Reporting from Glendale, Ariz. — With defenseman Drew Doughty recovering from an apparent concussion and out of their lineup a minimum of seven days, the Kings need every remaining player to elevate his game.
Only a few heeded that call Thursday in a 4-2 loss to the Coyotes in front of an announced crowd of 6,706 at Jobing.com Arena.
Phoenix forward Lee Stempniak scored twice in the first period and finished his first NHL hat trick by scoring into an empty net late in the third, ending the Kings' three-game winning streak and emphasizing that life could be challenging for the Kings while Doughty is gone.
"We've got to be more accountable now to each other as a team," said Wayne Simmonds, who did his part by scoring both goals for the Kings (4-2-0).
"Drew's a big part of our back end. He's a great player. He's one of the best players on our team. We've got to step up our accountability, that's how we're going to cover his spot."
They fell short in many areas Thursday. Their power play was scoreless in two tries and is one for 22 this season, a 4.6% efficiency rate. In addition, it was burned for a shorthanded goal by Andrew Ebbett at 5:49 of the second period.
"Any shorthanded goals hurt. They're momentum-changers," team captain Dustin Brown said. "We gave up one in Calgary and it was a difference-maker. This was a difference-maker as well."
And not in a good way.
"The short-handed against, that obviously is the game-winner, but the power play needs to be more of a shot mentality," Coach Terry Murray said.
"We're trying to be pretty cute with it. I thought we had some opportunities to recover pucks and we just didn't come up with them. That's what it's going to take…. In a game like this, you have to have everybody on board and playing very hard, very intense."
The speedy and young Coyotes struck twice in the early minutes. Stempniak deflected Ed Jovanovski's point shot past a screened Jonathan Quick at 4:30 and had no trouble eluding Kings defenseman Jack Johnson to convert the rebound of a shot by Taylor Pyatt at 7:24.
The Coyotes extended their lead to 3-0 on that shorthanded goal. After the Kings failed to have anyone at the left point in the Phoenix zone, defenseman Derek Morris blocked a shot and got the puck out of the zone quickly to create a two-on-one. Ebbett, a former Duck, shot from about 25 feet out on the right side.
Simmonds made it 3-1 on an assist from Brayden Schenn, the rookie's first NHL point. Schenn gave him a lead pass and he dodged two defenders before slicing a backhander past goalie Ilya Bryzgalov at 8:20.
Simmonds brought the Kings within one at 17:19 of the third, when a shot by Brad Richardson deflected off his foot and past Bryzgalov, but Stempniak scored into the empty net with 34.6 seconds left.
"I thought that they covered our players really well when we had the puck. It didn't feel like we had a whole lot of great options," Johnson said. "I think it was a combination of both teams. I don't think we had our 'A' game so to speak and I thought they played well."
Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi, initially irate that Carolina's Erik Cole wasn't punished for the collision that injured Doughty, said that NHL executives told him the contact was not an infraction under new rules targeting deliberate blows to the head.
"What they said is that he wasn't necessarily trying to hit Doughty but they both turned," Lombardi said. "Whether you agree with that or not, the logic, I get. It's not inconsistent with the way the rule is designed."
Simmonds, Doughty's housemate in the South Bay, brought a note of optimism about his ailing pal.
"He said he feels alright. That's always good," Simmonds said.
The trick is for the Kings not to feel sick while Doughty is ailing.