GLENDALE, Ariz. -- At best, it's been a worrisome nuisance. At worst, it's been a glaring weakness.
Lack of success on the power play has been a theme for the Kings in the early part of this season, and it bit the Kings in a major way Thursday night as they fell to the Phoenix Coyotes, 4-2, before an announced crowd of 6,706 at Jobing.com Arena.
Wayne Simmonds had two goals for the Kings, but Phoenix's Lee Stempniak had a hat trick, including an empty-netter in the final minute. The back-breaker actually came early in the second period, when Andrew Ebbett's shorthanded goal gave the Coyotes a 3-0 lead.
The Kings began their five-game road trip without star defenseman Drew Doughty, who will miss at least one week with an undisclosed upper-body injury, and started Thursday's game with a weak effort, one that led to a three-goal deficit before the second period was six minutes old.
``In the second period and third period, I thought we picked it up pretty good in those two periods,'' Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``We outshot them 2-1 in the second and outshot them in the third, and had chances. But the first period is where it's at in the NHL. You get yourself into a hole by getting down in the goal department … and it makes it very hard to dig yourself out of it.''
The Kings arguably outplayed the Coyotes during a mostly bland final 30 minutes, but the damage was done early, in part because of the Kings' lack of success with the man advantage.
After Thursday's 0-for-2 effort, the Kings are now 1-for-22 on the power play this season -- the worst power-play efficiency in the league -- and they have now allowed two shorthanded goals.
Down 2-0 early in the second period, the Kings had a chance to make a game of it when they went on the power play at the 4:59 mark. One minute later, though, the puck was in their own net, as Ebbett scored on a 2-on-1 break to give the Coyotes a three-goal lead.
``Any shorthanded goals hurt,'' Kings team captain Dustin Brown said. ``They're momentum-changers. We gave one up in Calgary and it was the difference-maker, and this might have been the difference-maker as well. Our power play, we're struggling on it, production-wise, but tonight I thought we had good opportunities.
``But we cannot be giving up shorthanded goals. If anything, you want to be coming out of the power play knowing that you had a few shots on goal and moved the puck around and kind of tilted momentum your way. Tonight it went the other way with the shorthanded goal.''
Simmonds had his first two goals of the season, Jonathan Quick (23 saves) was solid and the Kings continued their penalty-kill mastery (they were perfect again, at 3-for-3), but the Kings were unable to solve Ilya Brzgalov (28 saves) and had their three-game win streak ended.
The lack of power-play success is particularly surprising, given that the Kings had the seventh-best unit in the league last season and essentially returned the same personnel.
But the shorthanded goal was simply the capper to a bad start for the Kings. Coming off a home victory the night before, the Kings looked slow -- the speed of the Coyotes didn't help -- and were outshot 16-7 in a lopsided first period in which the Coyotes scored twice in the first 7:24.
The Kings played considerably better after the shorthanded goal, and ended up outshooting the Coyotes 30-27, but even so, the loss of Doughty was glaring in several areas.
Doughty has the potential, in terms of ice time, to play in the high 20-minute range at a high level. He's the power-play quarterback and, for all the kudos he has received of late, still an underrated defensive player, so his absence leaves a large void.
Doughty had to leave Wednesday's game after the first period after a hit from Carolina's Erik Cole, who did not face discipline for the hit, and Doughty did not accompany the team on the road trip.
Peter Harrold, inserted into the lineup in Doughty's place, did a solid job in his 21 minutes of ice time, but Harrold, alone, certainly isn't expected to match Doughty's usually dynamic play.
``We've got to be more accountable now, to each other and as a team,'' Simmonds said. ``Drew is a good player on our back end. He's one of the best players on our team, and I think we've just got to step up the accountability, and that's how we're going to cover his spot, by committee.''
The Coyotes put pressure on the Kings in the early minutes, and it paid off 4:30 into the first period. After Quick had to make an athletic save, Ed Jovanovski controlled the puck just inside the blue line and ripped a slap shot. Stempniak was one of the Coyotes running traffic in front of Quick, and deflected the puck into the Kings' net.
Phoenix wasted little time in taking a 2-0 lead. At the 7:24 mark, Quick was unable to cover the rebound of a Taylor Pyatt shot, and Stempniak beat Kings defenseman Jack Johnson to the puck at the front of the net. Stempniak poked the puck into the net for a two-goal lead.
``They have a good team over there, a fast team, and we weren't prepared to play for the first 20 minutes,'' Brown said. ``That was evident. We were watching the game, kind of feeling the game out, and when you have a team like that, they're going to jump all over teams that are standing still. That's what happened in the first, and I thought we played a good second and third, but you're not going to win games unless you're playing a full 60 (minutes).''
The Kings had a chance to get back in the game with a power play early in the second period, but instead gave up the shorthanded goal. Derek Morris pushed the puck up ahead to Ebbett in the neutral zone, and the Coyotes' speed led to a 2-on-1 break. Ebbett kept the puck and beat Quick with a wrist shot at the 5:49 mark.
``The shorthanded against, that obviously is the game-winner,'' Murray said. ``But power play needs to be more of a shot mentality. We're trying to be pretty cute with it. I thought we had some opportunities to recover pucks, and we just didn't come up with them. That's what it's going to take. It's about hard work. It's about intensity and recovering pucks and then getting a shot mentality. We're not shooting the puck in 5-on-5 enough, nor are we on the power play.''
The Kings got on the board 8:20 into the period. Brayden Schenn made a nice outlet pass to Simmonds, who beat two Phoenix defenders in the neutral zone, went in alone on Bryzgalov and scored on a backhand shot to make it 3-1. Schenn got his first NHL point with the assist.
The Kings made it 3-2 with 2:41 remaining in the third period. Brad Richardson shot from the right circle and Bryzgalov made the save. Simmonds, parked in front of the net, had the puck deflect off his right skate and into the net for Simmonds' second goal of the game.
``It's kind of a win-lose situation,'' Simmonds said of his two-goal game. ``We lost the game, and obviously you want to get the two points, so that's disappointing. The first period is what did us in. We've always got to come out with a good start, and that's where we paid the price.''
1 - 0 PHX
2 - 0 PHX
3 - 0 PHX
3 - 1 PHX
3 - 2 PHX