How big of a hit can the Kings' defense withstand? They're about to find out.
With their blue line already missing Jake Muzzin and Derek Forbort, Drew Doughty was suspended one game for an illegal hit to the head of Vegas Golden Knights winger William Carrier. Doughty will miss Game 2 of the first-round playoff series that resumes Friday with the Kings trailing 1-0.
The suspension, the first in Doughty's 10-year career, was announced after the Kings practiced Thursday, but Doughty broached the possibility of the Kings without him.
"They're just going to have go out there and play and play as hard as they can, and they'll do a great job," Doughty said.
His teammates were aware of losing perhaps the NHL's best defender, the league leader in ice time and their alternate captain.
"He's the best defenseman in the league, so it's a huge hole," Dustin Brown said. "But you deal with that when it comes. It's the playoffs. You find ways to win."
Doughty hit Carrier after Carrier entered the Kings' zone with the puck midway through the third period Wednesday. No penalty was called. Carrier, who hit Doughty twice earlier in the game, lay prone on the ice briefly and left the game, won by the Golden Knights 1-0. Vegas coach Gerard Gallant told reporters Carrier was day-to-day.
The NHL's video explanation of the suspension states that "while Doughty's first point of contact is with Carrier's arm, the illegal check to the head rule does not take into account what the first point of contact is" and that "the brunt of the impact of the hit is delivered to the head."
Doughty is expected to address the incident Friday. Kings general manager Rob Blake said in a release that "we are preparing accordingly and will move forward."
That's a daunting challenge. Doughty is in consideration for his second Norris Trophy, given to the league's best defenseman. He set career highs in assists (50) and points (60) and ran his consecutive games streak to 328 games, two short of the Kings record held by Anze Kopitar. Doughty's only other supplemental discipline history is a fine for cross-checking T.J. Oshie in 2011.
"When you play with a player and you come to a new team there's definitely a new appreciation," Dion Phaneuf said. "I'm seeing him day in and day out, playing the game. What impresses me the most is how strong he is defensively and he's got an offensive side to his game that's very gifted, but the way he plays the game defensively, that's why he gets the respect he does."
Kings coach John Stevens wouldn't speculate on the loss of Doughty and did not have an update on Muzzin. He said Muzzin has not taken contact yet in his recovery from an upper-body injury.
"I think every day he's getting closer, but what that means, I'm not sure yet," Stevens said.
Forbort is out with a lower-body injury. The Kings have filled in with rookies Oscar Fantenberg and Paul LaDue and also have Kevin Gravel as an option. Another rookie, Daniel Brickley, is not eligible for the postseason and it was not known if they would recall a defenseman for depth purposes.
Doughty has been partnered with Fantenberg, who made his NHL playoff debut in a wild scene at T-Mobile Arena and played 19 minutes, 29 seconds, his second-most this season.
"This is the game you want to play in," Fantenberg said. "It was intense and a hard game, but it was fun too. Just getting in the lineup and playing in a playoff game, that's what everybody is dreaming about — playing for the Stanley Cup and that's a goal I've had since I was a little kid."
Doughty channeled his inner trash-talking kid when asked about the physicality of Game 1.
"We're used to this type of stuff," Doughty said. "We've played Anaheim and San Jose many times in the playoffs, so we're used to it, and those guys hit us way more than this Vegas team did. It's nothing we haven't experienced before and it's a lot of fun, to be honest."