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The Kings couldn't have asked for a much better spot. They survived a ragged first period, then held a two-goal, second-period lead at home, while playing in front of a goalie who dominated the Nashville Predators in 2010. Then, it all fell apart. Quickly.
Nashville scored three goals in less than seven minutes, in the middle of the second period, and the Kings suffered their fifth consecutive loss as they fell 5-2 to the Predators before 17,823 on Thursday night at STAPLES Center.
Near the end, when Patric Hornqvist's second goal of the game gave Nashville their three-goal lead -- the Predators' fifth consecutive goal of the game -- Kings fans responded with what seemed to be stunned silence. There was postgame booing, which was to be expected, but the most damning words about the Kings came from their own locker room.
``We didn't work or compete hard enough,'' captain Dustin Brown said. ``It's not easy to win games when you're not working hard enough. That's the only thing I can really come up with, to be honest with you. In this last little skid that we've been in, It's not Xs and Os. It just comes down to getting out there and working. We don't have that consistently.''
The Kings' problems seem to be multiplying by the day. They hadn't lost five consecutive games in regulation since Dec. 2007, when they had an eight-game losing streak.
Of more immediate importance is the Kings' slide down the Western Conference standings. On the morning of Dec. 31, the Kings were in fourth place. With Thursday's loss, they were passed by Phoenix and Minnesota and are now in 11th place.
``It’s a big concern that we’ve lost five and that we’ve given up 23 goals against in five games,'' coach Terry Murray said, ``after playing probably our two best games of the year so far, playing against Anaheim at home, going up to San Jose and winning. And then from that point, we haven’t been able to get the job done. We bounced back with one good game, and we lose 1-0 in it, but this is a concern right now.
``It's about an attitude right now, to me. We've got to get back into that more compete, just dig in and earn the right to win some hockey games.
The Kings are now 0-4 on this season-long eight-game homestand, one that once held huge promise. Now, a four-game win streak is needed merely for a .500 homestand. The homestand continues with Saturday night's game against Columbus.
``After (the four-game win streak), we haven't played the same way,'' Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. ``I don't know if we got too cocky or what it was, but definitely, going into the next one, there's no way we can lose.
``There’s no way we can’t win the rest of the homestand. It’s so important to win these at home because we go on the road for pretty much the whole month of February. These are really important for us and we’re going to try to figure it out.''
Kyle Clifford and Jarret Stoll had goals for the Kings, but the Kings' new-look lines didn't generate much sustained offense and the Kings, once again, failed to take advantage of an opponent that played the previous night, as the Predators showed plenty of fight.
Nashille turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead in the second period, then essentially clinched the game with Sergei Kostitsyn's third-period goal. Goalie Anders Lindback, chased from the game 10 minutes into the first period the last time the Kings and Predators met, fared well but faced little sustained pressure from the Kings.
``We need to be working harder,'' Doughty said. ``That's one thing that we're not doing. We're not doing the little things right. It's not really about Xs and Os. It's just about competing and outworking the other team, and that's something we haven't been doing lately, so that's definitely something we're going to fix.''
The Predators easily could have submitted when the Kings took a 2-0 lead, 7:57 into the second period, especially since Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier has had their number.
Bernier shut out the Predators last season and beat them twice previously this season, allowing one goal in each game, but staked to a two-goal lead Thursday, Bernier couldn't get the victory, and got beat badly on the fourth goal but also didn't get a lot of help.
``We weren’t going hard in the offensive and defensive zones,'' Doughty said. ``In the last five games, we’ve let in too many goals against. It’s definitely something we need to correct. It’s (not fun) losing that many in a row but we can’t be feeling sorry for ourselves. We need to get right back into it and the next game is a must-win.''
Murray shuffled his line combinations significantly, leading up to the game, but other than some strong overall play by Ryan Smyth, an excellent shot by Stoll and some attentive net play by Clifford, the Kings didn't do a lot with their 26 shots on goal.
The game turned, of course, after the Kings took a 2-0 lead in the second period.
Stoll's goal gave the Kings a two-goal lead at the 7:57 mark, but 19 seconds later, Clifford was called for hooking. Nashville scored on the ensuing power play, at 8:57, then tied the game less than two minutes later and took the lead at the 14:28 mark.
Then, even with the clear need for some desperate play in the third period, the Kings couldn't get much done against the Predators and their gritty, tight-checking ways.
In the teams' previous meeting, the Kings scored three goals in the first 10 minutes and rolled to a 6-1 victory on Dec. 18 in Nashville, but this game couldn't have been more different, starting with an uneven, scoreless first period.
Shots were 12-11 in favor of the Kings in the first period, but the scoring chances were not as plentiful as those numbers might suggest. Nashville caused problems with an aggressive forecheck but Bernier was sharp, while the Kings had a final-minute flurry but didn't score.
The Kings broke the scoreless tie 2:16 into the second period. Marco Sturm carried the puck into the Nashville zone and took a wrist shot from the inside of the right circle. Lindback made the save, but Clifford was there to knock in the rebound from the left side to give the Kings a 1-0 lead.
Stoll's power-play goal gave the Kings a 2-0 lead 7:57 into the second period. Smyth held the puck down low and passed to Stoll, who steadied the puck, then shot and scored from the high slot. Anze Kopitar picked up his second assist of the game.
``I loved the start,'' Murray said. ``The start was great. A 2-0 lead. They're a pretty good hockey club. There's stuff going back both ways. I think the shots were probably even, 10-10 at the end of the first period. We got our chances and they got theirs. We were up 2-0 and everything is in good shape. We seem to sabotage ourselves a little bit with our play and taking some penalties. It’s been going on for the last two or three games now.''
Just 19 seconds after Stoll's goal, the Kings took a penalty when Clifford was called for hooking, and the Predators took advantage. Ryan Suter sent the puck down low and Colin Wilson, to the right of the net, did a nice job of one-timing a shot past Bernier to cut the Kings' lead to 2-1 at the 8:57 mark.
Nashville tied the game 2-2 less than two minutes after its first goal. Wilson took an off-balance shot from the top of the right circle, and Bernier made the save but the rebound stayed in the crease. Marek Svatos beat Jack Johnson to the puck and knocked it in to tie the game with 9:41 remaining in the second period.
``It ends up coming off the left-wing side on a rebound,'' Murray said. ``That's a very hard play for a defenseman. He's backing up. He's got his man coming to him. With what happened, all he can hope for is that he's in front of the guy's stick. He's doing the right thing. He's on the body. The puck comes to his stick and it's in the net on the rebound. We need to clean a few things up.''
The Predators completed their second-period rally by scoring their third consecutive goal, on the power play. Hornqvist, parked directly in front of Bernier, tipped the puck into the net after Wilson shot from the top of the right circle. That gave Nashville a 3-2 lead with 5:32 remaining in the second period.
Nashville didn't score on a third-period power play, but scored shortly after to take a 4-2 lead. Kostitsyn's long-range shot wobbled a bit, hit Bernier's leg and then trickled over the line to give the Predators a two-goal lead 9:10 into the third period.
Hornqvist's second goal of the game, with 4:27 remaining in the third period, sent the fans streaming out the doors. Shea Weber shot from the right side, and Hornqvist was unmarked as he went directly to the net and knocked the rebound past Bernier from close range to give Nashville a 5-2 lead.