The difference between the Kings and San Jose Sharks could be measured by the width of a hockey stick and the thickness of a goal post.
Midway through the game, Sharks defenseman Brent Burns made a goal-saving stick play on Trevor Lewis. Minutes later, Tanner Pearson hit the crossbar, one of two struck crossbars by the Kings on the night. The Kings had a lot of those plays go right for them during their five-game winning streak, but it finally fell wrong for them Wednesday in a 4-1 loss at Staples Center.
The streak was snapped because of a late first-period breakdown that put them behind 3-0, and the Sharks rode through behind ex-Kings goalie Martin Jones and perhaps some Stanley Cup finalist mettle such as the Burns play.
“We just couldn’t really find that second wind,” said Kings center Anze Kopitar. “I thought we had some chances around the net. We didn’t score … that was the difference.”
It wasn’t for a lack of effort.
The Kings owned most of the second period but got only one goal, by Dustin Brown, on the power play, and were held to that one goal after they averaged three per game during their streak. Brown dug the puck out from the crease and scored high as play kept going before officials determined it was Brown’s fourth goal.
The Kings needed that response after they absorbed two big punches by San Jose that could have chased goalie Peter Budaj from goal.
Logan Couture pounced on a rebound in front of the net with 55 seconds left in the opening period. Sharks rookie Ryan Carpenter got his first NHL goal 30 seconds later with a clever chip off the boards before he looked off to pass and beat Budaj five-hole for the 3-0 lead.
Until then the Kings righted themselves after a goal by another Sharks rookie, Kevin Labanc, who converted a two-on-one with Couture nearly four minutes into the game. Labanc and Carpenter have a combined 15 games of NHL experience.
By contrast, the 34-year-old Budaj was making his 21st straight appearance. That run could change for back-to-back situations such as Thursday, though Kings Coach Darryl Sutter has been less than enthusiastic about returning to Jeff Zatkoff.
Zatkoff said earlier that he’s healthy after dealing with a groin injury. He also understands that it’s Budaj’s time.
“I’ve been around long enough, you’ve just got to stay patient and wait your turn,” Zatkoff said. “We play 82 games, right? We’re  games in. We need both guys to make it to the end. I’m at a point now where I’m just working on kind of getting back to full speed and maintaining that strength to make sure I don’t have any more setbacks the rest of the year.”
The unusually cruel injury bug took another bite out of the Kings as Jack Campbell, briefly Budaj’s backup when Zatkoff went down, also injured his groin in the minors.
It is the third groin injury to a Kings goalie this season.
“Right now it is not serious but you never know,” Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi said in an email.
When: 6 p.m. PST, Thursday.
On the air: TV: FSW; Radio: 790.
Update: Arizona defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson left Tuesday’s game with an upper-body injury but is a possibility to play, Coyotes Coach Dave Tippett told the Arizona Republic. Arizona recently got goalie Mike Smith and center Martin Hanzal back from injury but is last in the Pacific Division.