Kings must play at higher level to avoid a post-Christmas slump

Kings must play at higher level to avoid a post-Christmas slump
Anze Kopitar passes the puck under pressure from Calgary's Paul Byron on Monday during the Kings' last game before Christmas break. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Dustin Brown doesn't recall that the Kings lost their last game before the Christmas break last season, a bit of history they repeated when they fell to Calgary on Monday.

"It all blends together for players," the Kings' captain said Saturday morning, as the team reconvened after a four-day rest and prepared to face the San Jose Sharks at Staples Center. "I don't even remember stretches at the beginning of this year."

It's probably just as well Brown forgot that pre-Christmas loss to Dallas last season, which triggered a five-game losing streak and offensive struggles that contributed to the Kings losing nine of 10 games from Jan. 18 through Feb. 3.

"Obviously, we're looking to not do that again," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We want to come out of the break on a roll, going on a hot streak until the All-Star break."

Of course, the Kings eventually shook that post-Christmas slump and went on to win their second Stanley Cup championship in three seasons. What they're facing now is tough in a different way, complicated by injuries on defense and the indefinite absence of Slava Voynov, who faces arraignment Monday on a felony domestic violence charge.

In the 15 games before this season's break the Kings allowed 42 goals in regulation and overtime and scored 44; in the last seven games they gave up 27 goals — excluding shootouts — and scored 25. Before Saturday their team goals-against average was 2.36, seventh in the NHL. That's slight but noticeable slippage for the team that last season won the Jennings trophy (fewest goals against) and had a team goals-against average of 2.02.

"I don't see how we couldn't miss Slava," Doughty said. "Slava is one of the best defensemen on our team, in our conference. He's a great player…. but I think guys have done a great job at the same time of stepping up and, not trying to replace him, but playing in his spot for right now."

The Kings entered the break eighth in the West and in the second wild-card spot, two points ahead of Calgary. They must pick up at a higher level than where they left off and clean up their collective game in order to tighten their hold on a playoff berth.


"We want to get in top two in our division," Doughty said. "It's not going to happen overnight. We've got to win a lot of games in a row."

Brown said their priority is to become consistent, within a game and over the long haul.

"I know that's been said a lot but we've had spurts of really good hockey and then we lose games because we don't play well for five, 10 minutes," he said, his memory good enough to recall the team's' late collapse Monday against Calgary. "That's how close the league is when you look at it. Our game, there's a lot of peaks and valleys."

Coach Darryl Sutter zeroed in on the goals against as the key issue.

"We're scoring right around three and we're giving up right around three the last … 10, 15 games. That's not going to get you very far in this league," he said. "If you can score three, that's great, but a lot of times it's still that number in there, that if you're giving up three, you're not going to get many points."

During the 2011-12 season, leading up to the Kings' first Cup triumph, scoring was their weakness. That's not the problem now. Through the break the Kings averaged 2.74 goals per game. "And we haven't gotten the production out of some guys for a month when you look at it," Sutter said, referring to droughts afflicting Brown, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, among others.

Another Cup run might require General Manager Dean Lombardi to acquire a top-four defenseman in the final-piece-of-the-puzzle trade he seems to pull off every season. The Kings still can prove they're smart enough to learn from the past, even if they can't recall every bit of it.