Kings aim to fix scoring woes during long road trip

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored late in the third to help the Washington Capitals edge the Los Angeles Kings.

WASHINGTON — Beating the Boston Bruins 9-2 in the first game of their longest road trip of the season was a statement victory for the Los Angeles Kings.

Since that dominating performance, plenty of questions have followed.

The Kings have lost three of their past four, scoring a total of seven goals in the process. Figuring out what’s wrong is the focus with games left at St. Louis and Nashville before returning home to Los Angeles.

"We’ve done a lot of good things," defenceman Jake Muzzin said after a 3-1 loss to the NHL-leading Washington Capitals on Tuesday. "Maybe we scored too many goals in Boston, and now we’re coming up a little short. We’ve just got to capitalize on some chances."

Even though capitalizing when it counts is what the Kings are used to doing, the state of the road trip isn’t so bad despite a 2-3-0 record. Aside from a 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders, coach Darryl Sutter said his Kings have "played as good as we can."

Maybe playing so well against Boston and even scoring five in an overtime victory at the Rangers somehow altered Los Angeles’ scoring touch. Norris Trophy candidate Drew Doughy wondered if the Kings "wasted" their goals in the Bruins and Rangers games.

A seven-goal blowout can also be chalked up as an aberration.

"That nine-goal game was something I’ve never witnessed as an L.A. King," Doughty said. "Not that that was a fluke or anything like that, but that night the bounces were just going our way and we were playing good hockey. For the most part, we’re going to win games 2-1 or 3-2 and we’re happy with that. We’d like to be the highest-scoring team in the NHL, but we realize that it might not go that way."

The Kings are ninth in the league in scoring and have plenty of offensive talent in Doughty, centres Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter and wingers Milan Lucic and Tyler Toffoli. They’re missing potent winger Marian Gaborik, who sustained an apparent knee injury early in Friday’s game against the Rangers.

Los Angeles still has many core pieces from winning the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014, so players won’t use injuries as an excuse. And even if the Kings are playing well, their once-sizable Pacific Division lead has shrunk to three points over the rival Anaheim Ducks and four over the San Jose Sharks.

"We’re in the situation where we need to find points," captain Dustin Brown said. "There’s definitely areas we can improve on, so that’s something we need to focus on in practice tomorrow is those things. They’re not huge adjustments we need to make, but it’s the little things this time of year that are hugely important."

The Kings are 4-7-0 over the past several weeks, a rough patch that isn’t cause for panic. But the lack of goals lately is troublesome.

"We’ve got to score," Doughty said. "Guys on our team are getting a lot of chances where we’re going to the net; we’re doing the right things that create chances. But the bottom line we’ve got just to bear down and put them in. We’ve been struggling to score lately, and it’s been hurting us."

It has hurt the Kings in a few ways. They’ve lost to three backup goaltenders — the Islanders’ Thomas Greiss, the New Jersey Devils’ Keith Kinkaid and the Capitals’ Philipp Grubauer — and those were three very different games with varying degrees of offensive opportunities.

"We’ve played a lot of different-type teams," Sutter said. "(Washington) is obviously a different type of a team than New Jersey. It’s a high-scoring, best team in the league."

The Kings’ penalty kill was stellar against Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals’ top-ranked power play. But that was little solace for a seasoned group, and much of the conversation after the loss was about what could break the Kings out of their mini scoring slump.

"There’s obviously little things you’ve got to change and tweak, and the coaches will address all that," Doughty said. "But, hey, it just comes down to bearing down and putting pucks to the net and that’s it and getting to the net more and getting more bodies in front and banging in dirty goals. We don’t have to score pretty goals all the time just little garbage goals around the net."