BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — At this rate, someone in the King organization will soon hire a time-management consultant to advise the team on how to optimize its precious practice time.
A likely report: Work on the special teams, which lately have not been very special.
Saturday, the Kings were again abandoned by their power-play and penalty-killing teams, and that absence accounted in large part for the Minnesota North Stars' 6-3 win before 13,055 fans at the Met Center.
The Kings held a 3-0 lead early in the second period but blew that, allowing four straight North Star goals in the period.
Somehow, their power-play team remains first in the National Hockey League (their penalty-killing unit is last), but that statistic can't hold up much longer. Thursday night at home against the Winnipeg Jets, the Kings were 0-6 on the power play. Saturday, they were 1-7. In the last three games, they were 2-17.
"I don't know what it is," the Kings' Bryan Erickson said. "I can't say we're stale. Some games we are really snappy, and on some nights we aren't there."
A brief interlude near the end of the game epitomized the Kings' inability to capitalize with the man advantage.
Halfway through a King power play, the North Stars called a timeout at 18:40. When the teams went back onto the ice, King goaltender Al Jensen stayed on the bench to give the Kings an extra attacker and a six-on-four advantage.
One minute six seconds later, Minnesota scored into the empty King net, the North Stars' last goal in a victory that raised their record to 27-28-7.
"I thought that we moved the puck pretty effectively," King Coach Mike Murphy said. "I think we got the scoring chances on the power play, which is what I look for. Right now, we are not sharp."
When he was the Kings' assistant coach, Murphy's main responsibility was the special teams. Now, with assistant coach Phil Myre primarily responsible for coaching the goaltenders and Murphy running practices, there is a gap.
Murphy said that being short one coach is not the problem, but he admits that the team has not been spending practice time working on power plays and penalty killing.
Whatever the problem, the Kings will want to pinpoint it soon. At 25-30-7, they are still virtually assured of a playoff spot, but poor play at the end of the regular season does not bode will for their postseason chances.
"Obviously, we aren't winning on the road," center Marcel Dionne said, walking away in disgust from reporters after the game. He stopped to make another point. "The bigger teams are bruising us," he said. "They are using their strength on the boards. We are a small team, we only have a few guys who are 6-feet. The opposition knows that. The (Philadelphia) Flyers were watching us tonight. Who are they afraid of?"
Case in point was Thursday night's game at home against Winnipeg, one of the league's bigger teams. At one point on a power play, the Kings had Dionne (5-7 1/2), Erickson (5-8) and Morris Lukowich (5-9) on the ice. It's difficult to score on a power play when your shooters are being knocked around like bowling pins.
Two king-sized King defensemen are injured: Larry Playfair (6-4, 220) is out for a year after knee surgery, and Dean Kennedy (6-2, 198) is day-to-day with a hip pointer. Left wing Joe Paterson (6-2, 205), one of the best boxers in the league, has been in uniform for only 20 of the last 48 games.
The news gets worse, size-wise. Newly acquired defenseman Dave Langevin (6-2, 200) was taken out by one of his former teammates Saturday when, with less than a minute to play in the second period, he tangled with Minnesota's Willi Plett along the boards. The two fell to the ice, and Plett got up first. Langevin wrenched his right knee and limped in front of the net in time to watch Craig Hartsburg score at 19:19.
"It was like a takedown in wrestling--I didn't think Willi would to that to me," Langevin said.
King trainer Pete Demers said that Langevin will not travel to Chicago for tonight's game against the Blackhawks and will have his knee examined by the team doctors in Los Angeles Monday.
For one period, the Kings were fast and crisp. They jumped to a 2-0 lead and appeared to have the North Stars reeling. A goal by Lyle Phair at 6:59 and a short-handed goal by Bob Bourne at 16:18 stunned Minnesota and its goaltender, Don Beaupre.
But after Dionne scored at 3:35 of the second period, Minnesota came back. Neal Broten converted a pass from Dino Ciccarelli at 10:30 to start the North Star scoring. Broten's goal came at the start of a five-minute power play that was perhaps the turning point for Minnesota. Then Brian MacLellan and Brian Bellows scored 17 seconds apart. Suddenly, it was 3-3, and Hartsburg's goal at the end of the second period gave the North Stars the lead for the rest of the game.
MacLellan and Bob Brooke scored in the third period.
The mood among the Kings was somber. "We wanted to establish something on the road," Erickson said. "We wanted to establish something to the rest of the league, that we can win in any building."
The Kings have yet to prove it.