LOS ANGELES—Having four goals scored against you within two minutes and two seconds is -to say the least- not something most teams in the NHL have dealt with. After last night, however, the Kings can consider themselves one of the (un)lucky few to have experienced this dubious honor.
A lack of ability to generate any consequential defense is part of the reason why the Tampa Bay Lightning offensive frontmen were able to cut the Kings to ribbons last night in what was expected to be one of the most contentious games of the regular season so far. The Kings did seem to rally in the second, with stalwart Tyler Toffoli netting the puck near the end of the period and Anze Kopitar also scoring (and then having it disallowed over goaltender interference).
They also seemed to finally get a handle on the Lightning’s whip-fast offensive presence, only allowing one more goal in the third from Vladislav Namestnikov. Kings defenseman Oscar Fantenberg netted his first goal of the season in the third, bringing the game to its final score of 5 to 2.
So what was it that went so wrong with the Kings – a team which quickly established itself as one of the season’s front-runners early on? In a word (or two): Stamkos and Kucherov. The 24-year-old Russian right winger, Nikita Kucherov, has come to be an insurmountable problem for not only the Kings, but practically every team in the League. He is currently number two in the NHL in points, with 29 in 17 games – only behind on-ice partner Steven Stamkos who has 30. Together, there is almost no defensive composition that these two can’t overcome.
That’s not to say you can’t work around the pairing, however. Something that the Kings, at least in the first period, outright failed to do. The Kings seemed hesitant about putting body against body in the opening minutes of the game, allowing the oppressive swiftness of Kucherov and Stamkos to reach its full potential. As Kings coach John Stevens said after the game, “Our whole focus was to be a better checking team against that type of offense. Quite frankly, we didn’t do a very good job.”
However, not all is lost. Hope remains for future bouts between the two teams, especially since the Kings exist–for the nonce- one of the Lightning’s biggest contenders for inter-League dominance. As the Kings proved in periods two and three when they put their minds to defensive play they can mitigate damage and allow their owned rejuvenated offensive prowess to shine through. Time will tell if that lesson sticks.