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Kings must try to plug leaky defense

by Curtis Zupke
LOS ANGELES – The doors to the Los Angeles Kings' locker room were sealed for about 10 minutes after Game 4.

Once the media was allowed inside, players said the team talked about accountability, but it didn't take a lot of intuition to surmise that a good portion was spent on identity: Specifically, how is it that a team based on defense, one that was ranked seventh in goals-against average in the regular season, has allowed 12 goals in the past two games?

"We're so good defensively, and we care so much about it," defenseman Drew Doughty said after Los Angeles 6-3 to San Jose on Thursday night to fall into a 3-1 hole in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

"It's what we pride ourselves on. I don't remember the last time we gave up 12 in two. We're really disappointed in that."

Said forward Justin Williams, "We can't let each other down with the way we're playing right now. Yeah, everybody cares. Everybody wants to win but doing it smartly out there and doing it within the system is how you're best going to help the team. We've allowed 12 goals at home the last two games."

What was most disconcerting in Game 4, from the Kings' viewpoint, was the ease with which San Jose was able to come back after L.A. had pulled to 3-2 after two periods.

Joe Thornton skated to the front of the net for an easy tip-in after Kyle Wellwood took the puck from Matt Greene to make it 4-2. Less than a minute later, Joe Pavelski won a faceoff and went to the net to redirect Dan Boyle's shot past Jonathan Quick for a 5-2 edge.

All of which ruined what had been a particularly sharp start by Quick, who made outstanding saves on Pavelski and Dany Heatley during a power play and another on Patrick Marleau later in the first period.

"I don't know what it is," Doughty said of his team's defensive struggles. "They're scoring easy goals … We're giving them tap-in goals. That's not something we usually do. We usually have our good zone defense. We're picking up those easy tap-ins and letting Quicker make the easy saves. I don't know what the reason (is)."

Part of it was a lack of composure. Doughty took himself out of the game when was induced into a coincidental roughing minor with Scott Nichol in the first period, and Greene took a double minor high-sticking penalty less than three minutes later. San Jose converted during the 4-on-4 and on Greene's infraction.

The Doughty-Nichol tradeoff didn't sit well with Kings coach Terry Murray.

"You can't lose Doughty to Nichol," Murray said. "He's the reason why they won tonight."

Murray liked his team's play up until that point and said the same things that facilitated their epic blown 4-0 lead in Game 3 – turnovers, giveaways, lost faceoffs - were "sometimes a hard thing to explain."

Murray was particularly incensed at what he felt was a slewfoot by Heatley on Alec Martinez late in the game. Heatley received a tripping minor.

"That's a very dangerous play," Murray said. "That's where you break your leg. That's where you blow your knee out. I hate that play. That's a gutless move in my mind. Gutless move. You just don't do that in hockey. You never did 30 years ago. You can't get away with that. That should have been more than a two-minute minor. That's a major. That's a game misconduct."

It's also inconsequential to the uphill road the Kings face.

Los Angeles last overcame a 3-1 series deficit in 1989, against Edmonton. It has faced such deficits four times since then and taken the series to a seventh game twice, in 2001 and 2002 against Colorado.

Asked about preparing for Game 5, defenseman Jack Johnson said, "Try to keep them from scoring six goals a game. They've scored 12 goals in two games. That's embarrassing."

Williams tried to put a positive spin on the night but stated their obvious issue.

"This team hasn't lost anything," he said. "We're a team that's struggling right now on the defensive side of the puck. It's certainly not what we pride ourselves on.
It's digging in come playoff time. Too much work has gone into this to let it just throw it away right now. We haven't lost our poise. We're a damn good hockey team.
We're going to show that in Game 5."
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