Into the home of the National Hockey League's most generous team stepped the league's most productive team.
Perhaps not unexpectedly, the Calgary Flames rolled over the Kings, 8-4, scoring 4 goals in a span of 7 minutes 22 seconds during the third period Saturday night to end the Kings' three-game unbeaten streak before a crowd of 12,977 at the Forum.
It was somewhat of an improvement for the Kings' defense. The last time these teams met, Nov. 13 in the Olympic Saddledome, the Flames lit up the Kings, 10-7.
But that, of course, was little consolation to Coach Mike Murphy, who watched the Kings' rookie goaltender, Glenn Healy, give up 8 goals on 24 shots before being pulled with 9:02 left.
Murphy, refusing to lay the blame on Healy, cited the usual reasons for the Kings' collapse: an inability to take care of the puck and a reluctance to clear the slot.
"They go to the net well, and we did not block their way to the net," Murphy said of the Flames. "I think generally we got outworked."
As for why that happened, Murphy had no explanation.
"When you're playing a team above you," he said, "you'd think there would be some adrenaline to outwork them. I can take getting beat, but I don't like getting outworked, especially by a team that's higher than us in the standings."
Of course, almost every team in the league is higher in the standings than the Kings, who are last in the Smythe Division with a 7-13-3 record.
The Flames are first in the Smythe, having moved past the idle Edmonton Oilers by extending their unbeaten streak to five games and winning for the seventh time in nine games.
The Flames, who got three goals from John Tonelli, have not been in first place this far into the season since moving from Atlanta in 1980.
The Kings, of course, have been last this far into the season--and beyond--on numerous occasions.
Consecutive victories over the Buffalo Sabres and Chicago Blackhawks seemed to obscure that fact. At least one player, in fact, suggested that the Kings are too easily satisfied with modest success.
"We're in last place," Murphy said sarcastically. "I guess that's a reason to be satisfied."
This was the start of an important stretch for the Kings, who have allowed 51 goals in their last 8 games. After tonight's game against the New Jersey Devils, they play 10 of 15 games against division opponents. Last season, the Kings had a 10-19-3 record against intra-division rivals, worst in the division.
The Kings are 1-6-1 against those teams so far this season.
Asked if the Smythe Division was really that good, Murphy said: "It is against us."
Looking ahead to the December schedule last weekend, after consecutive losses to the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers had dropped the Kings seven games below .500, General Manager Rogie Vachon said: "If we keep playing like this, we'll be out of the playoffs before the end of December."
Since then, the Kings had appeared to mend their generous ways.
They started strongly against the Flames, limiting a team that has scored 118 goals in 24 games to only two shots on goal in the first period.
Unfortunately for the Kings, both shots got past Healy, who made his third straight start and fifth in seven games.
Veteran Lanny McDonald, playing for the first time in five games amid speculation that the Flames are trying to ease him into retirement, scored on a shot from the right circle with 11:23 left in the period.
With 5:36 left, Joe Nieuwendyk, who leads the league's rookies with 13 goals, took a pass from the blue line by Gary Suter and scored his eighth power-play goal from the slot.
Luc Robitaille scored a power-play goal for the Kings with 3:10 left in the period, cutting Calgary's lead to 2-1 and ending a streak of 26 straight killed penalties by the Flames.
Calgary, which hadn't allowed a power-play goal in its last four games, got two goals from Tonelli in a span of 2:43 in the second period to increase its lead to 4-1.
Again, the Kings scored near the end of the period, getting a goal from Steve Duchesne. Sean McKenna's 30-foot shot pulled the Kings within 4-3 just 26 seconds into the third period.
But in the next 10:22, the Flames got goals from Joel Otto, Mike Bullard, Hakan Loob and Tonelli.
Tom Laidlaw, scratched for the sixth straight game because of a sprained ligament in his right knee, said he probably will resume skating Monday and hopes to be able to play Thursday night at the Forum in the second game of a two-game set against the Winnipeg Jets. "We'll see how it stands up in practice," said trainer Pete Demers.