An army of trench coats and beanies marched from the Kings’ locker room to the Rogers Place bus entrance Friday morning. Outside, snowfall from a recent winter storm still caked the streets. Up above, ominous clouds hung low in the sub-freezing air, promising another downpour in the not-so-distant future.
Thus, Kings players dressed accordingly. It will be their unofficial off-ice uniform for a while.
Friday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers, a 2-1 loss in which the Kings once again fell behind early and failed to catch up, kicked off a brutal upcoming schedule that could potentially define their season.
In their next 30 games, the Kings will play 21 away from home. After this weekend’s back-to-back set in Edmonton and Calgary, there is a five -game Eastern Conference trip later this month, a back-to-back in San Jose and Vancouver after Christmas, and a five-game swing through the southeast before the All-Star break in January, and a four-game trek to the northeast corridor weeks later.
A four-game homestand around New Year’s represents the Kings’ only consecutive home games from now until late February. And if they can’t keep from repeating the type of road performance they produced Friday, which dropped the already last-place squad to a league-worst 2-11-1 mark away from Staples Center (where they are 9-6-1), they could find themselves miles adrift in the standings long before then.
“It’s been all over the map,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said of his team’s road struggles. “Earlier in the season, we would start well and then we would give things up late. The last four or five games, we take a bunch of punches, we fall to the mat, then we pick ourselves up and start swinging ourselves.
“Once we fall behind, we’re a hard team to play against. But the starts haven’t been real good.”
That was again the case Friday, as the Kings trailed 2-0 after the first following a pair of Oilers power-play goals sandwiched around a potential equalizer from Blake Lizotte that was overturned by an offside video review.
“I knew it was close,” Lizotte said. “When you drag your foot, you’re not sure where the line is exactly. I knew it was going to be close. Even when I scored, I was [thinking] a little bit, ‘All right, they’re going to review it.’ Sure enough, it was a centimeter or two.”
Michael Amadio knocked in a rebound with 6:28 remaining in the third to get the Kings on the board. But once again — despite a last-minute barrage with an extra skater — their third-period comeback bid fell short. The Kings are 0-15-1 when trailing after two.
“We come in after the game and we sit there and we look at each other, and we keep telling the same story over and over again,” McLellan said. “Close. Work hard. Don’t quit. Pretty good structure. Just a goal short.”
Friday’s loss, the Kings’ 10th in a row away from home, had all the frustrating hallmarks of their recent road struggles. They outshot Edmonton 36-20, and according to captain Anze Kopitar “were probably the better team, creating more chances,” during five-on-five play.
“But,” Kopitar continued, “the game consists of the special teams, and special teams nowadays are a huge part of the game. We lost it tonight.”
It’s fair to wonder how many more of these narrow defeats the Kings can take before frustration boils over. In the locker room postgame, Kopitar and his teammates showed more annoyance than apathy, trying to understand why their apparent improvements aren’t adding up to more wins.
“We’ve got to figure it out,” Kopitar said. “How not to get behind. To get the first goal and play with the lead.”
It’s the attitude McLellan wants to see, the type of resolve the Kings will need to solve a road slump that is in danger of derailing their season.
“It’s our job to keep the bad habits out, and it’s our job to keep the morale up,” McLellan said. “They’re not, by any means, down right now. I think they understand they’re playing a pretty good game. We talked about it between periods, stick with the program.
“I think we’re getting better in losing. The whole purpose of our approach this year was to get some structure in place, move the needle, and get better. We’re doing that right now. We’re not winning enough games, but we are getting better. It will pay off at some point.”