pacific Division foe Vancouver.

Keep throwing those hurdles out and the Kings will continue to clear them.

"Throughout the year you’re going to face adversity, whether it be injury or cap space," defenseman Alec Martinez said. "I’ve never come across anything like this before; it’s the hand you’re dealt and I think we did a good job."

While Drew Doughty has the capability to eat up minutes in excess, that hasn’t necessarily been the case for the other five on the roster.

Doughty played as expected, only 14 seconds shy of a full 30 minutes, while rookie Brayden McNabb and Martinez also skated career-high minutes.

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"Those are normal minutes for Drew, based off of what we’ve done this year," said head coach Darryl Sutter. "I think that for all four of them, once you go from a twenty minute game to a twenty-five minute game, that’s a big difference. You need the lead to be able to do that, otherwise you probably aren’t seeing it look so good."

But even down a defenseman, the Canucks couldn’t hang on to the puck. 

Bolstered by a surplus in production from the first and second lines, the defensemen benefitted from a 3-0 lead in the first period, taking the pressure off of them early.

"We had the start that we wanted," Martinez said. "That was something that we’ve been trying to take more of a focus on and especially against a club like that."

The forecheck game was arguably at a higher level than it had been all season, and it greatly aided in containing the Canucks to their own zone. The shorthanded unit held Vancouver to only 19 shots, making goaltender Jonathan Quick’s job a little easier.

"I think our 5-man unit did a good job," Sutter said. "When you only have five defensemen in the lineup for us, it’s more about us trying to break out of our zone, so you don’t use up too much energy in your own zone."

The Kings, fourth in the Pacific Division with 19 points, don’t play again until Wednesday, when they travel down to Anaheim for the first Freeway Faceoff Series game of the season. Regehr’s injury was undisclosed and therefore his timetable is unknown, but oddly enough, the last time the Kings were forced to play with only five defensemen, it was Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals in Anaheim, when Regehr was knocked out by Teemu Selanne. 

Sutter says Regehr is day-to-day, but whether or not that day is Wednesday, the Kings will be ready to go with only a five-man unit.

"Coaches always talk about the five-man connection and that’s one thing we talked about before the game, we wanted to sharpen up our neutral zone forecheck," Martinez said. "It was a focus going into the game and I think we did a good job."