The number of times John Stevens has been visibly angry after a game this season can be counted on one hand. Even after tough losses, the first-year Kings coach is, at most, stern and to the point.
By that standard, it said a lot that Stevens was at his most agitated after his team imploded Saturday afternoon at Staples Center. He cut to the gist of a 5-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in a somewhat tense postgame news conference in which he took exception to a microphone held too close to his face.
"Let's not deny the white elephant in the room here," Stevens said. "Total undisciplined play. [We] let them back in the hockey game. Totally unacceptable."
Normally the best third-period team in the NHL, the Kings held a 3-1 lead with just more than nine minutes to play when they took a series of penalties that fed Chicago, starting with an additional unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty by Drew Doughty for arguing a hooking infraction.
"We put ourselves in an undisciplined situation in the third period, and it ended up costing us," Stevens said. "[We're at] the end of a tough schedule where guys are taxed quite a bit. You give them life in that situation. They're going to come back and bite you. Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith and Patrick Kane are really proud guys and you open the door, they're going to walk through it."
Chicago's comeback began with Artem Anisimov's goal during the second half of Doughty's penalties. The Blackhawks, who had lost seven in a row on the road, tied it on Vinnie Hinostroza's score, and the game-winner came courtesy of an offensive-zone hooking penalty by Tanner Pearson that led to Toews' goal with 1:58 remaining. Kane added a goal in the final seconds.
All of that undid the Kings, who were on track for their fourth straight win on goals by Pearson, Alec Martinez and Alex Iafallo.
"The game totally got away from us in terms of discipline, right?" Stevens said. "You take an undisciplined penalty that ended up getting them back in the hockey game, and then you take a penalty 200 feet away from your net. If you can write a script for losing a hockey game, we just wrote it."
Doughty, who has taken multiple unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties this season, was seen complaining about his hooking penalty on Erik Gustafsson when he sat down in the penalty box. Doughty declined to speak afterward, through a team official.
"Obviously he feels bad about it," Anze Kopitar said. "But he has taken a few this year. Hopefully he doesn't do it anymore."
Saturday ended a run of 16 games in 31 days for the Kings, who gave up the first goal for the seventh straight game but were in position for victory on the strength of a three-goal second period in a game that saw four unassisted goals.
Iafallo intercepted Keith's pass near the boards and wristed the puck under goalie Anton Forsberg's left arm for his third goal in two games. Kopitar executed a give-and-go with Dustin Brown and his shot was left in front for Martinez to chip in. Pearson took advantage of another Keith turnover by stealing his pass and breaking in on Forsberg to snap a shot high.
But Jake Muzzin's holding penalty at the beginning of the third portended a lost period for the Kings in front of 18,230 fans. They will have to sit on one of their worst losses of the year for four days, knowing the standings won't change in their favor.
"We [threw] this one away," Kopitar said. "We had pretty much two points in the bank, and we had some chances to make it 4-1, and most likely that's the game. But we didn't do it, and like I said, we paid a price for it."