LOS ANGELES — The penalty kill has been “a real weapon for us,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. Not on Sunday night, though. The Blueshirts’ shorthanded units, which have risen into the top five in the NHL, “let us down,” he said.
After taking a two-goal lead in the first period at Staples Center, the Rangers bent and broke while shorthanded. The Kings stormed back with three power-play goals in the first 10:22 of the second period and beat the Blueshirts, 4-2, dropping them to 0-2 on this four-game western road trip.
“They got people in front all night,” Henrik Lundqvist said. “They’re around you all the time. Every shot feels like you have to fight so hard to see it and then a lot of times, to get a stick on it. We just couldn’t get it done on the penalty kill.”
The Kings, who snapped a six-game losing streak, clearly were frustrated by the first 20 minutes. When Marian Gaborik was nailed for a high stick, the Rangers scored against the NHL’s best penalty kill. With seven seconds left in the man advantage, David Desharnais’ shot from the right circle went off Derek Forbort’s skate past Jonathan Quick at 3:53. It was Desharnais’ fifth goal, with Tony DeAngelo and Vinni Lettieri earning assists.
Jimmy Vesey and Mats Zuccarello battled after Brady Skjei’s one-timer from the left point, and Vesey’s second chance with his backhander made it 2-0 at 7:12. But the Rangers would not beat Quick again.
Then the chippiness started. Kyle Clifford decked Brendan Smith with a clear hit to the head, but the only penalty assessed was charging. The Kings started shoving after every whistle and at the horn, Smith and Adrian Kempe each received five for fighting. Smith also was assessed a roughing minor against Trevor Lewis, who was pushing and baiting Tony DeAngelo. “Definitely not crazy about that penalty at that time,” Vigneault said.
That’s when the tide changed. Smith may have been too aggressive, but the Rangers needed to kill his minor. They didn’t, and also failed on the next two.
On the first power-play goal, Lundqvist was screened on Jake Muzzin’s high stick-side slapper from the point 30 seconds in.
With Peter Holland off for a trip, Marc Staal’s attempted clear from behind his net hit Rick Nash’s skate and bounced to an open Michael Amadio at 6:13 as the Kings tied it.
After Nick Holden was sent off for a slash at 8:48, Alec Martinez’s slapper trickled through Lundqvist. Tanner Pearson untangled himself from Ryan McDonagh and pushed the puck over the goal line at 10:22 for a 3-2 lead.
“We played one of our best first periods in a while. It’s a frustrating one,” J.T. Miller said.
Vesey and Clifford were assessed 10-minute misconducts with 58 seconds left in the second period. In the third, the Rangers had only sporadic pushes and Lewis added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining.
The Blueshirts, who lost to the Avalanche on Saturday, still have a gantlet to run against the Ducks and Sharks later this week.
As of Thursday, the Rangers were first in the NHL with the fewest man-games lost to injury, but the number is trending down. Michael Grabner (flu) was back Sunday, sending rookie Daniel Catenacci to the sideline. Kevin Hayes (leg bruise) missed his fifth straight and seems likely to miss the Ducks game. Staal (hip) was not 100 percent, but he dressed.
Two other key players are out for longer terms. Chris Kreider, who had a rib resection to treat a blood clot Jan. 7, is about four weeks from even being re-evaluated. There is no timetable for his return. Kevin Shattenkirk will have surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee Monday and is out indefinitely. NHL players generally miss a month to six weeks after meniscus surgery, and Shattenkirk said Friday that he won’t miss the entire season. It depends on the severity and the rehab: Devils forward Taylor Hall missed only eight games after meniscus surgery last season.
On Jan. 26, the final day of the All-Star break, it will be exactly a month before the trade deadline. A continued slide beyond the break could clarify general manager Jeff Gorton’s decisions on which assets to move if the right deals surface.