In a conference as tight as the Western Conference is this season, every missed opportunity is a big one, even with more than 30 games remaining in the season.
The eighth-place Kings caught a break Tuesday night when ninth-place Detroit blew a third-period lead and lost. With a victory, the Kings could have moved into sixth place.
How did they respond? By giving up three first-period goals, two on very bad turnovers, and turning in a flat effort in a 5-1 loss to San Jose before 16,212 at STAPLES Center.
Thanks to the Red Wings’ loss, the Kings maintained their tenuous hold on a playoff spot for another day, but they missed a chance to gain a three-point cushion on Red Wings and also leapfrog two idle teams, sixth-place Vancouver and seventh-place Calgary.
``We have to grab a hold of these opportunities,’’ Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``You start to let them slip away, and you want to turn the table, and the next thing you know, it's too late to turn the table. We've got to jump on those games in front of us right now.’’
Things don’t get easier for the Kings. On Thursday, they host a strong Buffalo team at STAPLES Center, then hit the road for a five-game Eastern road trip. The Kings fell to 2-4 on this season-long seven-game homestand.
The Kings went 0-for-5 on the power play, against the NHL’s second-best penalty-kill unit, and are now 0-for-21 with the man advantage in their last four games. The Sharks scored on all three of their power-play opportunities.
``It's just not going in,’’ Kings forward Jarret Stoll said. ``We've got to bear down more, take control of it. Whoever is out there, take control of it. We need more desperation with shooting. You don't want to get shots blocked, either, but you've got to make plays and you've got to make the right reads.
The Sharks showed why they’re one of the top teams in the West, as they capitalized quickly on the Kings’ early mistakes, both on defense and in goal, as Jonathan Quick (19 saves) had a rough outing. It was the Kings’ second loss this season of four or more goals, following a 7-0 loss at Atlanta on Nov. 13.
Patrick Marleau and Ryane Clowe each scored two goals for the Sharks, whose second and third goals came directly from Kings turnovers as San Jose built a 3-0 lead.
``Teams are too good now to wait and see what kind of game it is before you decide what kind of game you're going to play that night, especially at home,’’ Kings defenseman Sean O’Donnnell said. ``We have to establish the way we play, like we did in the second. It is harder to do when it is 0-0 than when you are down 3-0. All of us in here have to look ourselves in the mirror and start the game that way.’’
More than any particular stats, though, the troubling part of the Kings’ loss was a feeling, expressed after the game by captain Dustin Brown, that the Kings simply didn’t approach the game with the right attitude.
``I think part of the responsibility lies with the leadership group, but ultimately each individual has to prepare themselves,’’ Brown said. ``If we all prepare ourselves individually, and get ready for the game, we go out and we do our thing and we're fine. It's when you only have one line here, or one defensive pairing here, that are going...
``We had some good shifts tonight. Certain lines had good shifts tonight, and then other lines weren't ready. There are 20 guys on this team for a reason. Everyone needs to be there and play hard. Ultimately it comes down to preparation, individually and collectively.’’
The Kings’ lone goal came from Wayne Simmonds, 44 seconds into the second period, and it pulled them within 2-1. But Marleau’s second goal made it 4-1, just seconds after Evgeni Nabokov (36 saves) made a save on a Ryan Smyth breakaway attempt.
The Sharks, coming off a 9-1 home victory over Calgary on Monday night, maintained their offensive momentum in the first period Tuesday night.
The Sharks took a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal at the 5:18 mark. The Sharks caught Quick, and the Kings' defenders, scrambling in front the net, and Marleau took a centering pass from Joe Pavelski and beat Quick for the goal.
A huge Kings breakdown led to the Sharks' second goal, at the 9:38 mark. First, the Kings didn't score on a power play -- Stoll hit the crossbar -- and then, as the power play expired, Kings defenseman Randy Jones bobbled the puck at the Sharks' blue line.
Dan Boyle came out of the penalty box, picked up the puck and carried it into the Kings' zone. Boyle pulled up at the top of the right circle and scored on a sharp, high wrist shot to make it 2-0.
Then it was another turnover, another goal for San Jose. Peter Harrold attempted a short, simple pass to Alexander Frolov, but the puck went off Frolov's stick and right to Jed Ortmeyer, who passed to Clowe, and Clowe's shot beat Quick with 3:11 remaining in the first period.
The Kings found some life with a goal 44 seconds into the second period. Smyth attempted a wraparound, and the puck slid through the crease. Simmonds crashed the net and, while falling down, knocked a backhand shot past Nabokov.
The back-breaking goal for the Sharks came on the power play with 6:12 remaining in the second period. Nabokov made a save on a Smyth shorthanded breakaway attempt and then, less than 30 seconds later, Marleau scored his second goal of the game after he stickhandled through the Kings' zone and beat Quick with a wrist shot from the slot.
The Sharks stayed perfect on the power play with Clowe's second goal of the game, in the third period. Quick made the save on Rob Blake's shot, but after one rebound in front, Clowe got the puck in the left circle and beat Quick short-side with 8:01 remaining in the third period.
``We've got to try to figure out what's going on,’’ Stoll said. ``Four losses, out of six, on this homestand is not good enough, obviously. Detroit lost, and some teams lost today, and we didn't take advantage of it.
``They got a power-play goal early and they rolled from there, and we just didn't show any energy, any jump. We had some good shifts, but not enough, not enough sustained pressure, not enough compete attitude to win, especially against that attitude.’’
1 - 0 SJS
2 - 0 SJS
3 - 0 SJS
3 - 1 SJS