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Kings can't work around Blackhawks' defense, fall 4-1

by Alex Kinkopf / Los Angeles Kings

– Meeting for the first time since last year’s memorable Western Conference Final series, the Kings faltered in a 4-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday night at STAPLES Center.

For the Kings, it was their first game since Wednesday, and their first game back at STAPLES Center since November 20. And with Chicago in town, it was arguably the team’s biggest test of the season thus far.

“They’re the best team in the league and that’s clear through the first two months of the season,” Head Coach Darryl Sutter said of the Blackhawks following the loss. “If you’re going to give them two goals, you’re probably going to get your ass kicked, and that’s exactly what happened.”

The Blackhawks were putting a cap on a rather successful six-game road trip, and playing for the second time in as many nights – they came into the game fresh off of a 4-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks Friday night.

Not even two minutes into the contest, Chicago got on the scoreboard with a goal off the stick of former King Daniel Carcillo. After Mike Richards won a defensive zone faceoff, the Kings couldn’t control the puck or clear their zone. Carcillo drove to the net, received a pass from Bryan Bickell, then batted his own rebound out of midair and past Jonathan Quick to give the Blackhawks an early 1-0 lead.

The Kings drew two penalties following Carcillo’s opening marker, but like they did much of the night, Chicago’s defense kept the Kings’ offense to the outside, eliminating opportunities for the Kings to generate any quality scoring chances.

Brad Richards, who was traded to the Blackhawks from the New York Rangers over the summer, gave Chicago a 2-0 lead with just over two minutes to play in the opening period. The Blackhawks entered the Kings’ zone on a dump-in sequence, and it was their forecheck that created the pressure that led to Richards’ goal.

After Jonathan Quick played the puck behind his net, Kris Versteeg was quick to recover the puck and feed a wide-open Richards who was stationed at the bottom of the left circle. Richards’ shot snuck by the left side of Quick.

Entering the second period facing a two-goal deficit, Jordan Nolan scored his first goal of the season to inch the Kings back to within one, redirecting home a Jake Muzzin shot past Corey Crawford.

Nolan, who was a healthy scratch for the previous five games, found solid positioning in front of Chicago’s net, and read Jake Muzzin’s shot as it seeped through traffic, getting enough of his stick on it to disrupt Corey Crawford. Nolan’s goal was also his first point of the year; his last goal came against the San Jose Sharks on April 3 of last season.

Less than three minutes after Nolan’s goal, the Blackhawks struck back to regain their two-goal lead as Brad Richards buried for his second tally of the game. Entering the Kings’ zone on a three-on-two rush, Michal Rozsival found Richards wide-open on the back door with a perfect pass.

“We didn’t do a very good job of working in our own zone and doing what we’re supposed to do,” Robyn Regehr said of the Kings’ defense in the loss. “That allowed a lot of offensive zone play for Chicago. They took advantage of that, moved the puck well and generated a lot of chances that way, so we need to do much better in that area.”

The Kings could only generate four shots during the third period, unable to sustain any pressure or control against Chicago’s stingy defense. The Blackhawks blocked 13 Kings shots on the evening.

“We didn’t have a good first period,” Anze Kopitar said following the loss. “We put ourselves behind the eight ball right away. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing in this league, catch-up hockey is not easy.”

Jonathan Quick, who allowed three goals on the 24 shots he faced, is now 9-1-1 in his last 11 starts at STAPLES Center this season, posting a 1.34 GAA and a .954 SV%. The Kings, who lost all three of their regular season games against the Blackhawks last year, have now dropped four straight to Chicago not including the playoffs.

Jordan Nolan (1G) and Jake Muzzin (1A) led all Kings players in points scored (1), Brayden McNabb, Jake Muzzin, and Drew Doughty in shots taken (3), Dustin Brown in hits delivered (6), Matt Greene and Robyn Regehr in shots blocked (2), and Drew Doughty in minutes played (28:09). Jonathan Quick made 21 saves in the loss.

With the loss, the Kings record falls to 12-7-5; their record on home ice at STAPLES Center drops to 10-3-1. The Kings will wrap up their two-game home stand Tuesday night as the Boston Bruins make their lone visit to STAPLES Center this regular season. The puck is slated to drop at 7:30PM PT.

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