The objective of an NHL team, whether it’s late November, early January or (especially) mid-April, is always to stay among the top eight teams in the conference.
Consider the Kings’ margin for error officially at zero.
After another frustrating one-goal loss, this time a 4-3 setback to the St. Louis Blues before a sellout crowd at STAPLES Center on Saturday night, the Kings remained in the top eight in the Western Conference, but not by much.
The Kings are in eighth place, now just one point ahead of the Detroit Red Wings, who have one game in hand over the Kings. Dallas, in 10th place, is four points back.
So while much, and no doubt will, change in the final three months of the season, the Kings aren’t getting points out of games at important times. They’re now 0-2 at the start of a season-long seven-game homestand. Twelve of the 15 teams in the West played on Saturday, and only the Kings, San Jose and Nashville failed to get at least one point.
``We're coming back with a great homestand, the most critical point of the season, with seven home games,’’ Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``We go out on the road and play so many games to get to this point. We're a very good hockey club.
``We've won a lot of big games, critical games, come-from-behind games on the road, and that's the kind of effort that we have to bring home to play, right now. We didn't respond in the first period.’’
From the first shift, the Kings were in trouble. Brad Winchester’s deflection, of a Carlo Colaiacovo shot, found the net 14 seconds into the game. The Kings never led, and trailed 4-1 in the third period before they got some life with two goals.
Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar scored in the third period, and Brandon Segal got his first NHL goal in the first period, but the Kings didn’t have a solid effort, two days after they played well against Detroit but suffered a frustrating 2-1 loss.
``We should have carried over the play, but we didn't,’’ Kopitar said. ``We dominated the Detroit Red Wings for pretty much, I'd say, 50 minutes of the hockey game. That should be exciting for us, and we should carry that over, not the frustration that we didn't score or whatever.
``We saw tonight. We flipped a couple more pucks at the net in the third, and a couple went in. That's just the thing that we've got to realize. Even though we lost the last game, we've got to build on that and push a little harder and just get it done.’’
The Kings play Pacific Division leader San Jose on Monday night at STAPLES Center, and they’ll need a bounce-back effort, particularly in goal.
Jonathan Quick got pulled from the game less than six minutes into the third period, after he allowed four goals on 23 shots. On at least two of the goal, Quick got burned by questionable defensive plays by Randy Jones, who had a minus-4 rating in his first game back after missing eight consecutive games with head and neck issues.
``We just needed something different,’’ Murray said of pulling Quick. ``I would have liked to have seen him maybe have a couple stops. I haven't seen the replay of the goals, but there were maybe a couple there that maybe I would like to have him try over again.
``But we needed something different, whether it was a goaltender change, line changes, combinations on the back end, we were searching.’’
The Kings were coming off the frustrating loss to Detroit on Thursday, during which they had a season-high 52 shots on goal and allowed the winning goal in the final minute.
On Saturday, the Kings gave up a goal in the first minutes, on a bizarre sequence.
Colaiacovo's long-range slap shot, through traffic, got deflected by Winchester and beat Quick high, 14 seconds into the first period, and after the goal, game officials conferred near the penalty boxes.
It was ruled that St. Louis' David Perron started the game instead of Brad Boyes, whose name had been submitted on the official sheet. Because Winchester was not one of the players involved, the goal was allowed to stand and the Blues got a two-minute penalty for illegal substitution.
The Kings tied the game 6:09 into the second period, as Segal scored his first NHL goal. Segal took the puck into the Blues' zone and fired a slap shot from the top of the right circle. The puck appeared to get a quick deflection off the stick blade of a Blues player and beat goalie Chris Mason high.
St. Louis took the lead back with 1:06 left in the second period, on a counterattack. Perron found open ice on the left side and took a pass from Jay McClement. Brown scrambled to cover, but Perron put on the breaks at the top of the left circle, Brown went by, and Perron beat Quick.
After a fourth consecutive failed Kings power play, the Blues took a two-goal lead 1:35 into the third period. T.J. Oshie carried the puck toward the net, and while Quick came out to challenge, Oshie held onto the puck, went wide and beat a prone Quick to the top corner.
Brown scored with 7:41 remaining in the third period to make it a two-goal game. Brown came from the right side, skated through the middle and used a bit of a screen to beat Mason with a wrist shot.
The Kings scored a power-play goal with 3:52 remaining to make it a one-goal game. Kopitar took a pass from Doughty, took a couple strides and scored, through traffic, on a wrist shot from the high slot.
LAKings.com's NOTES Drew Doughty has eight assists in the last five games and 10 points in the last seven (1-9=10)
...Jarret Stoll has 11 points in his last 11 games (3-8=11).
... 12 of Anze Kopitar’s 18 goals have come at home.
... Rob Scuderi had his third-career two-point game and second career two-assist game.
... Brandon Segal scored his first NHL goal in his 14th career game (12th this season).
... The Kings have killed 22 of the last 24 penalties (91.7 percent)
... The Kings are 41-for-46 on the PK in the last 12 games (89.1 percent)
... The Kings average attendance through 20 home games is 16,684…It was 15,230 through 20 home games last season.
1 - 0 STL
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 STL
3 - 1 STL
4 - 1 STL