The good news for the Kings on Thursday was that defenseman Drew Doughty appeared to find his offensive stride and scored a goal for the second straight game.
The bad news in the Kings' seventh loss in nine games was they're still not getting enough production to become a factor in the West, a problem that yet another Terry Murray lineup change did nothing to remedy.
Doughty's goal, scored during a second-period power play, and a short-range shot by Mike Richards with 70 seconds to play were all the Kings could muster in a 3-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, who brought a large contingent of fans to Staples Center. The Kings are 2-5-2 since a 5-1-1 start, a repeat of the extreme streaks they experienced last season and were hopeful of avoiding with a deeper, more formidable lineup.
What should alarm General Manager Dean Lombardi most is that his team has been held to three goals or fewer in 13 of 16 games. That's simply inadequate for a team that sees itself as a conference contender.
"The bulk of the season is coming up here. Huge, important parts of the season are coming up here," winger Justin Williams said. "The offense, certainly myself at the top of the list, should be scoring more, getting to the net. I think we had a lot of chances tonight. We didn't quite come through."
Murray altered the lineup Thursday by adding center Colin Fraser, who made his season debut after recovering from off-season leg surgery, and winger Trent Hunter. But the moves had no impact on a sporadic offense that hasn't extended beyond the top two lines.
Vancouver (8-7-1) scored all its goals in the first period. Goaltender Roberto Luongo made 26 saves for the Canucks in winning the fourth of his last five decisions, a turnaround for him following a slow start.
"We're getting chances. It's just not going in for us," Kings defenseman Matt Greene said. "We're getting our chances. It's going to come."
The Canucks capitalized on a five-on-three advantage and on a five-on-four advantage 42 seconds later to build a 2-0 lead in the first. Aaron Rome scored the final goal of the period while the teams were at even strength.
Kings forward Trevor Lewis went to the penalty box at 3:03 after he delivered a nasty and purposeless elbow to the mouth of Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa and was given a five-minute major penalty. Doughty was sent off for cross-checking at 5:35 — he had taken several jabs at Ryan Kesler before taking one too many for the officials' liking — and the Canucks converted the two-man advantage at 6:51. Sami Salo, who had shattered his stick on a shot attempt a few minutes earlier, kept his new stick intact on a shot from just above the right circle that appeared to deflect in front before it eluded Jonathan Quick.
Andrew Ebbett made it 2-0 at 7:33, with a centering pass that caromed off the foot of Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell and past Quick. Vancouver made it 3-0 at 15:42 on a rising, 55-foot slap shot by Rome.
The Kings cut the Canucks' lead to 3-1 at 10:30 of the second period, during a power play. Anze Kopitar got the puck back to Jack Johnson, who faked a shot before zipping a pass to Doughty. His one-timer appeared to glance off the underside of the cross bar and past Luongo, Doughty's second goal of the season and second in two games.
An apparent goal by the Canucks with 34 seconds left in the period was waved off after the referees ruled that Jannik Hansen had interfered with Quick. Replays showed contact between the two, though the Canucks contended the contact happened after the puck had gone into the net.
The Kings made it close on Richards' goal, but not close enough.
"We need to find ways when we're down in games to come back," Williams said. "I felt the spirit on the ice when we were down a couple goals. We still had the fight. And that's a real good sign. But we need to get one, a comeback win, just for our psyche, to know we can come back. For our confidence. It was a good start getting two but obviously not good enough."