A reason for concern, or a matter of a few bad breaks?
The answer up for debate, perhaps even for Kings coach Terry Murray and a couple of his players, who seemed to disagree on the root causes of the Kings’ 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars on Saturday night before a sellout crowd at STAPLES Center.
After the game, one in which the Kings led 1-0 in the first period but allowed four consecutive power-play goals, a bloodied and bruised captain Dustin Brown spoke passionately about the Kings’ need to pull themselves out of their 2-4-1 slump.
``We didn't have any enthusiasm, any energy,’’ Brown said. ``It's disappointing, coming off a day off and the situation we're in. Quite frankly, it's just a lot of (b.s.). I think we need to take a look in the mirror, as individuals and as a team. We can't be expecting to play like this in a couple weeks. Obviously our goal is to make the playoffs, but if we play like this, we're going to be four and out. We need to take a look in the mirror as a team.
``We need urgency from every aspect of this team. Coaches, players, trainers, we all need to get that mindset. Ultimately, it lies on the players, and that's the most important thing, but as a group, a team, here, everyone involved, we all need to have the mentality, that urgency, and we haven't had it. Again, that's unacceptable.’’
A few minutes later, Murray was equally passionate in chastising media members whose questions suggested that the Kings haven’t been playing with enough desperation.
``You guys are way off here,’’ Murray said. ``You're way off. You're asking the wrong questions. The first period, we come out, we're fine. We're leading 1-0, we're outshooting them 12-7, everything is fine. The start of the game, the right attitude, the right effort, the right intensity, everything is good. It's the penalty killing. Let's not over-evaluate here. Our special teams were no good here tonight. Penalty killing was no good. The power play was no good. We don't score on the opportunities. That's it.
``Don't over-evaluate, don't over-analyze here, because you're going to go the wrong way. The first period, the start of the game, is fine. We're in good shape. We're leading the game. Everything is under control. Five-on-three power play, 4-on-3 power play, puck goes off our defenseman's skate. Everything is OK.’’
For a third opinion, there’s veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi.
``I thought that we were flat, even to start the game,’’ Scuderi said. ``There's no reason to panic, but there is reason to be a little concerned about some of our starts and just the way we've come out in games recently.’’
Later in the interview session, Murray was asked about his apparent disagreement with Brown in terms of the big-picture meaning of the loss.
``Well, it's pretty emotional out there, you know?’’ Murray said. ``I go in and I say some things after the game is over. It's very emotional. Players are going to respond to that, and I hope that they do. I was not happy with the way the game ended, but I'm not going to go where [media members] are going with it, with `Let's blow it up and start all over again.' That's just not the way it is.’’
Postgame passions aside, the simple fact is that, for the second time this week, the Kings managed to lose a game and still inch closer toward the playoffs.
Despite their loss, the Kings had their playoff ``magic number’’ reduced to eight when Calgary, in ninth place in the Western Conference, lost to Boston. Still, the Kings aren’t exactly surging toward the playoffs. With Saturday’s loss, they fell behind Detroit, into seventh place, one point ahead of eighth-place Colorado.
``Everyone wants to go into the playoffs winning, but this is, sometimes, a part of the season,’’ Scuderi said. ``I think we didn't come out of the Olympic break so great, but we've played, to my count, about four pretty good games in a row leading up to this one. We're not happy about tonight, but I think the best thing for us is that we get right on the road tomorrow and we play two games right in a row. I think the best thing for us will be playing hockey immediately.’’
The Kings didn’t play bad 5-on-5 hockey Saturday night, but they also didn’t play much of it. Leading 1-0 after a solid first period, and Michal Handzus’ power-play goal, the Kings allowed three second-period goals, all on the power play.
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick stopped 22 shots and has allowed at least three goals in nine of his 12 games since the Olympic break, but Quick could hardly shoulder all the blame in a game in which the Kings couldn’t stay out of the penalty box, and couldn’t take advantage of the Stars’ frequent trips to the box.
Dallas scored four power-play goals on seven chances while the Kings went 1-for-7 on the power play, two areas that Murray said clearly decided the game.
``They're tripping,’’ Murray said. ``They're interference on a faceoff. They're just penalties. They're just being called. Everything is being called, around the league right now, to the letter. They're very close, very tight, especially when you have two teams that are in our situation right now. Dallas is 11 points out. We're in there right now, and everything that you do is going to be called very, very close. That's not unusual.’’
The Kings entered the game, their last against Dallas this season, with a 5-0-0 record against the Stars. Kings defenseman Matt Greene missed his third consecutive game with an upper-body injury, and Peter Harrold replaced Davis Drewiske in the defensive lineup.
After accomplishing little on their first power play, the Kings got a goal on their second attempt. Anze Kopitar shot from the middle of the right circle and, after a touch by Ryan Smyth, Handzus knocked in the rebound from the front of the net with 4:08 remaining in the first period.
The Kings took two penalties late in the first period, and the Stars capitalized with a 5-on-3 goal 17 seconds into the second period. Stephanie Robidas forced a turnover by Scuderi, and two Stars were all alone in front of Jonathan Quick's net. Brenden Morrow took the pass from Mike Ribeiro and scored from close range.
Dallas took the lead with another power-play goal, 4:20 into the second period. Brad Richards shot from the middle of the left circle and Scuderi, defending the front of the net, had the hard shot deflect off his leg and into the Kings' net.
The Stars scored their third goal of the first 9:15 of the second period, all on the power play, to take a 3-1 lead. Richards took a pass from Robidas and scored on a slap shot from the high slot for his second goal of the game.
As they did in the second period, the Stars scored a power-play goal early in the third. James Neal shot, and Steve Ott scored on a rebound from close range to give Dallas a 4-1 lead 48 seconds into the third period.
LAKings.com's NOTES The Kings magic number to clinch a playoff spot is eight points (points earned by Kings plus points lost by Calgary)...The Kings finished the season series vs. Dallas 5-1-0
... Anze Kopitar earned his 76th point tonight, one shy of tying his career high (77 set in 2007-08)
... Jarret Stoll is 109-176 on faceoffs in the last 12 games (61.9 percent)
... The Kings had and allowed seven power plays tonight (both tying season highs)
... Jonathan Quick is four games away from tying Felix Potvin for most in one season by a Kings goaltender (71)
... Ryan Smyth has five points in the last four games (2-3-5)