The Kings regained their defensive footing Saturday. They killed a lengthy five-on-three power play the San Jose Sharks gained midway through the first period at Staples Center.
But they neglected one detail:
They didn't score.
So despite an effort better in many ways than their previous two games, both losses, in which they gave up 13 goals, the Kings lost to the Sharks, 1-0, before an announced sellout crowd and extended their losing streak to three games.
"I thought we deserved better," Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "There's no doubt that we outplayed them for the majority of the game. If we play like this for the rest of the year, we're going to win more than our share of games."
They didn't win this one despite outshooting the Sharks, 29-19. Goaltender Jonathan Quick, who shut out San Jose on the road Monday but gave up six goals on 18 shots in Phoenix on Wednesday and was pulled for the first time this season, played well Saturday. But his counterpart, Antti Niemi, prevailed to earn his second shutout of the season.
Playing the second game of eight in a row at home, the Kings killed a 1-minute 57-second five-on-three power play, using their time out to prepare their strategy. That gave them momentum, center Anze Kopitar said, but they couldn't turn that into a goal.
"After that I don't think we looked back. I thought we outplayed them the first two periods, quite a bit," he said. "Our offensive-zone time was quite bigger than theirs. We've got to find a way to score, that's the bottom line. Offensive-zone time is not going to do us any good if they win the game."
The only goal was scored at 18:54 of the second period. After the Kings failed to get the puck deep into San Jose's zone, the Sharks defense began a counterattack with a long, diagonal pass to right wing Devin Setoguchi. The Sharks forward — celebrating his 24th birthday — took advantage of a screen created when three players clustered together high in the Kings' zone and ripped a shot past Quick from about 35 feet.
Kings Coach Terry Murray rued the team's turnover on that play but wasn't critical otherwise.
"It was a good game. It was a very good game. That was a solid effort by both teams," he said. "Both teams playing a lot. … That was intense, that was compete, that was lots of good play happening."
Still, there were not enough good plays to produce a goal for the Kings, who had beaten the Sharks, 4-0, Monday and had scored seven goals in their last two games.
The Kings (23-14-1) are 19-3-0 when giving up two goals or fewer. The key for them now is synchronizing their offense with their defense to get a complete effort.
"I thought it was a good team game on our part," Scuderi said. "You're never happy to lose a game, but if we're going to lose one this is the way I'd rather have it.
"We had good habits. It was a good team game. We just couldn't bury one."
The Kings' inconsistency is related to their lack of depth. Elite teams can more easily find a consistent level of excellence because they have a second line to step up when the first line is being shut down or ineffective, a third line to provide second-line production when needed and a fourth line that scores a few goals. Physicality on defense is also a must, but with a measure of self-control.
After making great strides the last few seasons, the Kings lack the depth to remain consistent when one or two players are checked into submission or go into a slump. When one cog sticks, the entire machine sputters. They're sputtering now.