Consider this make or break time.
The Kings play the final three games of an eight-game home stand this week, a stretch that started horrendously, improved to just plain bad and reached the midway point Saturday with a performance that was equal parts spectacular and nauseating.
The longest home stand of the season, the one expected to propel the Kings up the Western Conference standings and provide them insurance heading into a 10-game road trip next month, suddenly represented the low point of the season.
The good news is the Kings have shown they can rise from the ashes. They went through a stretch earlier this season when they played so poorly it seemed they’d never win another game.
But they did, winning nine of the first 12 in December, to be exact.
Then it happened again.
After playing two of their best games of the season on back-to-back nights Dec. 26-27, the Kings nose-dived into a five-game losing streak that carried over to the current home stand. They hadn’t lost five straight in regulation since December 2007.
Even when they finally won Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, they did it the hard way, allowing three consecutive goals after surging to a 4-0 lead and holding on for a 6-4 victory.
The win improved their record to 1-4 on the home stand, but they’re barely clinging to the final playoff spot in the conference standings, making the three remaining games must-wins.
Up first Monday night is the Maple Leafs, a proud organization dealing with its own set of issues. Namely, they aren’t particularly good at anything.
Toronto scored 14 goals in the last two games but is still ranked 23rd in the league in scoring. The Maple Leafs are also 23rd in goals against and 27th on the penalty kill. In the latest ESPN power rankings, they’re ranked 28th out of 30 teams.
Toronto has won three straight road games, so they do have something to build on.
The Kings then get St. Louis on Thursday, a team that’s lost three in a row heading into Monday’s game at Phoenix. It’s the fourth time this season the Blues have lost at least three straight, but what makes them very Kings-like is they’ve also strung together winning streaks of seven and five games.
The home stand then concludes Saturday night against the hapless Oilers, losers of eight of the last nine heading into Tuesday’s game at Dallas. Edmonton is last in the league in goals against and penalty-kill percentage, but one better in the ESPN power rankings at 29th.
The Kings need to win all three, should definitely win at least two and can’t afford to win just one. Get swept? They might as well begin making vacation plans for May because they’ll have a tough time making up any ground later this month and into February.
Fasten your seats, the roller-coaster ride is about to resume.