From the heights of a six-game winning streak a week ago the Kings have hit the skids of a three-game losing streak. How they handle their first significant taste of adversity will say a lot about where they're headed — and whether they can get where they want to go without significant fixes.
The Kings were disgusted rather than demoralized after a 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres Friday at HSBC Arena, recognizing their faults were too numerous to expect to win here for the first time in four games since 2003.
For a team that has built its success on defense, the Kings allowed too many Sabres to park in Jonathan Bernier's crease. They took too many penalties away from the play, including two that led to power-play goals for Buffalo. They couldn't capitalize on a five-on-three advantage for 45 seconds in the first period and were 0 for five with the man advantage.
"Even though our penalty killing has been pretty good, we can't afford to let teams' best players on the ice as much as we have," said right wing Justin Williams, whose 11-game point streak ended. "They obviously won the special teams battle tonight.
"There's no panic. We're one of the best teams in the league. We just need to right it right away and get our confidence back and get back to playing good defensive hockey because we've allowed way too many goals lately."
The Kings (12-6, 4-5 on the road) have yielded 15 goals in this streak — and this was the opener of a four-game trip and first in a back-to-back sequence that ends in Boston.
"We've got to figure out to turn this thing around real quick before this ends up in a long losing streak," center Anze Kopitar said. "There's a big two points up for grabs [Saturday] and we have to make sure we get them."
They started well Friday, with Ithaca, N.Y., native Dustin Brown snapping a 30-foot shot past U.S. Olympic teammate Ryan Miller at 4:57 of the first period. The Sabres pulled even 37 seconds into the second period, after defenseman Andrej Sekera walked in on the wing and threw the puck in front, where it deflected and bounced in.
Wayne Simmonds gave the Kings a 2-1 lead at 8:25 of the second period with his first goal in eight games, a play made possible when Peter Harrold pressured Tyler Ennis into a turnover. But Thomas Vanek, with his back to the net, deflected a blue-line blast by Derek Roy past Bernier at 15:22, while Jack Johnson served an elbowing penalty.
The Sabres took the lead on a Tim Connolly rebound at 2:10 of the third, after Ryan Smyth took a holding penalty in the offensive zone. Jochen Hecht provided the insurance goal at 15:21 after the Kings lost a faceoff in their own zone.
"It was a tough night. They were good," Bernier said. "They were tipping pucks. Every shot from the point, it seemed like it was hard to move around a lot."
Coach Terry Murray said the team's focus and work ethic were undermined by a lack of discipline. "We put ourselves in too tough a spot by taking three penalties and weren't able to kill them," he said.
But he also found a common thread in the six goals scored by San Jose, five by Columbus and four by Buffalo. "We're not digging in hard enough, heavy enough," he said. "Loose pucks, and they were more hungry than what we were to find it."
Finding a cure for their woes is the next task.
"Everyone knows there's ups and there's downs. Not everything's going to go hunky-dory," Williams said. "You're not going to kill off every penalty you have and you're not going to score on every power play. And we're learning that."
The hard way, at the moment.