From San Jose
"They beat us here tonight," Coach Terry Murray said, meaning his team was thrashed in too many areas for this defeat to be palatable in any way.
The poise the Kings (12-4-0) had showed in winning eight in their previous nine games, the impeccable penalty killing, their ability to clear rebounds and minimize the quality of opponents' shots -- all that was splintered by the end of a high-tempo game before a jubilant crowd at HP Pavilion. The fans who chanted "Beat L.A." got their wish as the Kings' road record fell to 4-4.
"Our management of the puck from the red line to the top of the circle in the offensive zone is what killed us," Murray said after his team gave up a season high in goals. "They rammed it right down our throats every time we tried to do something too much with the puck."
The Kings' penalty-killing streak ended at 22, their 9-0-0 record when scoring first was blemished and they exposed goaltender Jonathan Bernier to 34 shots, the second-most by an opponent this season. Bernier was far from perfect but he got little help clearing rebounds and he saw too many dangerous chances.
On San Jose's first two goals, scored by Ryane Clowe and Torrey Mitchell 1:15 apart late in the first period to overcome a lucky deflection off Scott Parse's skate, Murray pointedly noted that the defensemen were in the corner instead of in front of the net. That pattern was repeated time and again, even though the Kings fought back to pull within 3-2 and 4-3.
"We shot ourselves in the foot a few times," center Anze Kopitar said.
The Sharks (9-5-2) had a lot to do with that. So inconsistent that their coach, Todd McLellan, said Monday morning they were "not completely committed or engaged," they rose to the challenge Monday night, riding early efforts by support players long enough to let big guns Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton take over. "I was asked this morning if we had the right pieces in there," McLellan said. "I think our players proved they are the right pieces and it's a matter of getting it done on a nightly basis."
Scott Nichol gave San Jose a 3-1 lead at 10:35 of the second period, but the Kings cut that to 3-2 on an odd play. Ryan Smyth captured the rebound of a shot that had bounced off the boards and tucked the puck inside the post next to Antero Niittymaki but San Jose defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic reached behind the goal line and cleared it so quickly that the referees never saw it. Smyth raised his arms in celebration but play continued until Torrey Mitchell rifled a shot through Bernier's legs at 14:46.
The crowd went wild, thinking the Sharks had taken a 4-1 lead. However, Smyth's shot was reviewed and was ruled a goal -- which meant the clock was turned to 13:35 and Mitchell's apparent goal was wiped out. That left the Kings facing a 3-2 deficit -- and since the teams had been skating four-on-four when Smyth scored, Kings forward Brad Richardson and Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle had to return to the penalty box.
The Sharks re-established a two-goal lead on Marleau's power-play rebound at 2:39 of the third, but the Kings cut that to 4-3 at 7:06 on Jarret Stoll's redirection of a long shot by Scuderi. The Kings had no answer for Heatley's off-balance shot after a turnover at 7:49, or for Pavelski's power-play goal with 3:52 to go.
The Kings have one comfort: they're still 8-0-0 at home, where they will face the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday and seek to regain solid footing.
"We certainly don't want to make a habit of these type of games, poor decisions we made and things like that," Scuderi said.
It's the "things like that" that get you every time.