LOS ANGELES -- The scoring chances came early and often for the Kings, almost as rapid as the punches that were thrown.
But in the end, the Kings couldn’t shoot the puck past the Phoenix Coyotes and goalkeeper Mike Smith, resulting in another frustrating 1-0 defeat Thursday night at Staples Center.
The loss leapfrogged the Coyotes past the Kings and into seventh place in the Western Conference standings, with the Calgary Flames, the Kings next opponent Saturday night, sitting just two points back. Four other teams are within eight points of the Kings, including the resurgent Ducks.
“We knew it was a big game,” said Kings center Anze Kopitar. “Obviously, at this time of the year, you want to create some separation and we failed to do that today. It is disappointing, especially at home.”
The Kings fell to 15-12-4 as the home team, the most combined regulation, overtime and shootout losses of any team in the West except last-place Columbus. Their league-low scoring average also dropped to 2.07 a game. No team has averaged less than 2.09 goals for a full season in the last 10 years. The Kings are just 24 games away from joining that club.
Undoubtedly, they’ll look back at the first half of the Phoenix game and kick themselves for failing to secure the first lead.
They out-shot the Coyotes, 11-6, in the opening 20 minutes, a stretch that also featured four fights and 40 minutes worth of penalties. Brad Richardson had two exceptional scoring chances turned away by Smith, and Mike Richards and Justin Williams also had some good looks at the net, but only two of their nine shots were on target.
“A lot of good opportunities in the first period [from] guys that should have them,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. “You’ve got to put them away.”
In the second period, it was Trevor Lewis who seemed to have one good scoring opportunity after another but couldn’t find the back of the net. It’s something he’s used to, scoring just two goals in 47 games this season.
Just before the Coyotes took the lead on a power-play goal by Radim Vrbata with 4:01 left in the second period, the Kings were out-shooting Phoenix, 17-8.
Although the arena was filled with energy early on, reminiscent of a playoff atmosphere, Sutter said his best players didn’t perform in that fashion.
“If you want to say anything about a playoff atmosphere, that’s what playoff atmospheres are about,” he said. “It’s about your best players, your goal scorers, scoring goals at critical times. It’s simple.”
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick was supported by one goal or fewer for the 17thtime this season. He credited the forwards for their solid play in the defensive zone, which has helped the Kings become one of the league’s toughest teams to score on, but said they needed to find a way to get one past Smith.
“A game like tonight, we’ve got to find a way to tie that game up and push her into overtime,” he said.
Any kind of nudge will help the Kings at this point.