The Kings accomplished their first and most difficult goal when they got into the playoffs. While losing three straight games since clinching that postseason berth, they've discovered they still need to get into a playoff frame of mind.
There's nothing fundamentally wrong and nothing that screams for a dramatic change as the season winds down, a process that continued Saturday night when they faced the West-lagging Edmonton Oilers at Staples Center. The Kings have endured slumps like the three-game losing streak they took into Saturday's game and they've had scoring droughts like the four goals they produced in those three losses, and they've always emerged stronger on the other side.
But with first place in the Pacific Division and the top seed in the Western Conference still at stake, they agree they shouldn't relax now. Or, as Coach Darryl Sutter put it, "We've worked for six months and we've been in a spot. And we've been in and out of 1-2-3 the whole time. Might as well finish strong and see if you can be 1."
But they know they'll have to refine parts of their game in order to stay atop the division, possibly get the top seeding in the conference, and be sharp when postseason play begins.
"We want to finish as high as we can. We'd like to win the division. Win the conference, if it's possible," defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "We want to do those things, but I do think at this point it's more important about how you're playing. You could be winning games, but if you're winning the wrong way you're not really doing yourself a favor if you think that's the right way to play.
"We're at the point right now in the season where we're dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's. I think that's more important to me than just flat-out results. We want those results, but if we play that way, we'll get them also."
Center Vincent Lecavalier, who missed Thursday's game at Winnipeg because he was "banged up," and returned Saturday, acknowledged it's difficult to avoid a letup once that playoff berth is secured.
"Maybe it might creep in your head and it probably shouldn't, but you don't want to blame the last three games on that," he said. "It would be easy to say. We just have to turn it around … and kind of get in that playoff mode because it's coming in like 2 1/2 weeks and we want to win that division and that conference. It's an important goal for us and we have to push for it.
"You want to go in with that confidence of winning. A couple weeks ago, when we were winning six out of seven, you're feeling it. You feel that confidence. You want to go in for sure feeling it."
Sutter said the problem lately was more a lack of timely scoring than just scoring. He also offered a smart perspective on that 0-3 trip to Nashville, Minnesota and Winnipeg, which followed a 6-0-1 stretch.
"It's so close. I know I say it a lot, but it's so close," he said of the standings. "I don't like the fact that we lost three in a row, but if we'd have won six of our last 10 — which we did — then you'd say everything is good. We're all at 100-point paces. That's a good thing."
Also good, he said, is the team's overall structure, which should again provide a solid foundation in postseason play.
"Normally they're at least close games," he said. "You have to have that mind-set going in, and if you don't, you're not going to all of a sudden say, 'We snuck in and let's see what happens,' or, 'Let's change how we play.' You have to play the style that your team plays and be really effective with it."