Jonathan Quick’s teammates expect him to stop just about everything that comes his way, and for the first few weeks of this season he lived up to those expectations as he backstopped the impressive start that lifted the Kings atop the Pacific Division.
But they’ve been allowing too many dangerous shots to come his way the last two weeks, and when he has a less than stellar night, as he did Sunday in a 4-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in front of a lively sellout crowd at T-Mobile Arena, the result is going to be ugly.
“I think we’ve relied on Quickie a bit too much over the past six games,” left wing Tanner Pearson said after the Kings lost for the fifth time in their last six games. “He’s been doing his part, and we’ve got to step up and do ours and help him out.”
Quick was replaced by Darcy Kuemper after he yielded three goals on nine shots in the teams’ first regular-season meeting, which showed promise of becoming a fierce rivalry.
A defensive breakdown allowed William Karlsson to slip a shot between Quick’s pads 55 seconds into the game, Cody Eakin beat him to the short side to finish off a two on one at 9:21, and a miscommunication between Quick and defenseman Derek Forbort behind the net allowed Reilly Smith to swoop in and set up Karlsson for the third goal, at 11:22.
“The first 10 minutes we were not ready to go,” defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “We put ourselves in a hole, and it’s tough to win games when you’re down 3-0 in the first 10 minutes.”
The Kings got within 3-2 on a second-period goal by Trevor Lewis and a third-period shot from the hash marks by Pearson for his fourth goal this season, but they were down too much too early to pull even in their fifth game in eight days and second game in two days. The Golden Knights, who trail the division-leading Kings by one point and have two games in hand, clinched the victory on an empty-net goal by Alex Tuch with 62 seconds left in the third period, leading Kings defenseman Drew Doughty to smash his stick against the goalpost.
Vegas is smashing the stereotype of the hapless expansion team, compiling an 8-1 record at home and competing hard as a team despite having to go to Plan E in its goaltending strategy book. Maxim Lagace, fourth on the depth chart, stopped 27 shots in front of a crowd that included nearly as many Kings supporters as fans of the Golden Knights.
“They showed why they’re a good team at home,” Pearson said.
The Kings showed they haven’t found the right balance between capitalizing on the offensive freedom that coach John Stevens has given them and consistently maintaining their defensive foundation. They were too defense-oriented in the later stages of Darryl Sutter’s coaching tenure but often have gotten too sloppy defensively in the early days under Stevens.
“I think when we’re playing well we’re checking, and checking leads to offensive chances instead of these turnovers and odd-man rushes going back the other way,” said Lewis, who scored on a backhander at 8:35 of the second period after Alex Iafallo kept the puck in the zone. “I just think we need to get back to more of our structured game. Just regroup and refocus.”
Even when they were winning they were giving up a lot of prime scoring chances but they could rely on Quick to be sharp. He wasn’t sharp Sunday, when his personal losing streak stretched to five. He has an .894 save percentage in that span.
“It’s the obvious. Those are pucks he’d love to have back. But it’s a team game. Johnny’s bailed us out many a nights,” Stevens said of his No 1 goalie. “It’s certainly not the start we wanted. You dig a hole on the road against any team, especially in here, it’s tough to come back, but I thought the guys did. I thought they got going. We climbed back in the game, we had some chances there. … That was probably the worst-case scenario for that start for us because it’s the end of the week, and if we just got through the first 10 minutes, I thought we’d be in pretty good shape.”
Quick said he wasn’t especially angry because the Kings lost to a division rival — he’s angry when he loses, no matter the circumstances.
“We lost a game. We’ve got another one in a couple days and we’ll get ready for that,” he said.
He and the Kings will have to be better prepared for that game, Wednesday at home against Winnipeg, than they were Sunday.