From Vancouver, Canada — A team that has met so many challenges so well this season encountered a test Monday that it couldn't ace.
With a chance to own the best record in the NHL -- a distinction the Kings haven't enjoyed more than 10 games into the season for more than a decade -- they responded with a generally flat effort in a 3-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks at GM Place.
Not even a timeout called by Coach Terry Murray 2 minutes 18 seconds into the game while his team trailed by a goal could permanently jolt them out of their lethargy, and they were unable to mount any pressure during a 46-second five-on-three advantage in the first period.
"We didn't come out as strong as we wanted to. We didn't play that first 20 as strong as we wanted to," said goaltender Jonathan Quick, who stopped 25 shots and is scheduled to play again tonight in Edmonton.
"It's not an easy task coming into this rink and taking control in that first period, but you still have to compete and fight off that wave of momentum they throw at you right at the beginning. We didn't do a good job of handling that."
Despite an underwhelming effort, they trailed by only 2-1 most of the game until Mason Raymond slipped a backhander between Quick's pads with 5:12 left in the third period.
The defeat ended the Kings' winning streak at four and dropped them to second behind San Jose in the Pacific Division and fourth overall in the conference.
It was also their third straight loss to the Canucks in three games this season -- and on each occasion they were held to one goal.
"They're definitely a good team," Anze Kopitar said, "but those are the challenges that we have to face. . . . They made the playoffs last year so we've got to beat this team in order to get there."
Monday's loss left the Kings with another concern. Center Jarret Stoll, one of their steadiest players during their recent surge, apparently pulled a groin muscle midway through the third period and didn't return.
Murray said Stoll would be re-evaluated today before the Kings face the Oilers in Edmonton.
The Kings can't afford to lose Stoll for long, with left wing Ryan Smyth back in Los Angeles recovering from a rib injury and right wing Wayne Simmonds recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. Simmonds underwent the procedure Monday and his status is week to week, although a more precise timetable might emerge in about a week.
Forward Corey Elkins, summoned from Manchester, N.H., on an emergency basis because of Simmonds' injury, is scheduled to meet the team in Edmonton tonight.
Murray was clearly and rightfully annoyed with his team's effort, an area he has previously had little cause to quarrel with this season.
"You can't play against good hockey clubs without the intensity and making plays," Murray said of the slow start.
The Canucks scored 64 seconds into the game, when Ryan Kesler poked in a shot that had been taken by Mason Raymond and deflected by Mikael Samuelsson. Murray called the timeout after a bad line change by the Kings gave Henrik Sedin a glorious chance that Quick snared in his glove but Randy Jones' needless hooking penalty 20 seconds later stalled their momentum.
After they fizzled on the five-on-three, the Kings gave up a power play goal to Sami Salo, who lifted a shot over Quick at 17:15. The Kings cut the Canucks' lead in half at 19:43 when Alexander Frolov, on one of his more active nights, rebounded a shot by Jones that had been saved by Roberto Luongo but bounced around in front.
That was it until the third period, when Raymond put the game beyond the Kings' reach.
They have still earned points in eight of their last nine games and nine of their last 11 and they are in better shape than anyone would have expected at this stage.
But having tasted success so often this season, they want more. And they will have to work even harder to get it.
"We've got three road games before our big break and it's a great opportunity to play well and keep building on the standings," Murray said.
They couldn't do that Monday.
"We've got another game [tonight] and we've just got to refocus and try to learn from what went wrong in this game," Quick said.
Another lesson in a season replete with them, good and bad.