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For much of the season, the Kings have talked about the importance of scoring the first goal. It's still a notable statistic, but for a different, and less fortunate, reason of late.
The Kings got on the scoreboard first Monday night, and took the lead into the second period. Once upon a time, that might have meant a near-certain win, but things have changed of late, and that trend continued as the Dallas Stars scored two second-period power-play goals and beat the Kings 2-1 before 14,163 at American Airlines Center.
Justin Williams gave the Kings the lead in the first period, but the Kings generated almost no sustained offense for the rest of the game and finished with only 24 shots on goal.
``Not a lot of puck possession after (Williams' goal), no,'' Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``There were plays that were attempted. We had possession of the puck down low. We make a pass, we don't handle it, the puck comes around the boards and we didn't roll into it and battle it. There was just too much over the top of us, and we weren't able to deal with that look tonight, to make another second or third play.''
The Kings were given some life in the final minute of the third period, when they were awarded a penalty shot after a Dallas player covered the puck with his glove in the crease, but Dallas' Kari Lehtonen made the right-pad save on Jack Johnson's attempt.
``The game wasn't lost there,'' Kings center Anze Kopitar said. ``It was the 60 minutes. If you look at the last five minutes, yeah, we had chances, but that's just the nature of it. They pulled back and we had to throw everything at them.''
At one point this season, the Kings had a 17-3-0 record when they scored the first goal. They now have a 1-5-0 record in the last five such games. They've also lost their last two games when leading after the first period. They previously had a 10-1-0 record.
Also, the Kings are 1-5-1 in their last seven one-goal games, after an 8-2-0 start.
Of course, statistics don't determine wins and losses. In this game, the Kings played well enough defensively, and in goal, to get at least one point, but couldn't score and couldn't stay out of the penalty box early in the game. In the first two periods, the Kings took two delay-of-game penalties, one hooking penalty, one elbowing and one roughing.
The Kings killed the first three Dallas power plays, and led 1-0 on Williams' first-period goal, but the odds caught up with them in the second period as Loui Eriksson and Jamie Langenbrunner -- playing in his 1,000th NHL game -- scored power-play goals.
After Williams' goal, the Kings were shut out for the game's final 52:30. Until the penalty shot, the Kings' best chance to tie the game in the third period came when they went on the power play at the four-minute mark, but they didn't even generate a shot on goal.
``We didn't get a lot of offense tonight, if you look at the whole 60 minutes,'' Kopitar said. ``Yeah, we made a push there at the end, but it's not enough. It's not good enough, and it's not enough. We definitely had a chance, with the penalty shot, but the game wasn't lost there. That's where desperation mode kicks in, but we definitely can't blame ourselves on that.''
So the Kings, who were hoping to sustain some momentum after ending a brutal homestand with a victory over Edmonton on Saturday night, fell back onto the losing ledger -- they're 2-8 in their last 10 -- and fell into 11th place in the Western Conference.
To be certain, the Stars deserve some credit. They lead the Pacific Division for a reason, and that has a lot to do with their tenacious play at both ends. The Stars put consistent pressure on Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier, who stopped 25 of 27 shots.
``He played good,'' Murray said of Bernier. ``He had some work early in the game, and I thought he was composed and made the saves that he had to make. Two power-play goals against. One is a high tip, around the hash mark, and the other is a back-post hard pass that, we've got to block that guy out.''
The Kings, meanwhile, had only sporadic pressure on Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen, who made 23 saves and has now allowed two or fewer goals in six consecutive starts. The Kings' main weakness, arguably, was not pressuring the front of the net often enough.
The Kings started a rough stretch of road play Monday -- 13 of 16 games -- but before the game, the Kings received some good news. Wayne Simmonds, who missed the game with a lower-body injury, underwent an MRI that showed no significant structural damage. Simmonds is considered day-to-day but won't play Tuesday in St. Louis.
After each team hit a goalpost in the first five minutes, the Kings took a 1-0 lead at the 7:30 mark. Ryan Smyth went hard to the net and got tangled with Dallas' Nicklas Grossman in front of Lehtonen as the puck arrived. Williams' centering pass, from the left side, deflected off Grossman and into the net. Kopitar was credited with an assist.
The Kings had a power play near the end of the first period, and were upset at a non-call. As the horn neared, the Kings argued that Lehtonen had thrown his stick at a shot attempt, which would have resulted in a penalty shot for the Kings. Officials told the Kings that the stick was knocked out of Lehtonen's hands.
On their fourth power play of the game, the Stars tied the game 1-1 with 8:22 remaining in the second period. Mike Ribeiro did a nice job of keeping the puck in the Kings' zone after a clearing attempt, and Brad Richards fired a shot from the blue line. Eriksson tipped the puck while it was on the way to the net, and it got past Bernier to tie the game.
Another power-play goal gave the Stars the lead with 3:01 remaining in the second period. Richards held the puck in the middle of the left circle and fired a perfect pass, past Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, onto Langenbrunner's stick. Langenbrunner had to do little more than touch the puck to send it past Bernier from close range and give the Stars a 2-1 lead.
``We had a lot of penalties,'' Kopitar said. ``We knew, coming into the game, that they had a hot power play, and they showed it tonight. In that case, we want to be as disciplined as we can. We had a couple tough calls on us there, with the delay of game, but we just needed to be a little more disciplined than we were.''
The Kings' last gasp came in the final minute, when the penalty shot was awarded. Johnson, who was on the ice at the time of the penalty, and has had great success on penalty shots this season, got stopped by Lehtonen.
``We had a chance,'' Murray said. ``The goaltender makes a good save. That was about all there was to the opportunity. There's lots going on around the net. It's close to going in. The referee makes a good call on it and we get the penalty shot. We don't score. It's like a shootout.''