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End of Kings’ winning streak is slow, painful

Times Staff Writer

The Kings’ four-game winning streak didn’t come to a halt in a one dramatic swoop. Rather, it seemed to end almost slowly and deliberately.

And, sometimes, that’s almost more painful.

Substance over style . . . introducing the Columbus Blue Jackets, adept at suctioning momentum and energy out of NHL buildings and rivals, including the Kings on Wednesday night.

Columbus defeated the Kings, 4-1, at Staples Center with a two-goal performance from forward Jason Chimera, the first coming on a quick transition resulting in a three-on-two late in the first period.

That was hardly the whole story as the Kings -- playing before 11,491, their smallest home attendance since March 4, 1999, against Nashville -- lost for the first time in almost two weeks.

Columbus, off to the best start in franchise history, arrived with the league’s best penalty-killing percentage and a goalie (Pascal Leclaire) with four shutouts in seven starts. Only Kyle Calder’s power-play goal at 9:15 of the second period, pulling the Kings within two, prevented Leclaire from getting shutout No. 5.

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Kings Coach Marc Crawford expressed his frustration in a TV interview before the third period, saying it was almost as though his younger players were learning “they can’t score every shift.”

He expanded on that sentiment after the game.

“The point was we’ve got to come out together and you’ve got to make sure you take care of your own zone,” Crawford said. “It’s always better when you attack in numbers. You show your maturity when you recognize that’s the way it’s got to be.

“You’re not going to score on every shift. You have to recognize some shifts you’ve got to play well in your own end, some shifts you’re gonna have to dump it in. And some shifts it’ll open up and the ice will be there for you.

“We’re still in the facet of our team that our guys are learning that as they continue to go along.”

What helped the Kings (6-7) come undone, he felt, were the Blue Jackets’ grinders -- their third line out-performed the Kings’ third line, Crawford said.

Additionally, there was the usual suffocating penalty-killing from the Blue Jackets, and perhaps the decisive interlude of the game came late in the second period, when the Kings held a two-man advantage for more than a minute and a half after forward Manny Malhotra went off for interference at 14:00 and defenseman Adam Foote was called for tripping 21 seconds later.

The two best chances during the five-on-three came from winger Alexander Frolov and defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, who hit the crossbar with four minutes remaining in the period.

Kings goalie Jason LaBarbera took his first loss since Oct. 10 at Dallas. His four-game winning streak including a shutout against Nashville, and he had stopped 123 of 127 shots, going back to the third period of the Stars game.

He took responsibility for Chimera’s second goal, which made it 3-0 at 7:24 of the second.

“I made a bad play on that one,” LaBarbera said. “I came out and I wanted to go more up toward the middle . . . and it was just a scramble from there. I made two saves and that was the thing, the puck was bouncing and it bounced right to their guy. I tried to sweep it away and it bounced over [Michal] Handzus’ stick and went right to their guy.

“That was the way the night kind of went. It’s funny. When you’re going to win a game, usually that doesn’t happen. Or that happens for you. When you lose a game, it happens against you. We basically didn’t get the bounces.”

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com


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