At some point this season, the Kings will score another goal. Really, they will.
It was perfectly reasonable to ask when, or if, they will ever find the net again after they were shut out for the third straight game, this one a 4-0 loss to the Ducks on Tuesday night at Staples Center.
The sight of their division rivals brought out the Kings’ passion early in the game — both teams delivered some thunderous hits, and rugged Kings forward Kyle Clifford fought Jared Boll and Kevin Bieksa in the first period — but the Kings’ energy didn’t translate into scoring and none of their 30 shots got past John Gibson.
The Kings ended up with the same empty feeling they experienced in losses at St. Louis and Chicago last weekend, raising legitimate questions about their ability to compete in a division that has improved enough to make the path to the playoffs extremely perilous.
“It’s not a recipe for success when you don’t score and don’t get any saves,” Coach Darryl Sutter said, one of several blistering criticisms he made about the performance of goaltender Peter Budaj, who was elevated to a starting role because of injuries suffered by Jonathan Quick and Jeff Zatkoff.
“It’s not going to change. Nobody’s coming in on a white horse to play goal for us or score goals or to come up from [minor league] Ontario. This is our team. I’ve said it early, two, three games ago and I’ll say it again. Our responsibility is not to use injuries as an excuse. Our responsibility is to try and stay in the race.”
The Kings are 4-6-0, which calls for serious self-examination. It’s early in the season, but that shouldn’t lull them into thinking they can turn this around eventually. They’ve got to start now.
“Early in the season the points are just as important as they are late in the season,” center Anze Kopitar said. “If we’re going to use that as an excuse, it’s not a very good mentality to have.
“We’re not looking at it that way. We’re a below-.500 team and we’ve got to get above that.”
Well above that. But how?
After losing left wing Milan Lucic and his 20 goals to free agency last summer, the Kings knew they would have difficulty scoring goals this season. Losing winger Marian Gaborik for at least two months after he injured his knee during the World Cup was a big blow, but it created opportunities for other players to step up.
No one has done that so far aside from Tanner Pearson, who has four goals in the eight games in which he has played.
With 19 goals in 10 games (excluding a team goal awarded for a shootout victory) the Kings are averaging 1.9 goals per game, 29th in the NHL. That’s not going to get them into the playoffs.
But their woes go beyond their inability to score. They’re struggling in every part of the game, though the lack of goals is the most obvious symptom of what ails them.
What’s missing, defenseman Matt Greene said, “is scoring, obviously, but that’s a part of everything. That’s the [defensemen] taking the puck out smoother. That’s transition being better. That’s everything. There’s a lot of holes in the game the last couple games there and we’ve got to shore it up and get things right and get going and right the ship.”
Tuesday’s game turned into an interesting contrast in how each team responded to adversity.
The Ducks, who also have faced injuries but have compensated with their depth, had been shut out in their previous game, Friday against Columbus, but they bounced back quite impressively.
Forward Rickard Rakell, playing his first game after a contract stalemate had delayed his signing, scored a goal and set up two others, providing immediate returns on his six-year, $22.8-million contract.
With the help of a double-minor penalty called against defenseman Jake Muzzin, the Ducks scored three times on four shots against Budaj in the early and middle stages of the second period.
“Everybody’s got to raise their play,” Greene said.
They’ll score another goal this season. But whether they’ll score enough goals and win enough games to make the playoffs is an open question now.