The team that fearlessly won three Game 7s on the road en route to claiming the Stanley Cup last spring has forgotten how to win away games, forgotten how to use its size and strength and brawn to dominate around the net and consistently get into position for the tips, screens and rebounds that are so crucial to success in a competitive league.
After the Stars flattened the Kings with a three-goal first period Saturday, the Kings "manned up and made a game of it," as Justin Williams said. But that wasn't enough for the Kings, whose 5-4 loss to the Stars at American Airlines Center dropped their road record to 1-4-3.
It's surprising that the Kings, so tough and resilient on the road during last season's playoffs, have only one road victory at this stage. "Yup, it is," Williams said.
He cited the team's three unsuccessful first-period power plays as a key to their struggles Saturday and said players were upset over their slow start.
"Power plays had a chance to take the game over and write a different outcome tonight, and we didn't answer the bell early," Williams said.
"It was a good job drawing them but determination and I guess just determination on the power play to have an impact on the game early, regardless of whether you were waiting or not to start the game or what excuse you might have. But we weren't ready to do it."
Dallas blazed to a 4-0 lead early in the second period on the strength of two goals by Jamie Benn and one each by John Klingberg and Tyler Seguin against a helpless Jonathan Quick before Kings rookie Tanner Pearson stemmed the tide by converting the rebound of a shot by Jake Muzzin at 9:32 of the second period.
Williams then converted a rebound for a power-play goal at 12:16 to cut Dallas' lead to 4-2.
But the Stars rebuilt their three-goal margin on a rising, power-play one-timer by defenseman Jason Demers, who was making his Dallas debut after being acquired from San Jose on Friday.
The Kings had a response to that, though, when Mike Richards faked a slap shot and instead sent the puck toward the net, where it deflected off a Dallas player's stick and past Kari Lehtonen at 18:29.
There it was again: success around the net, scoring gritty, work-intensive goals that didn't result from tic-tac-toe passing.
"Once we decided to go there and shoot the puck there was plenty there, kicking around waiting for us," Williams said.
He scored again, set up by Dustin Brown deep on the left side at 10:44 of the third period, to bring the Kings within one. But that's as close as they got in a game that left the final tally of the teams' season series tilted in Dallas' favor, 2-1.
"It was a good fight back, but not the way you want to build a deficit in the first period and even in the second, with penalties," Richards said. "It's a little bit frustrating. But we came back as a team and there's things that you can build on every game."
Defenseman Matt Greene chose to take a positive outlook, saying the Kings can change their luck on the road quickly. They are scheduled to have a day off Sunday before facing the Predators at Nashville on Tuesday and the Wild at St. Paul, Minn., on Wednesday.
"We've got a lot of them left. We've just got to go to work," Greene said. "We've still got two more on this trip and we've got to salvage the points that we can and do a better job of picking up points on the road."
And a better job of getting to the net for those screens, tips and rebounds.