The view from outside the top eight in the West is new to the Kings this season, and the perspective is distasteful for a team that started well but has fallen far and fast after losing six of seven games.
"It's not good when you look at the standings and you don't see yourself in there," said center Anze Kopitar, whose five-on-three goal in the third period Saturday was the Kings' only success against Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford in a 2-1 loss to the Blackhawks at Staples Center.
"We have to pick it up again and put some points on the board and get going again."
Stopping the offensive struggles that are a key cause of their freefall must be the priority for the Kings (13-9-0) after their third straight loss dumped them into ninth place in the West. They've scored only four goals in their last three games and 16 in the seven-game skid that has undone all the progress they made in the six-game winning streak that preceded it.
Goaltender Jonathan Quick did his job by stopping 21 shots and the penalty killers did their duty by negating three disadvantages -- one of them only 10 seconds long -- to extend the team's home penalty killing mark to 38 for 38.
But the Kings' offense didn't scare anyone and mustered only three shots in the second period, a total Coach Terry Murray disputed before acknowledging that his team didn't shoot enough to create rebounds. The Kings didn't produce many threats until the third period, when they subjected Crawford to 10 of the 22 shots they launched at him in the game.
"What it comes down to is you can throw X's and O's out the window at a time like this. It's all about just working and getting the intensity to battle," said Dustin Brown, who moved to left wing with Kopitar and Wayne Simmonds on the top line and acquitted himself decently.
"There's not enough battle in our game right now and it shows."
The defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, who were struggling after salary-cap problems forced them to overhaul their roster and part with much of their grit and depth, finished their annual circus trip with a sweep of the Ducks and Kings and a 4-2 record. They're not playing at the level they reached last season but they played well in capitalizing on a lucky break for their first goal and holding off a late surge by the Kings.
The Kings were pressing in Chicago's zone when Jack Johnson took a shot that was blocked and sent quickly back the other way, creating a two-on-one for Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp with only Drew Doughty back. Kane, on the left side, passed across to Sharp for an ice-skimming shot that eluded Quick at 10:36 of the second period.
That was enough for the Hawks to remember how to play and fight like champions. John Scott mauled Kings enforcer Kevin Westgarth in a terrible mismatch that did nothing but bloody Westgarth's face. It certainly didn't inspire his teammates to new heights.
"They really sat back once they got the first one -- five guys in the neutral zone every single time," Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "And unfortunately we didn't make the best decisions that time.
"We had a pretty good spurt the last five minutes but it's not going to be enough to win a hockey game."
The Blackhawks extended their lead to 2-0 at 1:06 of the third period after Kane deflected a shot into the net off his arm. It was allowed to stand after video review, the correct call.
The Kings didn't break through until 14:58, when Kopitar snapped a long shot past Crawford's glove, and they exerted some pressure near the end but not enough to pull even and not enough to get out of their funk.
"We have to snap out of this thing really soon now and just play a little harder and little smarter and get back on track," Kopitar said.
A lot harder. A lot smarter. And even then, it might not be enough. If the Kings are to take the next step as a team and follow Chicago's path to the Cup, General Manager Dean Lombardi will have to take the step of trading for a gamebreaker before the season is irreparably broken.