Kings center Jeff Carter, left, celebrates his goal with center Anze Kopitar, second from left, during the first period against the Minnesota Wild at Staples Center. (Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)
After a 309-day layoff, the Kings returned to the ice for the first time since last March on Thursday night, hosting the Minnesota Wild in their 2020-21 season opener at Staples Center.
Here are five takeaways from their 4-3 overtime loss:
Kings squander third-period lead
Last season, the Kings were 18-1-1 when leading after two periods. On Thursday, they blew a two-goal second-intermission lead.
Despite controlling five-on-five play for most of the first and second, the Kings spent much of the third hemmed in their own end. With 16:45 remaining, Victor Rask got open in the high slot and wristed a shot through traffic that cut the Wild’s deficit in half. Six minutes later, Marcus Foligno tracked down a bouncing puck between the circles and rifled a turnaround snapshot into the upper corner.
Kirill Kaprizov won the game in overtime, picking off a drop pass from Dustin Brown in the neutral zone and scoring with a five-hole deke on a breakaway for the third point of his dazzling NHL debut.
“We were just holding back a little bit too much,” Kings captain Anze Kopitar said. “Obviously the desperation kicked in for them and we didn’t play particularly well in our own zone.
“This one is going to sting a little bit. I think we gave it away in the third. I mean no discredit to them. They made some good plays. But we should be able to lock that down going into the third. It can’t happen too many more times going forward.”
Doughty, Maatta leave room for improvement in partnership debut
There were flashes of promise from Drew Doughty and his new defensive partner Olli Maatta, the two-time Stanley Cup champion the Kings acquired in an offseason trade. But on a day that began with Doughty proclaiming the duo was “working to become a great pair, hopefully a pair that could be recognized as one of the best in the league one day,” more will be needed — especially late in games.
Doughty and Maatta were on the ice — and partially at fault — for both of the Wild’s third-period goals. Rask’s opportunity was spawned when Doughty failed to clear the puck from his own end moments prior and instead skated it back behind the net, leading to an eventual turnover. Foligno scored after maneuvering past Maatta in the crease and using the defenseman’s body as a screen.
Coach Todd McLellan seemed to repeatedly allude to Doughty’s decision in his postgame comments.
“We brought a lot of pucks back into our own zone when we didn’t need to,” McLellan said. “I’m thinking of the second goal in particular. Sometimes you have to give up the puck. You have to punt like they do in football and live another day. We weren’t prepared to do that in important times. It cost us.”
While Doughty and Maatta played the most and third-most minutes, respectively, on a blue line that was missing two regulars in Kurtis MacDermid and Sean Walker because of COVID-19 protocol related absences, they also had the two worst plus-minus ratings on the team. Maatta was minus-two. Doughty was minus-three. MacDermid and Walker, along with goalie Cal Petersen, could all clear protocol and rejoin practice as soon as Friday.
“They’ll be better,” McLellan said.
Carter’s savvy season debut
Embarking on his 16th NHL season, Jeff Carter’s veteran presence was on display in his first game since undergoing offseason surgery on a core muscle. When the Kings got an offensive-zone faceoff with four seconds left in the first, Carter was sent on the ice as part of a designed play. But when the original plan didn’t come together, he improvised instead, crashing the net to poke in Anze Kopitar’s rebound for the Kings’ first goal.
“I knew we didn’t have too much time, so I figured throw it on net,” said Kopitar, who won the draw and directed a low shot on goal that Wild netminder Cam Talbot failed to corral. “I did tell Carts to go to the front somewhat and see if something happens. It turned out pretty well.”
Carter was the creative force behind the Kings’ go-ahead goal in the second period. Carrying the puck down the right wing, he saw offseason addition Andreas Athanasiou speeding toward the net and ricocheted a wrist shot off Talbot’s pad, creating a perfect rebound for Athanasiou to jam in for his first goal as a King.
Carter finished the game with a team-high seven shots on net and was one of only three players with a positive plus-minus (second pair defensemen Matt Roy and Mikey Anderson were the others).
“Carts has been good all training camp, finally healthy,” McLellan said. “I think the extended pandemic layoff certainly helped him with his surgery last year and recovery over the summer. He’s still a very committed athlete.”
Quick looks sharp
The Kings’ 10-month offseason and abbreviated two-week training camp was supposed to be especially challenging for their goaltenders. At least, that was the conventional wisdom. On Thursday, however, Jonathan Quick looked sharp in his 12th straight season-opening start for the Kings.
He was hardly at fault on any of the Wild’s four goals — three times he was screened and the other came on a breakaway — and played practically flawless in the second period to allow the Kings to build a lead. Twelve of his 23 saves came during the middle frame, including eight on the penalty kill. Overall, the Kings were six-for-six when down a man, thanks in large part to Quick.
“Your goaltender is the best penalty killer you have, and Quickie was that guy,” McLellan said. “I would call him real sharp, good start for him. He can leave disappointed that we lost, but I’m sure he’ll feel good about his night for the most [part].”
Brown scores 300th
Dustin Brown scored his 300th career goal in the second period — he just didn’t know it until later. Originally, Adrian Kempe was credited with the power-play tally and Brown the primary assist. But the decision was changed when official scorers saw that Brown’s pass from behind the net had actually deflected in off the skate of a Wild player instead, making Brown the fifth player in Kings history to reach the milestone.
Brown’s night ended on a sour note though. With under 90 seconds left in the three-on-three overtime, he put too little power on a behind-the-back drop pass to Drew Doughty in the neutral zone, allowing Kaprizov to intercept the puck and go in alone against Quick.
Asked if coaches cringe at the sight of such risky decisions, McLellan sighed before answering. “Yeah, we do,” he said. “A lot of times it works … but obviously we were ill-advised to make that play at that time.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.