BUFFALO -- The Kings got physical Friday night, just not always at the proper times.
Poor, aggressive penalties put the Kings shorthanded a few times, and their inability to clear the front of the net while killing penalties cost them twice, as the Buffalo Sabres scored two power-play goals and beat the Kings 4-2 on Friday night at HSBC Arena.
The Kings entered the game with the best penalty-kill percentage in the NHL, but that unit got put to the test too often against the Sabres, and for reasons that were sometimes inappropriate.
The Kings led 2-1 with five minutes left in the second period when Jack Johnson threw an unnecessary elbow at Patrick Kaleta. Thomas Vanek tied the game on the ensuing power play.
Then, with the game still tied early in the third period, Ryan Smyth took a holding penalty for his excessive contact with Jochen Hecht while standing directly in front of the Sabres' net, while the Kings were cycling the puck. Less than a minute later, Tim Connolly scored the go-ahead goal.
While the Kings were attempting to tie the game in the third period, Johnson took a neutral-zone cross-checking penalty while the Kings were trying to get possession in the offensive zone. Later, Dwight King was called for hooking, but at least that was in the defensive zone.
``We took a couple penalties when the play was on the other end of the rink,'' Kings center and assistant captain Anze Kopitar said. ``You don't have to be an expert to recognize that that wasn't the smartest thing to do. We just have to be more disciplined in that department. Our PK has been pretty good. Yeah, we gave up two tonight, but other than that, I think we can pretty much be proud of our PK. But we don't want to play shorthanded. That's the thing.''
On both power-play goals, Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier was screened or faced traffic, or both, as the Kings' defense was unable to prevent the Sabres from establishing good position for rebounds.
``It was a tough night,'' Bernier said. ``They were good. They were tipping pucks. Every shot from the point, it seemed like it was hard. I had to move around a lot. When they're tipping pucks like that and they score, then you try not to open up and there are rebounds. They did a great job on the power play.''
The Kings now must face the Boston Bruins on Saturday night, in a back-to-back situation. Their six-game winning streak (and a 12-3-0 start) has turned into a three-game losing streak. Their defense, which had allowed 15 goals over nine previous games, has allowed 15 in the last three.
``It's definitely not a good feeling, to say the least,'' Kopitar said. ``We've got to figure out how to turn this thing around real quick, before this ends up in a long losing streak. There's a big two points up for grabs tomorrow, and we have to make sure we get them.''
Special teams loomed large Friday. The Kings went 0-for-5 on the power play -- including a huge missed chance in the first period -- and took seven minor penalties. Bernier stopped 22 of 26 shots and was the victim of teammates' poor, undisciplined play, including three third-period penalties.
Buffalo has not been kind to the Kings, who haven't won in western New York since Feb. 21, 2003. The Kings have now lost four consecutive games in Buffalo and have been outscored 27-6.
``Three penalties in the third period is just too demanding,'' Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``We have our opportunities early and we don't capitalize on them, and then in the third, you're killing three in a row. That's very hard. Obviously it was. We weren't able to get it done.''
The Kings tried to shake things up a bit Friday, as the rookie winger King, in his second NHL game, moved up to the first line and swapped spots with Brad Richardson, who returned to the third line. Peter Harrold also replaced rookie Jake Muzzin on defense.
For a while, it looked good. The Kings led 1-0 on Dustin Brown's first-period goal, but they failed to build on it during a 46-second 5-on-3 advantage late in the first period, and that gave Buffalo life.
The Sabres tied the game at 1-1 early in the second period, then 2-2 with less than five minutes remaining in the second, and Ryan Miller shut out the Kings over the final 39-plus minutes.
The Kings had been 5-0-0 against Eastern Conference teams, but they opened their four-game East Coast road trip with a loss in which they lost the lead twice.
Brown opened the scoring 4:57 into the first period. Brown skated into the right side of the Sabres' zone, took a pass from Kopitar and beat Miller with a high shot to the far post to give the Kings a 1-0 lead. Johnson also got an assist.
The Sabres tied the game on the first shift of the second period. Andrej Sekera carried the puck low into the Kings' zone and sent the puck toward the net, into traffic, where it got past Bernier from a tight angle to make it a 1-1 game 37 seconds into the second period.
The Kings took the lead back 8:25 into the second period. After some pressure in front of the Buffalo net, Sabres forward Tyler Ennis tried to play the puck up the ice, but turned it over after being pressured by Harrold. Wayne Simmonds was there to pick up the puck, and he wheeled and shot from the slot to give the Kings a 2-1 lead.
A power-play goal by the Sabres tied the game 2-2 with 5:38 remaining in the second period. Derek Roy fired a slap shot from just inside the blue line, and Vanek provided a screen in front of Bernier and tipped in the shot to tie the game.
The Sabres took their first lead of the game by scoring their second power-play goal of the game, 2:10 into the third period. Vanek's slap shot found traffic in front of the Kings' net, and Connolly poked in a rebound to give the Sabres a 3-2 lead.
The Sabres took a two-goal lead with 4:39 remaining. Off a Buffalo faceoff win, Jason Pominville pushed the puck to the slot, to Hecht. Hecht quickly fired a wrist shot that beat Bernier, glove side, to give Buffalo a 4-2 lead and essentially clinch the victory.
Four-plus minutes remained after Hecht's goal, but Murray made the curious decision to not pull Bernier for an extra attacker, and the Sabres were able to kill the rest of the clock at even strength.
``It was close tonight,'' Murray said. ``We came out and started very well. I liked the way we came out and played, and did some good things with puck movement and had the opportunities. We ended up getting the first goal, and then the second goal to give us a one-goal lead.
``Again, we missed some opportunities, unfortunately, in the early going. The focus is there. The work is there. At the end of the day, though, we put ourselves in too tough of a spot by taking three penalties, and we weren't able to kill them.''
1 - 0 LAK
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 LAK
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 BUF
4 - 2 BUF