EDMONTON, Canada — The Kings may want to take back the message they sent the Edmonton Oilers Friday night, lest their Smythe Divison rival crush them to smithereens in the playoffs.
The message, encased in a 9-3 win for Edmonton before a sellout crowd of 17,502 at the Northlands Coliseum, read something like, "Take us, we're yours."
This was not the way the Kings wanted to play against the team they figure to meet in the playoffs.
"We were never in the game," Coach Mike Murphy of the Kings said. In fact, the Kings (25-33-8) have not played with any intensity or confidence in a month. This is not the message they want to send to rest of the division.
It's not what they want Vancouver to hear. The last-place Canucks beat Montreal, 4-1, Friday night to move within eight points of the Kings. The Kings play host to Vancouver Sunday afternoon at the Forum.
"Everyone seems to have very low self-esteem about themselves," Murphy said. "You play without confidence. We are playing all over the ice without confidence. We're feeling a little sorry for ourselves. We can't do that. Nobody else will; they'll drive the spike in further."
The Kings already looked dead when the Oilers drove the spike in Friday night. Edmonton scored four goals in the first period, two in the second and three in the third.
Players who have been with the Kings have experienced this kind of slump before. "We'll get off the floor," said Murphy, who having played 10 of his 12 years in the NHL with the Kings had seen this before.
But the new Kings, the rookies, are bewildered.
"This is the worst it's ever been for me in hockey--it's a total collapse," Jimmy Carson said. "It's just frustrating. We had such a good thing going. People are talking about the playoffs--we're going to be gone if we continue this way."
Luc Robitaille said his first year in juniors might have been this bad. "I'm working hard, but I could do more," he said. "I have no idea what is happening. I'm not happy, that's for sure."
Even the team leader, captain Dave Taylor, is unconvincing in his find-the-positive-side-of-it approach. It's wearing thin, even on Taylor.
"We just have to work hard, battle," he said. "We have got to have guys who are willing to get their noses dirty. It's an individual thing."
One King who is fighting, as he has throughout his career, is Dave (Tiger) Williams. His emotional play used to spark the Kings; now, it mocks their weak effort.
"Over the years, when things like this happen, I have found it's better to say absolutely nothing," Williams said, uncharacteristically holding his tongue among reporters. "I see nothing, I know nothing, I say nothing."
The Kings do nothing.
It often happens that games between the Oilers and the Kings deteriorate into a battle of line rushes. There were line rushes Friday night--Edmonton's forwards rushing toward the King net and the King line rushing back, usually too late.
The Kings allowed the Oilers four goals in the period, to one of their own. Again, it often happens that such a deficit simply means that the Kings will score the bulk of their goals in the later periods.
The days of the high-scoring, free-wheeling Kings are a distant mirage now. When they fall behind, the Kings scramble, get rattled and, inevitably, make mistakes.
The Oiler line of Esa Tikkanen, Jari Kurri and Wayne Gretzky took little more than two minutes to establish its superiority. Tikkanen took a pass from Gretzky off a faceoff to score at 2:01.
Gretzky had one goal and four assists. He's only getting stronger as Edmonton (40-20-5) rolls inexorably toward the playoffs.
The Oilers' second goal was the product of patience--and Gretzky. With Gretzky at his favorite station, behind the opposing team's net, the Oilers worked the puck around, trying to give it to Gretzky.
They eventually did. From there, Gretzky sent the puck to Kurri, who scored at 7:23.
The Kings, meanwhile, were trying to mount an offense in the face of pestering backchecking by the Oiler forwards.
Mark Messier scored on the left side after Glenn Anderson got around King defenseman Mark Hardy. Messier converted Anderson's pass to give the Oilers a 3-0 lead. Anderson scored 11 seconds later when King goaltender Al Jensen was behind the net.
Bryan Erickson took the puck from the King blue line to score at 15:25, giving the Oilers a 4-1 lead at the end of the first period.
Craig MacTavish and Reijo Ruotsalainen--in his first game as an Oiler--scored for Edmonton in the second period.
Anderson got his second goal of the game, 57 seconds into the third period, and Kurri made it 8-1 at 5:40.
Jim Fox set up the two King goals of the period. He wrapped a pass around the boards for Bernie Nicholls at 11:22, and 11 seconds later he passed to Bob Bourne, who scored.
The final insult, the spike driving farther, came on a King power play at the end of the game. Gretzky stole the puck from King defenseman Grant Ledyard and scored his seventh short-handed goal of the season at 19:39.