Is this a midseason rut or a pothole big enough to warrant serious changes?
The Kings took a giant step backward Tuesday. A 6-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday left them with seven losses in eight games, with one more chance to salvage points Wednesday before the All-Star break.
Here's what we learned:
The problem is between their ears. The most telling remark from coach John Stevens after the game concerned his team's "total reluctance to follow the game plan." He reinforced that with a first-period timeout but the Kings again got away from their checking game and left goalie Jonathan Quick on an island.
"Those goals weren't his fault at all," Tyler Toffoli said. "That's on us on coverage."
It's fairly damning that a mostly veteran team can get sucked into a rush game against Vancouver. That's not a personnel problem so much as an internal one, and if their recent six-game losing streak wasn't the first crisis for Stevens, this might qualify.
The big three need more support. It's no revelation that the Kings rely heavily on Quick, Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty. But that trio can only do so much and Tuesday was an example of the need for the supporting cast to do some lifting.
Quick was flailing from the get-go because of breakdowns in front of him. Kopitar was beaten soundly in the faceoff circle, losing 18 of 26 draws (the Kings lost 46 of 73). Doughty's partner, Derek Forbort, couldn't corral a puck in Vancouver's end and it led to a two-on-one for the Canucks' second goal.
When the Kings have full contributions, they are a difficult out. Otherwise, it can get as cringe-worthy as Tuesday.
The Canucks aren't relevant, but they're fun to watch. Vancouver is firmly in rebuilding mode, stuck in an awkward phase toward the end of Daniel and Henrik Sedin's careers while trying to look ahead.
That future is intriguing.
Brock Boeser was a beast all night. Bo Horvat has terrific offensive instincts. Vancouver began the game with more desperation than the Kings, which says a lot about both sides.
"We knew they were a different team than when we played them last time, and they came out and took it over right away," Toffoli said.