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HELENE ELLIOTT

Clearly, the Kings still don't get it

Their 6-3 loss to the struggling Coyotes shows that maybe things haven't changed much after all.

February 22, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

What's most grievously missing from the Kings' makeup and lineup goes beyond the obvious.

It's more telling than their lack of a true first-line center, more damaging than the wearing down of their defense.

The Kings don't have a commanding presence, someone who should have reamed them out Saturday for letting a second-period lead at home slip through their collective five-hole.

Their previous coach, Marc Crawford, yelled too much. Their current coach, Terry Murray, could not have yelled enough after their 6-3 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes in front of a disgruntled crowd at Staples Center that had seen this too often.

The loss extended the Kings' home winless streak to 0-2-2 and left them 3-7-2 at Staples Center since Christmas. Because they're 7-2-1 in their last 10 road games, they're still in the West playoff race, but only in the mathematical sense.

They don't seem to be in it emotionally, playing like a team unprepared or unwilling to seize this chance to push past failures into the dark recesses of history.

"We dug the hole with our casual play with the puck and not coming out with that kind of excitement that should be present in the locker room right now with the opportunity there to keep moving forward," Murray said.

It's inexplicable. Inexcusable.

It's the Kings reverting to being the Kings, just when they seemed poised to carve out a new identity.

"Whenever we need to show more desperation and urgency to go after it, it seems like stuff starts to come out again," Murray said. "We have a difficult time getting rid of some of that stuff that surfaces from the past."

After taking a 2-1 lead at 1:20 of the second period, the Kings broke down, giving up goals 51 seconds apart by former King Olli Jokinen -- the first of his hat trick -- and Viktor Tikhonov, namesake grandson of the great former Soviet coach.

Jokinen scored again before the period ended and Phoenix scored twice in the third before the Kings feebly replied. By then, most of the announced crowd of 17,177 had departed in disgust.

"We knew how we had to play. We didn't play like we knew it," center Jarret Stoll said.

Like many of his teammates, Stoll said he was disappointed. They should have been infuriated.

The Coyotes were 2-9 since the All-Star break, but their fleet forwards easily gained the slot and operated happily around the Kings' net. They weren't taking the path of least resistance -- it was the path of no resistance.

The Kings, conscientious on defense much of the season, have given up 19 goals in regulation in their last four games. Their opponents have taken 127 shots in that span, an average of nearly 32 per game -- about six more than they had been allowing.

"I think they just outwaited us," defenseman Kyle Quincey said. "They had more patience than we did. They capitalized on our mistakes."

Phoenix scored first, when David Hale's long shot sailed past Jonathan Quick at 8:53, but the Kings made that up at 12:13. Patrick O'Sullivan took a shot that went wide of the net and Anze Kopitar won a race to the rebound. He slid the puck behind Ilya Bryzgalov and into the slot, where Alexander Frolov poked it home.

The Kings surged ahead early in the second period after Dustin Brown pounced on a Phoenix turnover and flicked a forehand past Bryzgalov from about 25 feet. It was their last good moment.

"Halfway through the game we were looking good," Stoll said. "We needed that third goal. They tied it up and went ahead pretty quick after that and took over the game, and we just never had an answer for that."

With a delayed penalty pending against the Kings, Jokinen redirected a shot by Kurt Sauer past Quick to tie the score at 2-2 at 12:34. The Coyotes pulled ahead when Martin Hanzal intercepted a pass Kopitar had intended for Matt Greene and slipped the puck to Tikhonov, who ripped a wrist shot over Quick at 13:25.

"I gave that puck away," Kopitar said. "That was a big mistake on my part and I just can't do those mistakes."

Jokinen recorded the 500th point of his career at 18:36 when he rifled a wrist shot over Quick's shoulder from the left circle, and the Coyotes extended their lead to 5-2 at 1:31 of the third period when Mikkel Boedker scored from close range over a fallen Quick. Jokinen completed his first hat trick with Phoenix by scoring into an empty net, and Kings center Derek Armstrong added a meaningless power-play goal with 1:02 left.

The Kings must now hope they can rekindle their road magic during a five-game trip that starts Tuesday at Minnesota. They shouldn't need any loud reminders that their season and identity will be on the line.

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helene.elliott@latimes.com

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