The only gray area in this loss was on the Kings’ alternate jerseys.
They went into Saturday’s matinee knowing they had beaten the Vegas Golden Knights twice this month, as part of a four-game win streak that planted seeds of possibilities:
Maybe the playoffs aren’t a preposterous possibility. Maybe they were past their bad habits.
All of that halted and magnified their outlook into an even more daunting remainder of the season. The Kings were fully outplayed in a 4-1 loss to Vegas at Staples Center that seemed to be the antithesis of how they were trending.
Vegas dictated possession and bothered the Kings into 16 giveaways. If the freshly minted rivalry was defined by last spring’s close first-round series, there was no ambiguity here.
“They were good on the forecheck,” Anze Kopitar said. “They were quick and we certainly didn’t move the puck as well as we did the past few games. But it happens. Saying all of that, it was a one-goal game going into the third. We couldn’t get it done.”
Kopitar tied it late in the first period before Vegas prevailed with goals by Alex Tuch, William Karlsson and Paul Stastny. Goalie Malcolm Subban got his first win of the season for Vegas.
It was the 21st regulation loss for the Kings, who took 29 such losses last season and secured a wild-card berth with 98 points. They would need to get 65 points out of their remaining 43 games to get to 98 points, starting with a back-to-back trip against the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas again.
“Our work’s cut out for us,” coach Willie Desjardins said. “We’re going to have to go hard.”
Even if the playoffs weren’t technically still on the table, the Kings would have liked to continue to improve their game. But they seemed to regress after a strong opening five minutes. Jeff Carter committed two ugly turnovers in the third period and Ilya Kovalchuk could not convert any of four quality looks in plays that summarized the afternoon.
Kovalchuk induced a penalty on a wraparound try but the Kings couldn’t tilt the game their way on that or an earlier power play in the second period.
Tuch buried Stastny’s pass off a Matt Luff turnover for the winning score at 12:26. Luff tried to backhand the puck to Michael Amadio and it was broken up by Brandon Pirri.
‘We just didn’t play good enough in the second [period],” Desjardins said. ‘It wasn’t that I didn’t think the effort was there. We made plays that we shouldn’t have made.”
Karlsson made the highlight package with a breakaway goal early in the third. He slid up on the heel of his left skate to execute a backhand-forehand deke around the outstretched right leg of goalie Jonathan Quick for a 3-1 lead.
Two minutes earlier, the Kings had difficulty getting out of their zone and Jonathan Marchessault intercepted the puck behind the net to set up Shea Theodore. Quick made the save, but it was indicative of the team’s performances.
Kopitar got his 299th career goal with five seconds left in the first period when he poked in a loose puck off Sean Walker’s shot that trickled through Subban.
The Kings will need a boatload more of those bounces the rest of the way.
“The big thing is, now, we can’t let this one turn into two [straight losses] and three and four,” Kopitar said. “Go into Colorado and win a hockey game and obviously a back-to-back with Vegas again. These are going to be two really big games.”
Dion Phaneuf was activated from injured reserve but did not play.