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As Time Flies, So Do Kings’ Chances in a 4-2 Loss to Penguins

TIMES STAFF WRITER

King goaltender Robb Stauber is not a clock-watcher by nature or by virtue of his position. Yet he took a peek every once in a while as the Kings inched closer to what would have been their first road victory in more than six weeks, holding a one-goal lead midway through the third period against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But there was that small matter of playing the final 8:22. Time proved to be their enemy as Pittsburgh scored three times in that span--including one empty-net goal--to defeat the Kings, 4-2, Tuesday night at the Civic Arena before a sellout crowd of 17,009.

“I was thinking, ‘Let’s end this thing,’ ” said Stauber, who made 45 saves. “It seems as though the clock is moving slowly when you’re up by one goal. It moved much faster when they scored to tie it and went ahead.”

You almost expect the slightest thing to derail the Kings these days.

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They simply are unable to play with any measure of consistency. The defensive breakdowns are inevitable, especially on the road. The Kings have lost eight consecutive games on the road and maintain a tight hold on the NHL’s worst road record at 2-12-1, having lost 12 of their last 13 games away from the Forum.

The best thing about this game for the Kings?

The fact that former King defenseman Marty McSorley had nothing to do with its outcome. Two consecutive days of former Kings performing well against them might have pushed club management over the edge. Bob Kudelski scored twice for Ottawa during a 5-2 victory on Monday.

The second best thing was Stauber’s performance. In his first start since Oct. 26 against the Islanders, he was flawless until Kevin Stevens scored with 5:16 to play in the second period. It was the Penguins’ 31st shot.

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“He was unbelievable,” Penguin right wing Rick Tocchet said of Stauber. “We must have had 20 shots that hit him in the belly. But we had seven or eight spectacular chances, too.”

Tocchet scored what turned out to be the game-winner at 15:03 of the third, finishing a three-on-two as he beat Stauber on the glove side with a shot from the edge of the right circle. That made it 3-2 and Bryan Trottier scored the Penguins’ final goal with 35 seconds to play after Stauber had been pulled for an extra attacker.

Earlier, the Penguins took advantage of a King breakdown to tie the game at 11:38 of the third when Joe Mullen scored from the left crease to make it 2-2. King defenseman Charlie Huddy tried a clearing pass along the boards and defenseman Larry Murphy played it off the right-wing boards and threw it toward the net. The puck ended up on Mullen’s stick and Stauber had no chance.

Afterward, King Coach Barry Melrose continued to talk about the positive aspects of the game. His words are starting to sound somewhat hollow with the Kings mired in 10th place in the Western Conference, five points behind the eighth-place Winnipeg Jets, who occupy the final playoff spot.

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Said Wayne Gretzky, who went pointless: “We’re at a point where we have to win. Close doesn’t matter. I don’t care if it’s 2-1 or 8-7, just as long as we win.”

King Notes

Right wing Tony Granato is suffering from an inflamed disk in his lower back and will probably return to Los Angeles today, according to King trainer Pete Demers. Granato re-injured the back Monday against Ottawa and was a late scratch for Tuesday’s game, which means he has been sidelined for two of the Kings’ last four games. Granato was examined by the Penguins’ team physician, Charles Burke, who has spent the last few years treating the ailing back of Pittsburgh star Mario Lemieux. “It was kind of a joint decision,” Demers said. “It has limited his effectiveness. We want to put this to bed and get rid of it. It might take a few weeks. We want to get him checked out at home by (noted back specialist) Bob Watkins and (team physician) Ron Kvitne. It needs time to settle down. The pain has stayed local, so that’s a good sign.” Granato has struggled all season, scoring only one goal in his last 22 games. He has four goals and 11 points in 28 games. Taking Granato’s place in the lineup was forward John Druce, who got cut in the face. . . . The other scratches were goaltender Rick Knickle, defenseman Doug Houda and forwards Gary Shuchuk, Dave Taylor and Phil Crowe.


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