Are The Kings Waking Up?

The Los Angeles Kings’ struggles this season have reached a boiling point over the past week, with road losses to Boston (3-1), Washington (4-0), and Florida (3-2). Going into Saturday’s road tilt against the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, the Kings were facing the prospect of yet another defeat away from Staples Center, having won just five such games all season.

But LA finally showed signs of life on the road, with a solid (if imperfect) win against the potent Lightning. The Kings were able to get off to a quick start — something that has eluded them in many of their games this season — and ultimately squelch Tampa Bay’s comeback bid. Los Angeles still has quite a bit of work to do to get itself back solidly into the Western Conference playoff picture, but perhaps its victory over a team that hadn’t lost at home in nearly two months will help get them going.

Previous Road Struggles

The defending champs’ inability to win games away from Staples Center has been well documented, and it has caught up with them, as they sit on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. After dropping a 3-1 decision in Boston against a hot Bruins team, the Kings might have hit rock bottom with their 4-0 loss to the Capitals in Washington. The Caps are a good team for sure, but no one is used to seeing such listless efforts from the reigning champions, and that’s exactly what was on display in that game.

The Kings’ frustration and internal strife began to show itself after that loss to Washington, with captain Dustin Brown commenting on the team’s lack of emotion before head coach Darryl Sutter threw the criticism right back at him:

“He did? He made a bad change on the first goal.” — Darryl Sutter, when told about how Dustin Brown mentioned that the Kings lacked emotion in their 4-0 loss against Washington (lakingsinsider.com).

The Kings did come out more fiery and with an improved effort against the decently-formidable Florida Panthers, but still found themselves on the wrong end of a 3-2 final score. While their effort and compete-level were better, uncharacteristic gaffes like Jake Muzzin’s third-period turnover were still alarmingly present.

Victory in Tampa

Coming off their frustrating defeat against the Panthers, things were not going to get any easier for the Kings, as they had to face the first-place Lightning in the penultimate game of their road trip. They needed a fast start and that’s exactly what they got when Tyler Toffoli capitalized on a defensive-zone turnover by the Lightning just a minute and a half into the game to put LA up 1-0.

Tampa Bay then started to pick up its game, but Justin Williams’ first of two goals in the contest swung the momentum back in LA’s favor. The Kings capitalized on that momentum with a stellar shift in the waning moments of the first period, culminating in a critical goal by Drew Doughty with just 1.5 seconds left in the frame, putting the Kings up 3-0.

The Lightning would battle back and eventually cut the deficit to 3-2 early in the third period. Williams, though, again stepped up as the momentum-swinger for the Kings, scoring about six minutes later to give the Kings some breathing room and quell Tampa Bay’s attempt at a comeback.

It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t always pretty for the Kings, but they found a way to score more than two goals in a road game for the first time in over a month. Sutter indicated that the Kings were far from flawless, but was pleased they found a way to get the job done.

“We gave up too many scoring chances, which is what we’ve come to expect, and so we need to score more than two goals,” Sutter said. “Tonight we did.” (lakingsinsider.com).

Given their struggles — especially on the road — the Kings will surely take any type of victory they can get at this stage. They are desperate for points as they try to climb back into the playoff race, and for them, this road victory against an elite team is hopefully the start of more consistently strong play.