The Kings found a way to end a five-game winless streak:
Play a team that's worse than they are.
That limits the range of prospective victims, but they capitalized on that rare opportunity Thursday to scratch out a 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers at a largely empty Staples Center.
The crowd was announced as 11,267, believed to be the smallest to attend a Kings game since the team moved here for the 1999-2000 season. It was just as well the audience didn't extend much beyond friends, family, and the few loyal fans the Kings haven't alienated over the last five playoff-less seasons.
The Panthers, near the bottom of the East and in an 0-4-1 slide, were flat. The Kings weren't much better, barely holding on to end their 0-3-2 slide after Nathan Horton's shot deflected off the foot of teammate Richard Zednik and past goaltender Erik Ersberg to pull Florida within 3-2 with 50.2 seconds left.
To the Kings, who are now 4-6-2 and starved for rewards after coming oh-so-close in one-goal losses to the Red Wings, Flames and Ducks on this homestand alone, the victory was a thing of beauty.
"We had a great game," rookie defenseman Drew Doughty said after earning the first two assists of his NHL career.
"We've been frustrated by some of those losses, so we came out aggressive. Some of those losses were heartbreakers that we lost in the last minute. Hopefully this will get us rolling."
Crawling will suffice, as long as they're going forward.
Before the game, veteran defenseman Sean O'Donnell mused that a prolonged slump could tip the season irreversibly in the wrong direction. This is a young team, and although the season is also young, players needed the affirmation of a victory and not the consolation of a good performance.
"Some of the young guys have been here a couple of years and they've struggled with the rebuild," he said. "I think guys want to see that light at the end of the tunnel, and it's up to all of us to try and put a couple of wins together and kind of get some excitement back in the room."
They got one win, anyway, and it wasn't easy.
Ersberg, making his second successive start, allowed a weak goal on a 48-foot shot by Anthony Stewart at 2:09 of the third period. But he made a sensational glove save at 14:26 when he snared a snap shot by Bryan McCabe, and he couldn't be faulted on Horton's goal.
Ersberg faced only 15 shots, nine in the third period, in earning his first victory since April 3.
"It definitely feels good to get a win," he said. "It came down to the end. It probably shouldn't have been that close."
No, it shouldn't have.
"The first goal was a bad goal by me," he said, "but we got two points, that was the important thing."
Also encouraging for the Kings, still trudging through this lengthy rebuilding process, was a goal from Dustin Brown, who hadn't scored a point in his previous four games.
After the Kings had built a 2-0 lead in the first period, only to see it narrowed by Stewart's goal, Brown put them back ahead by two at 11:23 of the third period. He made mincemeat of McCabe before ripping a 40-foot shot past goalie Tomas Vokoun, Brown's fourth goal of the season. The play was made possible because Doughty stole the puck in the Panthers' zone, earning his second assist of the game.
Just like many fans, the Panthers didn't show up for the first period. Playing listlessly and taking only three shots, they put up little resistance. And in what constitutes a scoring spree for the Kings, they got goals from Brian Boyle and Tom Preissing two minutes, 11 seconds apart to take a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
Boyle, the 6-foot-7 center who hasn't played nearly as big as his size, scored his first goal of the season at 16:27 of the opening period. He controlled the puck along the boards and made a backhand pass to Patrick O'Sullivan, who went to the net. O'Sullivan's wraparound didn't succeed, but Boyle successfully followed up from close range.
McCabe's tripping penalty at 17:49 gave the Kings an advantage that they capitalized on when Preissing, a right-handed shooter who was standing a stride inside the left circle, rifled the puck over Vokoun's right (glove) hand.
Anze Kopitar earned the primary assist by passing the puck to Preissing, his first point in four games.
It wasn't perfect, but the Kings prefer to see it as the start of something good. For sure, it was the end of their first slump of the season.
"From top to bottom," Brown said, "we got a good game."
One that kept them from bottoming out.