If there is a price to be paid for playing 11 playoff series and 64 playoff games in the past three years, one can argue that the Kings are making that payment right now.
As of Tuesday, the reigning Stanley Cup champion Kings are on the outside looking in, out of a playoff spot, trailing the Calgary Flames by one point for the last Western Conference spot. The Flames finished 23 points behind the Kings in the final standings last season.
The Kings have one more game before the All-Star break, at San Jose on Wednesday, a symbolic point of the season.
“We’ve set ourselves up to be in a dogfight now,” Kings forward Justin Williams said. “We didn’t set ourselves up so we could be more comfortable.”
They rarely have found a consistent comfort level this season. The Kings have been blowing third-period leads. The once tightly structured team has been giving up goals in bunches. One mistake leads to another and left wing Kyle Clifford pointed out that they’ve been shooting themselves in the foot.
Or the skate.
“They have to keep understanding and listening to what I’m telling them about how tough it is,” Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said Tuesday. “The train has got to be a work train, not the Stanley Cup train. The Stanley Cup train was last year and some guys just have to get off that train. There’s no extra for it. You get nothing for it.”
The passengers have looked weary at times this season. Kings center Anze Kopitar, the team’s leading scorer, went through the most prolonged slump of his career before rebounding recently. At one point, he had one goal in 14 games. Jeff Carter started fast with five goals in October, but he has scored six more since and none in the last six games.
Sutter has had to rely more on No. 1 defenseman Drew Doughty because of injuries, the loss of the steady Willie Mitchell to free agency and the indefinite suspension of Slava Voynov.
Voynov, who played the first six games of the season, is scheduled to go on trial in March after pleading not guilty to a felony domestic violence charge.
Doughty is averaging 29 minutes 23 seconds of ice time, second in the league to Minnesota’s Ryan Suter (29:35), as of Tuesday.
The other issue is that the Kings have been without two of their brightest young stars, wingers Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, and will be for an unknown period. Toffoli has been out since Jan. 10 because of mononucleosis and Pearson broke his leg in a game that night against Winnipeg and probably won’t be available until mid-April.
Pearson and Toffoli have a combined 24 goals, and Sutter was quick to point out another key stat, saying: “Those two boys are plus-30.”
“It falls on the shoulders of defensemen and wingers to do a little bit more than they’ve done all year,” Sutter said.
Said Clifford: “Five to 10 percent better. We just need to dig down and find it.”
The script is familiar as the Kings so often have been able to flip the switch at the right time to pull out of trouble. Last season was the exception as they locked in a playoff spot early, at least by Kings standards.
But they qualified for the playoffs in their second-to-last game of the regular season in 2011-12 and went on to win the Stanley Cup. After 46 games that season, the Kings were 22-15-9 for 53 points. Notably, they are one point behind that pace this season.
“We kind of do these things every year I’ve been here,” Doughty said. “We try to not come into the season late and battle our way into a playoff spot and make the playoffs just barely.
“We want to be up there in first place and obviously that’s looking like that’s not going to happen. ... We need to treat every single game as a playoff game because every single point matters.”
Two Stanley Cups in the last three seasons is bound to take a toll. And Kopitar, Doughty, Carter, Dustin Brown and goalie Jonathan Quick had Olympic obligations last season, that many more games on the hockey odometer.
“It’s the best problem to have — everybody in the league would love to have that problem for the last three seasons,” Sutter said. “At times you can see where players aren’t as invested in the importance of that game as they should be. And that’s probably cost us points.
“If our extra-point deal [overtimes/shootouts] was the same as last year, we’d be in second place.”
The Kings are 1-7 in shootouts this season.
“Five or six points. Is it an issue?” Sutter continued. “It’s an issue because it’s five or six points. Is it a big problem? No.
“There’s not enough difference [between] the teams. Anaheim got control and secured the division and everybody else is there. That’s the way it is.”
KINGS AT SAN JOSE
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
On the air: TV: NBC Sports Network. Radio: 790.
Etc.: The Sharks’ loss to the New Jersey Devils on Monday night was especially costly. Forward Tommy Wingels and defenseman Justin Braun were injured and were both placed on injured reserve Tuesday. San Jose Coach Todd McLellan told reporters that both players would be out for weeks. The team later recalled defenseman Dylan DeMelo from its American Hockey League affiliate.