LOS ANGELES — In a battle between two teams languishing at the bottom of the NHL, the first goal of the season by Kings defenseman Alec Martinez, with 54.6 seconds remaining in regulation, sent the Rangers to a 4-3 loss Sunday in a matinee at the Staples Center.
It was the second straight loss for the Rangers to start a four-game road trip that continues Tuesday in San Jose before concluding in Anaheim on Thursday.
Martinez started the play with the puck behind his own net and skated end-to-end without much resistance through the neutral zone. He crossed the Rangers’ blue line and wristed a shot from just above the right-wing circle through defenseman Brendan Smith, beating Henrik Lundqvist to break a 3-3 tie and snap the Kings’ losing streak at six games.
Lundqvist said he was screened by Smith and didn’t see the puck until it was too late. “I tried to be patient and look for the puck, and he shot it through Smitty’s legs,’’ he said. “Before I picked it up, it was in the net. It’s tough. We got close. We scored three goals. We came back there, in the end, had a great push, worked hard again, I think, as a group. But not close enough.’’
Smith said Martinez actually tried to dump the puck in and fanned on it, and then the puck popped up and came back to him, allowing him to shoot it.
“As a ‘D’ man, I try to play the body,’’ Smith said. “Maybe I could have done a better job of blocking the shot. I don’t know.’’
Rangers coach David Quinn was upset about the way Martinez was allowed to skate the puck up the ice as the public address announcer was telling the crowd that one minute remained in regulation time.
“We’ve got to stop letting people skate by us in the neutral zone,’’ Quinn said. “You can’t think somebody else is going to defend somebody with the puck. You’ve got to want to defend somebody with the puck. When someone’s got it, you’ve got to have an urgency to want to — you can’t let people skate by you, I don’t care what zone you’re in. And right now, through the neutral zone, people walk right by us.’’
The Rangers (3-7-1) led 2-0 midway through the second period and appeared to be in control of the game before the Kings (3-7-1) tied it with two power-play goals in quick succession.
After Trevor Lewis’ goal gave the Kings a 3-2 lead, the Rangers had a chance to salvage a point when Ryan Spooner scored with 4:44 left in the third period to tie it at 3.
Quinn said the way the Rangers lost this game was particularly gut-wrenching.
“Obviously, every loss hurts,’’ he said. “This one’s at a different level because of the way we battled back to tie it. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to stop beating ourselves. You get up 2-0 and give up two power- play goals — another too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty — you just have to stop beating yourself . . . We helped them win tonight. And that’s got to stop. And that’s on me.’’
The game turned on a couple of second-period penalties called against the Rangers at a point when they led 2-0 on goals by Vladislav Namestnikov and Tony DeAngelo. The second of the two penalties was another bench minor for too many men on the ice — the sixth called against the Rangers in 11 games this season and the second in as many games.
Quinn said he knows why the Rangers are committing so many too-many-men penalties but declined to explain what they’re doing to bring on the calls.