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Different King Lineup Loses : Hockey: They fall to 0-3-1 after 3-1 loss to Blues. They’re off to worst start since 1984-85.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Now that the Kings have settled an unsettling issue and established themselves as a tough, hard-working team . . . perhaps a more pressing problem should be addressed, considering they are off to their worst start since the 1984-85 season.

Goals, or lack thereof.

Their 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues dropped them to 0-3-1.

With the offense already sputtering and choking, King Coach Barry Melrose attempted to remedy the situation with the insertion of grinder Gary Shuchuk. Forwards who have been known to score a bit--such as Robert Lang and Dan Quinn--were relegated to the press box, enjoying the view at the sparkling new Kiel Center.

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And that tinkering amounted to the production of a lone goal, by Wayne Gretzky, who turned 34 on Thursday. Thus, the Blues did some celebrating themselves, making a successful regular-season debut in their new home before a franchise-record crowd of 20,282. The previous record was 20,009 on March 31, 1973, against Pittsburgh at St. Louis Arena.

The Kings have not been off to such a bad start since they opened the 1984-85 season with an 0-6-3 record. St. Louis is 3-1.

New Blues Coach Mike Keenan, viewed here as the organization’s savior, may have received the loudest ovation during the pregame ceremonies. But right wing Brett Hull put his own stamp on the occasion with two goals, including the winner on the power play at 9:01 of the third period off a rebound from a shot from the left point from defenseman Al MacInnis, breaking a 1-1 tie.

Keenan had created a stir when he benched center Craig Janney in the third period of a 6-4 loss at Calgary on Tuesday. Against the Kings, however, Janney was scratched from the lineup and left wing Brendan Shanahan received clearance and played his first game of the season after missing the first three because of a virus. Last season, Janney had 84 points in 69 games.

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“They’re totally opposite from last year,” Melrose said ."You can tell by the men (Keenan) sat out. Very skilled men.”

For the Kings, nothing seems to have changed from the end of last season. Goaltending, a traditional weak point, wasn’t a major factor in their downfall then. And now in two games, 19-year-old rookie Jamie Storr has looked poised and made credible performances in goal.

“He was great--we’ve found a goalie,” Melrose said. “He looked cool and collected.”

Said Storr: “You never like losing, but from a personal standpoint I felt more confident. I wasn’t as nervous.”

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Storr, who faced 34 shots, kept it a 1-1 game until the Hull finally scored on the power play. The Blues were bound to break through eventually since it was their eighth power play of the game. In one second-period stretch, St. Louis received four consecutive power plays.

“You can’t keep killing penalties forever,” said King right wing Rick Tocchet, looking disgusted. “That means Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri have to play twice as hard (killing penalties). I’d like to play a game where those guys can just play a regular shift. It’s tiring.

“And if it does happen--if we’re going to be in a situation where you’re going to get nine penalties--we have to depend on guys who don’t kill them (off) and get some big goals. So it’s frustrating in that sense.”

Tocchet, ruefully, suggested an answer.

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“We might have to start apologizing to the refs before the game,” he said.

At least one player--Tocchet--is viewing Saturday against Winnipeg as a must-win game, even at this stage of the reconfigured season. “It is weird but it’s magnified because it’s a short season, and we’re at home,” he said. “We have to win that game.

King Notes

Center Robert Lang was scratched for the third consecutive game and defenseman Charlie Huddy was out for the second time this season. King Coach Barry Melrose indicated that Lang will play on Saturday against the Jets.

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