It had been mostly smiles and laughs for the first month of the season, as the wins piled up. Now, though, the Kings have hit their first bump in this 2010-11 road.
It wasn’t just that the Kings lost to Columbus 5-3 on Wednesday night, before a sellout crowd at STAPLES Center. It wasn’t just that they lost for the first time at home this season or, in a rare occurrence, lost a game they led in the third period.
More so, it was the way the Kings lost. A team built around strong defensive play, particularly in front of its net, allowed the Blue Jackets to walk in and score two third-period goals, including Rick Nash’s game-winner with 3:12 remaining.
On the heels of Monday’s loss to San Jose, the Kings have now allowed 11 goals in their last two games. They had allowed nine goals in their previous eight games.
Columbus recorded only 26 shots on goal but made them count, as the Blue Jackets took advantage of miscues by Kings defensemen Jake Muzzin and Davis Drewiske.
Justin Williams’ goal, 1:25 into the third period, gave the Kings a 3-2 lead, but Columbus’ Jared Boll scored on a backhand less than three minutes later, and Nash scored the winner when he skated around Drewiske and scored from close range.
The Kings got a goal and an assist from Williams, who extended his point streak to 11 games, and got three assists from Drew Doughty, but the Kings lost for the first time in nine home games and suffered consecutive losses for the first time this season.
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, who had allowed a total of five goals in six previous home games this season, allowed four goals on 25 shots. Nash scored his second goal of the game into an empty Kings net in the final minute to clinch the victory.
``Well, they made it look easy there on a couple of those goals tonight,’’ Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``They got a break on their second goal, stepping out of the penalty box. Their first goal [and] their third goal I thought were breakdowns, where it was very easy for them. ... We’ll have to just tighten things up as we head out on the road.’’
The Kings now head out for a four-game road trip, which starts Friday in Buffalo, with some things to think about, particularly on the defensive end.
Murray’s main criticism of his team, after Monday’s 6-3 drubbing at San Jose, involved carrying the puck through the neutral zone, but the Kings also weren’t sharp, defensively, in front of their own net, and that poor play carried over Wednesday.
The Kings clearly looked like a team missing veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell, who is expected to be out perhaps another month with a broken wrist.
Mitchell is a stabilizing force on the back end, and in the past two games the Kings have been surprisingly porous in the area immediately in front of their net.
``I just think it was some mental lapses,’’ defenseman Matt Greene said. ``I’m talking for myself personally, here. Obviously it’s a mental game out there, in terms of defense. You have to think a little bit more than react, and right now personally I’m not doing it. I’ve been a culprit, with the minuses in the last couple games here.
``I think that’s it. It’s nothing to do with our scheme, nothing to do with our system. I think it’s just, me myself — I can’t speak for the other guys out there — but for me, and watching the other guys, it’s not lack of commitment or effort. It’s the mental side of the game that I think has slipped, the last two nights.’’
The Kings played their first game without winger Scott Parse, who is scheduled to undergo surgery next week to repair his hip labrum. Brad Richardson moved up to the first line and Dwight King made his NHL debut in a third-line role.
The only real positive for the Kings, other than the three goals, was the penalty kill, which went 4-for-4 -- including a 40-second 5-on-3 advantage in the first period. The Kings remain perfect (35-for-35) on the penalty kill at home this season.
On Wednesday, the Kings killed an early penalty but fell behind 7:40 into the first period. Andrew Murray won the puck in the corner and put a shot on Quick, who was unable to cover the puck before Murray jumped on the rebound and scored from close range.
``We knew it was going to be a tight game all the way out,’’ Greene said. ``It wasn’t going to be a run-and-gun. They definitely clogged things up well. They do a good job, they’re well coached and we knew what kind of game it was going to be.
``Obviously we never want to give them the first goal. The game was going to be real tight defensively but we responded well to it. To think that we were going to come out here and blow the doors off of them, we knew it wasn’t going to be that kind of a game.’’
The Kings tied the game 1-1 with a power-play goal at the 9:06 mark. Anze Kopitar's shot was saved by Steve Mason, but the puck trickled behind Mason as Michal Handzus reached in and poked it over the goal line.
The Kings had two power plays in the first 10 minutes of the second period but scored on neither, and Columbus took a 2-1 lead just 12 seconds after the end of a Kings power play. As the Kings were making a post-power play change, Rostislav Klesla's medium-range slap shot got through traffic and beat Quick to give the Blue Jackets a 2-1 lead with 8:38 left in the second period.
Ryan Smyth made it a 2-2 game with 1:22 remaining in the second period. Mason pushed Williams' shot wide, but Smyth beat Mike Commodore to the puck and scored on a wraparound before Mason could cover the far post. Williams got an assist.
Williams then gave the Kings their first goal of the game, 1:25 into the third period. Mason stopped Jarret Stoll's shot, but Williams got behind the Columbus defense and tucked the rebound into the net. Doughty also got his third assist of the game as the Kings took a 3-2 lead.
The Kings' lead lasted less than three minutes. Kyle Wilson's backhand shot got blocked in front of the Kings' net, but Boll picked up the rebound and scored on a wrist shot 3:48 into the third period to tie the game 3-3.
The Blue Jackets took a 4-3 lead with 3:12 remaining. Brassard made a cross-ice pass to Nash, who went around Drewiske in the left circle and beat Quick with a close-range wrist shot. Nash then added the late empty-net goal.
``They’re a strong defensive, checking team,’’ Kings captain Dustin Brown said. ``We had our chances offensively, and I guess the one thing that was out of the ordinary for us was that we had a lead in the third period and we let it go. That hasn’t happened in a long time here. We kind of let this one slip away.’’