Kings celebrate Anze Kopitar before Sabres rally to spoil the party – Orange County Register

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LOS ANGELES — A night dedicated to beloved Kings captain Anze Kopitar, whose milestones during his 18th season were honored before a game they needed to win against a mediocre Buffalo Sabres squad, began with cheers but ended in boos.

The Kings endured another setback on their home ice on Wednesday, surrendering four unanswered goals over the last two periods and losing, 5-3, to the Sabres two nights after losing to the lowly San Jose Sharks.

“I think we got guys in this room who are too worried about themselves and worried about their points and worried about stuff like that,” veteran defenseman Drew Doughty said after their 12th loss in the past 14 games. “We got a 3-1 lead tonight and guys start thinking it’s a cookie night. We stop playing the way we know how to play, have an awful second period and then aren’t much better in the third. It’s about the team. It’s not about yourself. And a lot of guys on this team need to realize that.”

The topsy-turvy result dropped the Kings to 2-2-3 in games they led this month, with three more still to play before the NHL All-Star break. The only bit of good news: those games are on the road because at home the Kings remain sub-.500, falling to 8-9-6 after Wednesday’s disappointment.

The first period suggested a happier conclusion.

Kopitar’s goal at 2:55 seemed to set the tone for a team that hadn’t scored more than three goals in any of its 11 previous games in January.

Pointless in five consecutive games and goalless in his past 12, the Kings’ 36-year-old captain ended his longest drought of the season with a tip-in after striding undefended down the left while Sabres defenders watched puck handler Adrian Kempe on the right.

Kempe skipped a diagonal pass toward Kopitar and the Slovenian, playing his 1,337th game after being drafted No. 11 overall in 2005, coolly finished on the doorstep for his 15th goal of the season. The goal meant he reached the 40-point mark for the 18th consecutive season, the 25th player in NHL history to record 18 or more 40-point seasons. Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, who have also done it 18 times, are the only other active skaters on the list.

Exacerbating his team’s offensive woes after contributing four goals in December, six in November, and four more in October, when his 18th season with the Kings got underway, Kopitar had not scored since Dec. 27.

In 11 games this month, Kopitar had a paltry 15 shots as he and his teammates, currently fourth in the Pacific Division, attempted to extricate themselves from a frustrating scoring funk.

With Kopitar’s accomplishments front and center prior to the game, Kings head coach Todd McLellan told reporters the day before that he hoped the moment would inspire his slumping group, but “right now we can’t just rely on that. We have to bring our game. We have to concentrate. We have to focus. We have to execute.”

Buffalo forced the Kings to live up to McLellan’s words.

The Sabres briefly tied it at 5:01 with the first of two JJ Peterka goals when the winger made the Kings pay for a turnover in the offensive zone by cleaning up a tight-angled rebound following a shot he helped set up.

Thirteen seconds of game time later, though, the eager Kings reasserted themselves when Drew Doughty and Quinton Byfield helped Kempe score his 16th goal of the season on a wrist shot to the short side of Sabres goaltender Devon Levi.

Struggling forward Pierre-Luc Dubois made it 3-1 Kings at 9:44 with his 10th goal, a wrist shot under the glove facilitated by Alex Laferriere and Brandt Clarke to convert their first power-play opportunity.

Coming off a 4-2 loss to the Ducks on Tuesday in Anaheim, the Sabres, idling in seventh place in the Atlantic Division, redeemed a disastrous second period against the Ducks by stifling the Kings and leveling the score against goalie Cam Talbot heading into the final frame.

Peterka’s breakaway finish at 8:22, a result of Jack Quinn’s blocked pass and diving assist from the Sabres’ end, preceded Quinn’s fifth goal at 10:30 on a snap shot through traffic that clanked off the inside of the post.

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