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For much of the last week, Todd McLellan has been coaching on the fly.
Such is the reality of the Kings’ early-season schedule, which subjected the team to an awkward seven-day break between the end of the preseason and start of the regular season, then consecutive games twice in the first week.
“We felt like we fell behind, then we felt like we were rushed,” McLellan, the team’s first-year coach, said ahead of the Kings’ game with the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday. “In my mind, we’ve played four games with one practice. Tonight will be the fifth still with a single practice.”
The side effects were felt in a 2-0 loss to the Hurricanes at Staples Center.
The Kings started brightly, recording the game’s first eight shots and drawing two early Hurricanes penalties. But they couldn’t take advantage of either. Then, the momentum flipped.
Over a 13-minute stretch between the first and second periods, the Kings went to the box three times. Their penalty kill held serve, offering optimistic signs of improvement after entering the game with a league-worst 56.3% success rate. Jack Campbell made several impressive stops, including an extended left-pad kick save to turn away a close-range chance shot from Jordan Staal.
“Our PK was excellent,” Campbell said. “Guys were sacrificing. We had a meeting today about it, and guys weren’t blinking an eye. They just went straight out and executed. That’s what we need.”
Still, a Hurricanes team that followed its run to last season’s Eastern Conference finals by winning five of its first six games this season tilted the ice. For most of the second period, they zipped the puck around in the Kings’ end. Finally, they broke through.
As winger Ryan Dzingel froze Kings defenders from behind the net, linemate Martin Necas sneaked into the slot uncovered. Dzingel passed the puck through traffic to Necas, who snapped a one-timer into the net.
The Kings didn’t offer much of a response. After tallying 17 shots in the first period, they recorded only three in the second. They squandered a short-lived power-play chance before the second intermission, turning the puck over in the offensive zone twice before a Drew Doughty interference call made it four on four.
The Kings’ best opportunities in the third period came on the power play. On the first man advantage, with less than six minutes remaining, Dustin Brown had a deflection skip just wide of the post and Sean Walker had a high wrist shot from the middle of the ice turned aside by Petr Mrazek.
Mrazek, who stopped 31 shots, was called into action again in the final minute after Staal was sent to the box for boarding Doughty, who had to leave the game. McLellan said Doughty felt fine after the game.
Walker and Jeff Carter fired pucks at Mrazek in the final moments, but to no avail. With six seconds left, Teuvo Teravainen scored an empty-netter to seal the victory.
“They capitalized on one of our mistakes. We failed to do that on a couple of theirs,” McLellan said. “We didn’t handle [the Hurricanes’ pressure] well. The puck was too far away. We didn’t make clean plays. We didn’t get shots through to the goaltender. They were fronted.”
During the season’s first five games, the rebuilding Kings had been nothing if not entertaining. Before Tuesday, only Toronto and Winnipeg had combined for more goals scored and given up than the Kings, and each had played at least seven games. They were averaging the second-most shots (37.4) and had yet to be involved in a scoreless period.
As the Kings prepared to face the Hurricanes, the expectation was for more of the same.
“We were disappointed in the result,” McLellan said. “But when I look at the game, I thought it was very tightly contested, a battle for every inch.”