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December 9, 2016 | 12:43pm ET
Kings still looking for a net presence

LOS ANGELES, CA -- The Los Angeles Kings bumpy ride through the first quarter of the NHL season continued Thursday night with a lackluster 3-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Their third consecutive home loss (two in regulation to Carolina and San Jose, one shootout loss to Montreal) gives them 13 wins in 26 games and has them below the line for post-season qualifications.

While no one in the front office is panicking, leadership continues to explore upgrade options at one position since a major injury on Opening Night.

Though the goaltending has not cost them many games at this juncture, two primary concerns are their low save percentage (.899, tying them with St. Louis for 27th place, last season they were tied with the Islanders for 9th at .915) and that virtually all the work has been done by Peter Budaj, who started the season as Los Angeles' third string goaltender with their AHL Ontario affiliate.

Jeff Zatkoff, signed in the off-season to a two-year, $1.8 million contract, was brought in to be the backup to Jonathan Quick. The original plan was for Zatkoff to get 15 to 20 games between the pipes, but that plan was significantly altered after just one period in San Jose when Quick went down with a serious groin injury that will likely sideline him until March.

In Zatkoff's second start against Minnesota on October 18, he suffered a groin injury as well and although not as serious as Quick's, limited him to only one start prior to last night, November 11 in Ottawa in which he was relieved by Budaj that culminated in a last minute 2-1 loss.

Given the opportunity Budaj has been solid, but not spectacular (2.23 GAA, .908 save percentage) and with Kings head coach Darryl Sutter's penchant for making workhorses out of his starting netminders, Budaj appeared in 22 consecutive games at one stretch.

With Budaj's workload clearly not optimal for the Kings, their hopes were brightened when Zatkoff turned in a solid relief performance in 4-3 win in Arizona on Dec. 1 -- but speculation is growing that Zatkoff will need to string together some solid performances to stay in the Kings plans until Quick returns.

While the goals scored against him in Thursday's loss to Carolina could not directly be blamed on him, his overall stats (1-4-0, 3.05 GAA. 887 save percentage) has the organization continuing to review options in the marketplace.

At the time of the Zatkoff injury, the Kings inquired on Ondrej Pavelec, who is currently toiling in the AHL with Winnipeg's Manitoba affiliate, but with his $3.9 million cap hit, his addition was not a realistic option with Los Angeles' salary cap constraints.

The thought is that the organization's first choice is for Zatkoff to turn his season around with a string of solid performances, but as TFP understands, he doesn't have a long leash to do so.

After Saturday's afternoon match against the Ottawa Senators, the Kings hit the road for a big nine game roadtrip that will go a long way to determine their short-term net strategy, TFP has learned.

If Zatkoff was to falter, other options outside the organization would include Karri Ramo (currently signed to a PTO with Toronto) and either of the New York Islanders goaltenders not names Jaroslav Halak.

Thomas Griess is an unrestricted free agent come July and Jean-Francois Berube was developed in the Los Angeles system before the Kings lost him on a waiver claim in October 2015.

Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.

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