The goal looked a lot like the Kings’ performance, and their season to date: Arcing high into the air before nosediving to the ice.
It was scored by the Dallas Stars (17-16-8) in their 6-4 win over the Kings (20-17-4) at Staples Center on Monday night. Tyler Seguin’s shot nicked the tip of defenseman Jake Muzzin’s stick, shot up and then looped over the head of Peter Budaj and into the net. It came in the middle of the second period and was only a table-setter for a dramatic third period, which featured the Kings scoring three times in 5 minutes 18 seconds before yielding the decisive goal.
That was scored by Jiri Hudler and was piled atop goals by Seguin, Brett Ritchie, Jamie Oleksiak and Devin Shore before Patrick Sharp’s empty-netter sealed it. The Kings’ goals came from Nick Shore, Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, who tied it early in the third with a rocketing slap shot.
One more was a lot to ask for, and it never came.
“It was that kind of game,” Kings forward Tanner Pearson said. “You bounce back but you still seem to be chasing the whole game.”
The loss brought the Kings to the 41-game midpoint of a temperamental season. They have not won more than twice in a row since a five-game winning streak in mid-to-late November. They have frequently jousted with offensive droughts. They are also still waiting for another scorer to emerge next to Jeff Carter and his team-leading 22 goals.
Their results in January alone illustrate their fickle play: They started 2017 by capping a home-and-home sweep of the division-leading San Jose Sharks, lost 4-0 to the Detroit Red Wings, handed the Minnesota Wild a rare loss in overtime and then fell to to the bottom-of-the-pack Stars.
And still, Kings Coach Darryl Sutter sees a 0-3 start and early goaltending as the blemishes on the season.
“How could I be disappointed?” Sutter asked after the Kings practiced Sunday. “I mean, we lead in a lot of major categories. If we had two or three more wins, if we got a few more saves where we should’ve or one less penalty here or there, it’s a fine line.”
The Kings lost starting goaltender Jonathan Quick to a groin injury on opening night and have been thinned by sporadic injuries. They are currently without forward Tyler Toffoli — who hasn’t played since Dec. 20 because of a lower-body injury and still ranks third on the team with eight goals — and Kopitar (four goals in 36 games) and Marian Gaborik (two goals in 18 games) have had trouble finding the net.
Carter and Budaj, who started the season in the American Hockey League, have lifted the Kings for stretches. Only Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby has scored more than Carter, and Budaj’s first 34 appearances, discounting this start, has helped the Kings rank eighth in goals allowed per game.
But then there are nights, like Monday, when everything fails to click at once. The offense showed up. Budaj didn’t and was replaced by Jeff Zatkoff midway through the third. By then the Kings were skating toward a fittingly puzzling loss to cap their first half.
“When we play the way we can play we can compete with any team in the league,” said Muzzin on Sunday. “ ... It’s just rising to the occasion every game. No matter who we’re playing — division, East Coast, No. 1 team, last-place team — it’s bring that every night. That’s something that we can work on to get better in the last 40 games here.”
Follow Jesse Dougherty Twitter @dougherty_jesse