Credit goes to center Jeff Carter for finding the most important and immutable truth that emerged from the Kings' 3-0 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday, a defeat that left them nine points out of the second Western Conference wild-card playoff spot with eight games left.
"If you don't score," Carter said, "you don't win too many games, no matter how good your goalie is."
And there you have it.
The Kings were shut out for the 10th time this season — and second in three games — despite being credited with 30 shots at Rangers goaltender Antti Raanta, whose teammates blocked 18 other shot attempts by the Kings. In many ways, the Rangers' performance in extending their NHL-best road record to 27-9-1 was reminiscent of the Kings' style when they were able to strike a winning balance between tight defense and opportunistic, timely scoring.
"They find ways to win and they found one tonight," said Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, who faced 19 shots. "I thought we played a good game. We didn't win, you know? That seems to be happening a little more often than we would like."
It has happened a lot more often than is good for their playoff prospects. They did get a good chance in the second period, when rookie Jonny Brodzinski went in on a breakaway in his NHL debut, but he couldn't capitalize on it. "I wish we would have got the win," said Brodzinski, who played alongside Andy Andreoff and Nic Dowd and took three shots in 11 minutes and seven seconds of ice time. "If we score on that breakaway I had, it's a totally different game."
Coach Darryl Sutter agreed. "I'd have liked to have seen him score on the breakaway, so did he," Sutter said. "Would have made it 1-0. That would have been a big moment."
But missing that breakaway wasn't the only reason they lost. The Kings had few second-chance shots and created few scoring opportunities by winning board battles. The line of Tanner Pearson (four shots), Carter (four shots) and Tyler Toffoli (five shots) was by far their best, but Carter has now gone seven games without a goal, Toffoli is scoreless in five games, and Pearson has one goal in his last 10 games.
"We definitely had our chances. He played a good game," Carter said of Raanta. "The Rangers, they've always played a tight checking game. They block a lot of shots and sacrifice their bodies, and we had our chances and we didn't score. That's been a problem for us all year long."
Asked why the Kings have had such difficulty scoring this season, Carter had as many answers as the team had goals on Saturday. "If we knew, we probably wouldn't be in this position," Carter said. "I don't know. I couldn't tell you. It needs to change."
Time is running out for them to find their scoring touch and to avoid missing the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. The Kings, who were off on Sunday and will skate Monday before flying to Edmonton, have scored two goals or fewer 38 times and are 6-27-5 in those games. They're averaging 2.41 goals per game this season, 25th in the NHL.
What now? "Focus on the next game. Try to win the next game and go from there. That's it," Quick said. "It doesn't matter what time of the year it is, that's your mind-set. That's what we'll do."