In a proverbial sense, Kings coach Terry Murray stood in the tee box, watching his team’s ball slowly, steadily and fatefully hook into the water hazard once again.
The Kings did many things well Monday night against Chicago. Their first eight minutes represented one of their best stretches of play of the season. They had net presence. They battled back to get a third-period, game-tying goal against the Blackhawks.
As has been the case so often of late, though, it wasn’t enough.
Ryan Smyth’s second goal of the game tied it with 7:18 remaining, but a bad-bounce goal came less than two minutes later and the Blackhawks held on for a 4-3 victory over the Kings on Monday night before 17,916 at STAPLES Center.
The Kings have now lost four consecutive games in regulation. They fell to 0-3 in what would seem to be a hugely important eight-game homestand, and they concluded their season series with an 0-4 record against Chicago, including three one-goal losses.
``The good teams just do it consistently every time, every shift,’’ Murray said. ``You just play. It’s like the pro playing against the 5-handicap golfer. He just has to play the game, because he knows, if you’re a 5-handicapper, something is going to give, somewhere down the road. You’re going to make that decision with the puck, you’re going to make the bad pass, and there’s going to maybe be that opportunity in the game.
``Some days, that 5-handicap golfer might win the game, but unfortunately I think we shot ourselves in the foot again here tonight, with the intensity and with the details with the puck.’’
Murray isn’t saying that the Kings need a swing coach, or some work on the play with the irons. A lack of consistency is the overreaching issue for the Kings, and it seems as though Murray is simply running out of creative ways to express it.
How else to explain the difference from the first period, when the Kings outshot the Blackhawks 9-0 in the first eight minutes, to the second period, when the Kings seemed to turn tentative in both ends and let the Blackhawks dictate the game?
Jonathan Toews scored the game-winning goal with 5:27 remaining in the third period, when the puck got past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick after a missed clearing attempt and a fortunate (for Chicago) deflection from behind the net.
Chicago held on, and goalie Corey Crawford made a brilliant save on Anze Kopitar with 15 seconds remaining to cap a back-and-forth game that saw the Kings rally from deficits of 2-1 and 3-2 but fall short in the third period.
``They’ve obviously had our number this year,’’ Kings winger Justin Williams said of the Blackhawks. ``They buckled down and won the tight games against us. We’re not far off. The tight games, we’re going to find a way to win them. I know we are. We have the team in here to do it. Learning, learning, learning. That’s what we’re doing right now. One day we’re going to come out on top, and we’re just going to keep going.’’
Last season, the Kings lost four consecutive games in regulation only once. Now, they’re on the second regulation losing streak of the season of at least four games.
``We have to work on our game,’’ Kings center Jarret Stoll said, ``and get it to where it needs to be for the final half of the season to get into the playoffs and go deep. We have to figure that out.’’
It could be argued, though, that Monday’s game -- at least in a mental sense -- was lost for the Kings after the first period. Even though the scoreboard indicated a 1-1 tie, the emotional tide had clearly shifted in the Blackhawks’ favor.
The Kings were all over the Blackhawks -- who played the previous night in Anaheim -- and outshot them 10-0 in the first eight minutes. Michal Handzus scored at the 4:28 mark but the Kings also hit the goalpost twice and couldn’t build on their lead.
It came back to bite them when Marian Hossa tied the game with a power-play goal with 1:18 remaining in the first period. Even though the Kings started the second period with some solid play, it seemed as though they had been deflated a bit, as though they gave the Blackhawks their best shot in the first period and could manage no better than a tie.
``That should not effect you,’’ Murray said. ``That’s a good player who scored the goal. He took it to the net hard. That is Hossa’s favorite play on the power play. We know that. And he puts it in. But that should not have an effect on you, the way it did in the last three quarters of that second period.
``But our details, our attention to the details, broke down, and it cost us again against the Chicago Blackhawks. I feel exactly the same way about the games that we played in Chicago this year, the two games. Those were games that we were much better than what it ends up looking like, as just another loss. We played well, and then we make that mistake, that fundamental, simple play that young players make, I guess.’’
After Hossa’s game-tying goal, Patrick Sharp twice gave the Blackhawks the lead. His goal, 7:11 into the second period, was matched when Ryan Smyth scored the first of his two goals, with 1:43 remaining in the second period, to tie the game 2-2.
Sharp’s second goal, 4:27 into the third period, was matched by Smyth’s second goal, on the power play with 7:18 remaining, but that only set up Toews’ game-winner. Sharp finished with four goals and four assists in four games against the Kings this season.
The Kings remain in seventh place in the Western Conference, largely because most conference teams were idle Monday night, but by the time they play again -- Thursday against Nashville at STAPLES Center -- the Kings could easily be out of the top eight.
Three games into this season-long eight-game homestand, the homestand that could have solidified their playoff standing, the Kings are 0-3. There’s still time, of course, for positive momentum, but so far the Kings have come up empty.
``I think it’s just that we need to do everything for the full 60 (minutes),’’ said Quick, who stopped 24 of 28 shots. ``Tonight we came out and we had a great first period. We got away from it a bit in the second and third there. Aside from that, I think we’re doing a lot of good things, some things to build off, but obviously we need to clean up parts of our game here and there.’’
The Kings were unable to take advantage of a Chicago team that was on its own three-game losing streak and had suffered a tough loss to Anaheim the night before. The Blackhawks stayed with goalie Corey Crawford, and he was tested early and often.
The Kings got an early power play and scored one second after it ended. After a flurry of Kings activity around the Chicago net, Jack Johnson took a pass just inside the blue line, skated to the center of the ice and whipped a wrist shot. Handzus got credit for the goal on a deflection as the Kings took a 1-0 lead at the 4:28 mark of the first period. Alec Martinez also got an assist.
The Kings held a 10-0 edge in shots on goal after eight minutes, but the Blackhawks tied the game 1-1 with 1:18 remaining in the first period on a power-play goal, after a questionable interference call on Rob Scuderi. Hossa held the puck below the goal line, then saw an opening, cut to the front of the net and put a well-placed shot inside the far post. Tomas Kopecky and Sharp picked up assists.
Another power-play goal, 7:11 into the second period, gave Chicago a 2-1 lead. Patrick Kane passed, from the right faceoff dot, to Sharp at the left faceoff dot, and Sharp ripped a one-timer past Quick. Toews also picked up an assist.
The Kings tied the game 2-2 with 1:43 remaining in the second period. Drew Doughty won the puck at the defensive blue line, and then Williams picked it up near the red line on the right side. Smyth headed for open ice, Williams found him with a pass and Smyth skated in alone and scored on a breakaway.
Some aggressive forechecking led to a goal and a 3-2 lead for the Blackhawks 4:27 into the third period. Tomas Kopecky forced the puck away from Martinez, after a poor pass from Wayne Simmonds, deep in the Kings' zone, and then Sharp took a pass and scored from close range for his second goal of the game.
``That puck that we have at our blue line, on the third goal, that should never happen,'' Murray said. ``That should never come back into our zone, and that’s the thought process that we have to clean up.''
Chicago was called for three consecutive third-period penalties, and the Kings took advantage of the third one. Johnson ripped a slap shot from the right point, and Smyth, parked in front of the net, deflected it past Crawford as the deflection broke Smyth's stick. Smyth's second goal tied the game 3-3 with 7:18 remaining.
Less than two minutes after the Kings tied the game, the Blackhawks took the lead back. After a scramble behind the net with Brent Seabrook, the puck was flicked out over the goal. Doughty attempted to clear the puck and Toews, in front, deflected the puck past Quick to give Chicago a 4-3 lead with 5:27 remaining.
``It hit me in the shoulder,'' Quick said. ``To be completely honest, I thought it might have been in off my shoulder, so I tried to lean in a little bit, so it didn’t go in. It ended up falling right in the crease there. I believe it was Dewey [Drew Doughty] who tried to clear it, and it took a tough bounce off somebody’s skate.''
1 - 0 LAK
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 CHI
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 CHI