Kings’ defensive struggles continue in loss to Devils

The two teams the Los Angeles Kings have defeated on their way to two Stanley Cup wins have exacted some regular-season revenge.

But the loss to the New York Rangers didn’t quite have the same sting to it that Wednesday night’s 5-3 beatdown by the New Jersey Devils did. The Devils scored three goals on two different goalies in a span of 1:08 in the second period.

Yeah, it was that kind of night at the Staples Center.

And there have been a lot of nights like that as of late as the Kings have played to a pattern that’s been very atypical for a team that built a dynasty on defense. The Kings have continually taken too many penalties that they’re unable to kill off, helping to dig themselves into holes that are too deep to climb out of with late-game scoring.

"If I could pinpoint it I would nip it the bud right away," winger Justin Williams said. "It’s another loss; another five goals against, and another loss in our home building."

The Kings were tied early in the second period, but the lone highlight of the game was Drew Doughty’s beautiful pass to set up Dustin Brown for the goal.

"Those look nice, but that doesn’t matter," head coach Darryl Sutter said. "You don’t get anything extra for beautiful."

The blame can be placed mostly on the penalty kill. Unable to kill one off in the final seconds of the first period, the momentum swung in the direction of New Jersey and the Brown goal failed to shift it back.

Steve Bernier scored his second power play goal only a few minutes after Brown scored and the defense in front of goaltender Martin Jones suddenly collapsed. It went from 1-1 to 3-1 in just 68 seconds, snowballing out of control to the point that Jones was pulled and Jonathan Quick came in for the duration of the second period.

"Our penalty kill is just draining us," Sutter said. "It takes so much out of your team. Score the goal at end of the first and then you come back and score, and then you give it up right away. It’s really disappointing."

The inability to kill off Jarret Stoll’s holding minor was the downfall.

"We have to kill that penalty," said defenseman Matt Greene. "That’s been our problem all year long, getting momentum at the wrong times and we did it again tonight. That’s solely on the penalty-killers, myself, it’s something that has to be a lot better."

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It’s been a problem all season. L.A. is killing off only 78.3 percent of penalties, 25th in the league. But improving the penalty kill isn’t exactly a simple matter of X’s and O’s, Sutter said. There’s an emotional component to it as well.

"You have to have a good desire to do it," he said. "You have to breakdown who is always on the ice for them. Sometimes the honesty of the game, the penalties you take, but that really wasn’t the issue tonight."

There’s little worry at this point in the season that the defending champs might not even get a chance to defend their title. L.A. is still in third place in the Pacific Division with 50 points and there’s still lots of hockey to be played. Every team goes through peaks and valleys throughout the course of the season, but the problem is that the Kings aren’t exactly as desperate as they might need to be in the regular season.

The playoff magic eludes them and with 39 more games left on the slate, they’ll need to figure out how to recapture it in the regular season.

"A lot of it is emotional, we got some bad breaks but emotionally, we weren’t able to grind  our game back from 1-1," Williams said. "It’s deflating and it’s on us, on the players that get the most ice-time and are expected to score goals, to not only produce, but create momentum, we didn’t do that."