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Kings Are at a Loss Again, 2-1 : Hockey: All Gretzky can do is vent his frustration after a defeat by the North Stars.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Now, even Wayne Gretzky is throwing sticks.

In anger over yet another King loss.

In frustration over yet another lost opportunity in the final minute.

In exasperation over yet another malfunctioning night by the offense.

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So when the final buzzer sounded Tuesday night at the Forum and the Minnesota North Stars were on top, 2-1, Gretzky, showing the rage of a team that keeps finding new routes to defeat, threw his trademark aluminum stick across the ice into a vacant corner.

“It was just a little bit of frustration that we couldn’t score,” Gretzky said. “We played pretty hard. The effort was there. We just couldn’t get the second goal.”

They seemed to have a lot going for them. Although the Kings gave up a lot of shots at the start, they were keeping the North Stars out of the net.

The Kings were facing a team that had gone 0-7-1 at the Forum over the last five years.

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Before a sellout crowd of 16,005, they were getting a good performance in the net from Daniel Berthiaume, back after sitting out nearly two weeks because of a mild concussion.

And they were going up against backup goalie Darcy Wakaluk, 1-4 on the road coming in with a 4.72 goals-against average.

None of it mattered in the end.

Just when the Kings’ defense started to click, the offense went into neutral, dropping the club to 12-13-7 on the season while Minnesota improved to 13-15-3.

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A lot of the credit certainly has to go to Wakaluk and some tight team defense by Minnesota.

But Gretzky pointed with some pride at his team’s defense as well.

“We’re playing much better than we were before,” he said, despite a mark of 1-6-2 over the last nine games. “For this team to win, we have to worry about our defense. There’s no question we’ll score our goals. When you lose 2-1, the first thing you say is, ‘What happened to the offense?’ Our first concern is the defense.”

Despite outshooting the Kings 8-0 in the first three minutes of the game and 16-12 in the period, the North Stars got only one goal, Mike Modano’s ninth, out of the shooting barrage.

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Minnesota extended its lead to 2-0 when Derian Hatcher scored his fifth goal 4:24 into the second period.

The Kings cut the margin in half on Jari Kurri’s ninth goal on a power play at the 9:54 mark.

Gretzky got an assist on the play, his 30th, extended his point-scoring streak to 12 games. Over than span, he has 18 assists.

The Kings mounted a furious charge in the final moment, but Wakaluk stopped everything they threw at him.

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“I don’t know what you can say,” Tony Granato told reporters. “It’s got to stop. It seems like we’ve been writing the same old script.”

What alarmed Granato was the ability of the North Stars, fifth in the Norris Division, to control a game played on Forum ice.

“Last year, that didn’t happen,” Granato said. “We set the tempo and controlled the game.”

In the closing minute, Luc Robitaille found himself with the puck on his stick in front of Wakaluk, who was sprawled on the ice. But the Minnesota goalie had his arm in front of the puck.

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Robitaille took a whack at the puck.

Then another.

But he might as well have been hitting it against a stone wall. Wakaluk would not budge.

“I was hoping,” Robitaille said, “that there would be a hole somewhere in his arm.”

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These days, those are the kind of hopes the Kings are reduced to.

King Notes

Minnesota outshot the Kings, 37-33. . . . King defenseman Rob Blake played Tuesday night after sitting out six games because of a strained ligament in his right knee. Blake is skating with the knee taped and a harness on his right shoulder. The shoulder and knee were both injured on Thanksgiving Day in Calgary. “The whole right side of my body is hurt,” Blake said. “I feel like an old man.” Blake just turned 22. . . . Still out is forward Jay Miller, who has missed three games because of flu.


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