The closer things get, the shakier Kings look
Three games into a seven-game homestand that could greatly influence their future, the Kings continued sliding backward toward their bad, old days.
Their 2-1 loss to the Sharks on Monday was their third consecutive one-goal defeat at Staples Center. It was a better effort than they mustered in their 4-3 loss to St. Louis on Saturday and they tested San Jose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov 33 times, including nine shots during two power plays in the third period, but it was still a wasted opportunity in a playoff race that allows for no stumbles.
They’ve lost seven of their last 10 games -- all by one goal. They’re suddenly vulnerable to being overtaken by the Red Wings, who trail the eighth-place Kings by one point but now have two games in hand.
“Obviously, we wanted to turn that around the other way,” said backup goalie Erik Ersberg, who played well in a 34-save effort, “but that’s how it is and we’ve just got to win the next game and we go from there.”
That next game doesn’t offer the promise of much relief: It’s against the Ducks, who have won four straight games to rekindle their own playoff hopes.
“Sometimes you go through hell. You’ve just got to keep going and come out the other side,” Coach Terry Murray said after his team’s record in one-goal decisions dropped to 13-8-3.
Defenseman Randy Jones scored the only goal for the Kings, who still hold a 3-1-1 edge over the Sharks in their season series. That’s little consolation after the Kings went through a massive reconfiguration of their lines and an adjustment on defense after losing rugged Matt Greene, who suffered a lower-body injury in a fight Saturday against the Blues’ B.J. Crombeen and is expected to be out “a while,” Murray said.
The changes didn’t galvanize their slumbering offense.
“We were scoring a lot in the beginning of the year. Teams go through things like this,” Brown said. “As of late it’s been really tough for us. But we’ve got to stay positive. It does us no good to be negative at this point of the year.”
The Sharks scored the only goal of the first period, the third straight game in which the Kings’ opponent scored first. The goal resulted after the Kings were unable to clear the puck and it came back to the blue line to Dan Boyle. His blast was deflected, apparently off one of the Kings, because he was awarded the unassisted goal at 3:54.
San Jose extended its lead to 2-0 early in the second period, capitalizing on a one-man advantage seconds after a five-on-three had expired. Boyle, the heady defenseman who will play for Canada at the Vancouver Olympics, got the second assist on a play finished off by Dany Heatley’s second-effort swat at his own rebound at 4:40.
The announced crowd of 17,821, until then stirred only to boo at the sight of former King Rob Blake, became restless after that goal. The fans’ mood improved 37 seconds later, when the Kings cut the Sharks’ lead to 2-1.
Anze Kopitar set things up with a pass from the boards to Alexander Frolov, whose 30-foot shot from the slot was stopped by Nabokov. The rebound caromed to the left side, where Jones pounced on it for a wrist shot from the lower edge of the circle.
The Kings had several excellent chances to tie it during a power play they gained at 4:44 of the third, after Boyle was sent off for tripping Smyth. They took five shots while swarming the net but couldn’t score.
They got a five-on-three manpower edge when San Jose’s Douglas Murray was penalized for delaying the game after he shot the puck over the glass and in all took nine shots during the five-on-four and five-on-three advantages. In taking 18 shots in the final period they forced Nabokov to be at his acrobatic best, and he met that challenge.
The question is whether the Kings will meet their challenge, which is staying in a playoff spot.
Brown’s day began with the good news that he will be an alternate captain on the U.S. Olympic hockey team at the Vancouver Games. New Jersey’s Jamie Langenbrunner was appointed captain, with Brown, New Jersey’s Zach Parise, Nashville’s Ryan Suter and Detroit’s Brian Rafalski as alternates. “I’m looking forward going to Vancouver and representing the USA and bringing home the gold,” Brown said.
But a promising day ended with another stinging loss. He has seen a lot of those in six seasons with the Kings and has yet to play in a playoff game.
Brown chose to accent the positive, saying he saw progress from the team’s abysmal loss to St. Louis on Saturday.
“We need a better result and it’s all about results now,” Brown said. “That was a hell of a lot better than the St. Louis game and we have to build on that.
“That’s a good team and they had a couple of chances and they capitalized and we had some good chances and missed. That’s the difference when you play a good team late in the season and that’s something we need to build on.”
Time to start building. And scoring.