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SAN JOSE -- The era of low expectations is over in the Kings’ locker room.
In another time, another place, when a young team looked for moral victories, the Kings might have been able to examine Monday’s 4-2 loss to San Jose, in front of 17,562 at HP Pavilion, and draw positives.
They dominated the first period and took the lead early in the second period. Despite a big third-period deficit, they kept battling, and the only reason they lost the lead -- and ultimately the game -- was because of some careless second-period penalties and a brilliant seven-minute stretch by the Sharks.
The Kings weren’t having any of that talk. Things have changed.
``That’s four years ago,’’ alternate captain Matt Greene said. ``That’s four years ago, when you could (say) that with this team. There’s always a positive in every loss, and we’ve got to go out and play better, but this team is built to win. We can’t be losing these games.’’
The Kings followed a familiar script. They played one inspired period, the first -- when they outshot the Sharks 14-7 -- but could not sustain enough momentum. The Kings have now scored two or fewer regulation goals in 12 of their first 14 games, and the rest of the Pacific Division is slowly pulling away.
After a 5-1-1 start elevated hopes, the Kings are now 1-4-2 in their last seven games and 0-3-2 in their last five. Things don’t get any easier, with a back-to-back game Tuesday night against Nashville, followed by the Stanley Cup finalist Vancouver Canucks and a surprisingly high-achieving Minnesota Wild squad.
``It’s concerning,’’ center Mike Richards said. ``Obviously you don’t want to lose at any point of the season, especially a string of them in a row. You’ve just got to have confidence in your team and confidence in the system, not try to do too much, and just stay focused, really.
``Confidence in each other, I think, is the biggest thing. You don’t want to try to do too much on the ice, or try to change things. You just have to keep going out there and playing hard. The recipe to turn it around is just working hard and battling through it.’’
At the midway point of Monday night’s game, the Kings held a 1-0 lead but, in a way, the San Jose Sharks had to feel somewhat comfortable with their standing in the game.
Yes, the Kings had scored a 5-on-3 goal six minutes into the second period, but they had also failed to score on 14 first-period shots. They didn’t score on a breakaway chance. They hit a goalpost.
So, by the time the Sharks went on the power play, midway through the second period, the game was theirs for the taking. They took it. Kyle Clifford’s untimely offensive-zone tripping penalty led to a San Jose power-play goal, the first of three Sharks goals in less than seven minutes as they took a 3-1 lead.
``I’ve seen this thing happen so many times when you take a bad penalty in the offensive zone,’’ Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``You get lazy, you reach in, you take a careless penalty in a 1-0 game. You bring the referees into the game, and there is no need to do that. (The Sharks) built some momentum.’’
Before the game, a reporter suggested that the game might be a ``race to three,’’ meaning that given the strong defensive nature of both teams, three goals might be enough to secure a win.
In that case, the Sharks were slow to react to the starter’s gun, but they certainly closed fast. The Kings gave them a push, courtesy of four second-period penalties that turned the game around for San Jose. The Kings allowed a season-high 38 shots on goal, compared to their 31 shots on goal.
Jack Johnson’s 5-on-3 goal, 6:19 into the second period, put the Kings up 1-0 but they were unable to sustain the momentum. Joe Thornton made goalie Jonathan Quick look bad as he tied the game with a close-range goal, with 8:21 left in the period, and things were just getting started.
Less than a minute later, Patrick Marleau’s deflection gave the Sharks the lead, and the dagger came with 2:58 remaining, when Dan Boyle’s 5-on-3 goal gave the Sharks a 3-1 lead. The teams traded goals in the third period, and Anze Kopitar’s goal made it 4-2 at the 8:28 mark, but that was not enough.
``We can’t have that at all,’’ Greene said. ``We came out and we had a real good first period, especially in this building. We tried to build on the things we wanted to do, and then obviously we got in penalty trouble. This (San Jose) team, that’s their m.o.
``They feed off the power play. It gives them momentum, gives them confidence, gets them going. It just turned the tables on us right there, and they started picking up their game. They’ve got a good team over there, and they started picking up their game and we gave them every opportunity. In the third, we tried to bounce back. We had a better third, but still it was too little, too late.’’
Based on the way the game started, it looked like the Kings might have enough fight on the road.
Both teams killed off penalties early, then settled in for a scoreless but highly entertaining first period, in which the Kings outshot the Sharks 14-7. Dustin Penner had a breakaway and a great chance later in the period, but Sharks goalie Antti Niemi made the stop on both with two strong plays. Dustin Brown also hit a post and, on the other end, the Kings survived a couple scrambles in front of Quick.
The Kings broke the scoreless tie with a 5-on-3 goal 6:19 into the second period. Mike Richards won the offensive-zone faceoff, and Kopitar pushed the puck back to Drew Doughty, who made a pass across the blue line. Johnson ripped a shot to the corner of the net that beat Niemi and gave the Kings a 1-0 lead.
The Sharks tied the game with 8:21 remaining in the second period, just after the Kings killed a penalty. Thornton held the puck and battled with Rob Scuderi to the side of the Kings' net. Quick, who had gone down earlier, tried to hold the post with his pad an extended glove, but Thornton pushed the puck through anyway to make it a 1-1 game. Marleau and Joe Pavelski picked up assists.
San Jose took the lead just 56 seconds after it tied the game. Boyle carried the puck into the Kings' zone and, with space just inside the blue line, pulled up. Boyle pushed the puck toward the net and Marleau skated through the slot, with Johnson in chase, and Marleau's deflection beat Quick to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead with 7:25 remaining in the period. Ryan Clowe also got an assist.
A 5-on-3 goal pushed the Sharks' lead to 3-1 with 2:58 remaining in the second period. After a scramble in front of the Kings' net, the puck went out to Boyle in the high slot. With Quick sitting on the ice, Boyle ripped a high shot into the net. Pavelski and Marleau got assists.
The Sharks outshot the Kings 21-8 in the second period.
``There’s no question that (the Sharks) probably heard it from their coach, to pick it up and get going,’’ Murray said. ``They came out, at the start of the second, and got some plays at our net, but there was no danger until we brought it on ourselves.’’
San Jose didn't let up to start the third period, and took a 4-1 lead at the 6:40 mark. After Penner’s turnover, Marc-Edouard Vlasic's shot didn’t get through, and Logan Couture was left wide open in front the net and tucked the rebound into the net. Thornton also got an assist.
Murray didn’t like the goal, of course, but was irate about a play behind the net in which Rob Scuderi narrowly escaped serious injury during an icing race for the puck.
``Rob Scuderi is lucky he didn’t break his leg,’’ Murray said. ``That’s how players end their careers. I’ve seen players end their career that way. That’s why the NHL talks about the automatic icing. That is a penalty. That is embarrassing that that’s not called. That was deliberate.’’
A power-play goal brought the Kings back to within two goals. Doughty's neutral-zone pass found Kopitar, who skated in and took a medium-range shot. Niemi made the save, but the rebound kicked back to Kopitar, who scored on a wrist shot to make it a 4-2 game 8:28 into the third period. Quick also got an assist.