Anze Kopitar celebrates after tying the game at 2-2 with a goal late in the… (Harry How / Getty Images )
The Kings have reached the point of knowing how far they've come while just beginning to grasp how far they still must travel to rank among the NHL's elite.
Their 5-4 loss to the Blues on Saturday at Staples Center was decided in a shootout, highlighted by St. Louis goaltender Chris Mason's near-miraculous stop of Anze Kopitar's leadoff shot after it hit his pad and blocker and the inability of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, after allowing a goal to Andy McDonald, to keep Brad Boyes' shot from rolling down his back after it struck his shoulder.
In their hearts, the Kings knew it had been decided before that.
"That's not even what we should be talking about," Quick said. "We had the lead at two different points in the game that we ended up giving up. We've just got to be better as a team."
For the third game in a row, the Kings couldn't hold a lead. They had squandered 3-1 leads against the Ducks and Senators this week but won, boosted by the secondary players who are carrying the load while Kopitar and Dustin Brown sputter.
On Saturday, they got a short-handed goal that extended Brad Richardson's goal-scoring streak to three and a two-assist game from Wayne Simmonds, who has eight points in six games, but they gave up leads of 1-0 and 3-2.
Paul Kariya, a threat again after years of being hampered by injuries, brought the Blues even at 3-3 at 8:58 of the third on the rebound of a shot by Barret Jackman and gave them a 4-3 lead with a power-play slap shot from the right side at 17:40.
Alexander Frolov tied it at 4-4 with 34 seconds left and Quick gone in favor of an extra skater, rifling the puck past Mason after Drew Doughty's shot had caromed off Blues forward David Backes, but it shouldn't have come to that.
The Kings allowed an opponent to get 30 shots or more for the fifth straight game and again got nothing from Kopitar, who fumbled the puck on a breakaway in overtime.
They paid for their sins Saturday. Brown said he hopes they won't pay for them later, too.
"This is a team that we need to get two points from," said Brown, whose 13-game goal drought is one longer than Kopitar's. "They're right there with us. They're going to be a team come Game 70 or later we're going to be fighting with for a playoff spot."
Veteran defenseman Sean O'Donnell summed it up well.
"We still have those hiccups every now and then that seem to bite us in the butt," he said after the Kings' third loss in three afternoon home games this season.
"We've proven that we can play. I don't think this team questions that we have the ability and we play as a team as well as anyone on any night. We still have a ways to go as far as learning -- me included -- as a team what to do every night, how you have to bring your best effort every night.
"And when you don't have your 'A' game physically, then mentally you have to make less mistakes than the other team. That's kind of the part that we're still getting right now."
Remarkably enough they got another goal from Richardson, who went 64 games without one until this week. His short-handed goal at 14:36 of the first, set up on a great pass from Jarret Stoll, gave the Kings a 1-0 lead.
But Keith Tkachuk scored on a twice-deflected shot at 3:32 of the second period and Brad Boyes put the Blues ahead at 11:54 despite fanning on a 15-foot shot.
Scott Parse tied it a minute later from a sharp angle and the Kings went ahead again at 8:31 of the third, after Simmonds' good work along the boards gave him control to pass to Parse, who fed Stoll in the slot. Kariya then took over until Frolov forced overtime.
Brown saw a common theme in the Kings' inability to hold leads.
"It comes down to being consistent with our play," he said. "Against Ottawa, I didn't think we were hungry enough. We got the win, which was important. The same thing tonight. We weren't consistent with our play."
Coach Terry Murray called it a "good point," and yes, it's better than no points at all. But it's time for the Kings to get beyond settling for a point -- or anything else.