Before Monday’s Martin Luther King Day matinee at Staples Center, coach John Stevens tried to inspire Kings players by insisting the game with conference rival San Jose was one that had postseason implications.
The Kings responded by playing like a team that appears to have few playoff aspirations, falling 4-1 in front of an announced crowd of 18,230 that booed them off the ice when it was over.
So now Stevens is trying a different tack, threatening to sit the boys on the couch for a little talk.
“Your son comes home and he made a mistake or he got a bad grade, you sit down and you look at the problem and you fix it,” he said. “That’s how we do things here. Nothing’s changed for us. We’re honest with ourselves. … We all need to be a lot better.”
And honestly, there’s a lot of room for improvement since Monday’s loss extended the Kings’ losing streak to four games, matching their longest slide of the season. The Kings haven’t even led in their last three games while falling into a tie for sixth in a tightly bunched Western Conference they once led.
San Jose’s first three goals, one in each period, came from Chris Tierney, Barclay Goodrow and Mikkel Boedker. The Kings’ lone murmur of protest came from Trevor Lewis, who ended Martin Jones’ bid for a second consecutive shutout against his former team with a third-period goal.
Joe Thornton closed out the scoring with an empty-net goal with 20 seconds to play.
“We’ve got to clean up things,” Lewis said. “Everyone was chasing us and now they’re kind of right there with us.
“They were more desperate than us tonight. So we’ve to crank it back up. We’ve got to get the intensity and urgency back up.”
San Jose took the lead 4 minutes 38 seconds into the first period when Joonas Donskoi delivered a spinning, no-look pass from inside the left circle to Tierney, who had snuck up behind defenseman Kurtis MacDermid at the far post. Tierney lifted the puck into the wide-open net for his 11th goal.
Goodrow doubled the lead midway through the second period, crashing the net and poking home the rebound of a Dylan DeMelo shot that goalie Darcy Kuemper, making his first start in 29 days, had deflected into the crease. The next goal came midway through the final period when Tierney slipped the puck to Donskoi in the crease. The puck bounced off his skate toward the post where Boedker, left all alone, pushed it in for a 3-0 lead.
Kuemper didn’t get much help on any of the three San Jose goals he gave up.
“Our goalie gave us a chance to win tonight,” Stevens said of Kuemper, whose loss was his first in regulation this season.
Lewis finally got the Kings on the board with 7:18 to play, taking a nice centering pass from Marion Gaborik and lifting it in by Jones for his 11th goal. But the Kings would get no closer despite peppering Jones with a barrage of shots after pulling Kuemper with more than three minutes to play.
And that left Stevens looking for a way to get the team playing like it was five weeks ago, when the Kings had the best record in the conference and the second-best mark in the NHL.
“We regroup,” he said. “It’s one hockey game. But we have to get our team reset on both sides of the puck and play with a little urgency every shift.
“We can’t have anything less [than] that [from] everybody [or] we aren’t going to win.”
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11