CHICAGO — Look at it this way: The Kings have about four-plus months of fine-tuning, tinkering and trying to figure out how to beat the Chicago Blackhawks.
In the playoffs.
A win against the Blackhawks, of course, in the regular season would be an important first step. That was not to be on Monday as the Blackhawks defeated the Kings, 1-0, at the United Center. It was the first career shutout for Finnish rookie goalie Antti Raanta, who faced 26 shots and stopped Kings captain Dustin Brown's penalty shot late in the second period.
"We've got to be better," Kings defenseman Matt Greene said. "We've got to beat these guys if we want to get out of our conference. So we've got to start doing it right now."
The Kings have lost to the Blackhawks twice in 15 days, scoring once in those two games, both in Chicago. Monday represented a far superior effort to the game on Dec. 15, but the bigger picture is of greater concern.
They've lost three straight games in regulation for the first time all season. After starting goalie Jonathan Quick was injured on Nov. 12, they only lost two games in regulation from that point until Dec. 23.
"I don't know the stat, but we lost two regulation games in 20 or something like that and we were keeping pace," Brown said. "That's just how it is in the West. It was better, but the result is the same. It's disappointing. The way it is this year is about getting points. Now we've dropped three in a row and we've got a tough back-to-back. We've got to be ready to go in Dallas."
This one hinged on one mistake.
Chicago scored on a two-on-one at 7 minutes 5 seconds of the first period and it appeared as though Greene had broken up the pass from Bryan Bickell to Brandon Saad. Kings center Mike Richards then had a shot at it but the puck ended up on Saad's stick and he put it past rookie goalie Martin Jones.
"I'm not really sure, to be honest with you," Richards said of the play. "I just buried my head and was trying to backcheck and the next thing you know, the puck was right there. I don't know if I missed it, hit it, he lifted my stick. The next thing you know it was on his stick and in the back of the net."
Greene held himself accountable.
"Just didn't get enough of it. Two-on-one and I've got to get a better stick on the puck," he said. "And that's it. Gave them a second opportunity and they scored."
Of additional concern was a thunderous hit taken by defenseman Drew Doughty at the hands of Brandon Bollig in the corner late in the game. Doughty did return but appeared to be shaken up by the hit and was slow to get up after it occurred.
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter indicated after the morning skate that he would go with seven defensemen, and then opted to go with the usual six, making Alec Martinez a healthy scratch for the first time since Nov. 2.
On Monday, the Kings were simply unable to convert their chances.
"We had some good looks at the net," Richards said. "You can't win in this league without scoring, that's obvious. We just have to bear down on our chances. When you're not scoring lots of goals, you have to tighten it up defensively."
Brown lamented the lost opportunity on the penalty shot, which was awarded to him at 13:22 after defenseman Brent Seabrook hooked him on a breakaway.
"I have a couple of moves," Brown said. "I tried to go low blocker, but I just didn't get it high enough."
When: 5 PST.
On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 1150.
Etc.: Stars captain Jamie Benn often excels against the Kings and this season is no different. Benn has five points in two games against the Kings.
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