Projected to be a division or conference champion, the Kings instead find themselves scrambling for one of the last West playoff spots as they head toward the final dozen games of the season.
There's no purpose at this stage in analyzing what went wrong. They can still wring something good out of a so-far disappointing season, and they helped themselves Tuesday with a 5-2 victory at Staples Center over the injury-thinned but always tough Detroit Red Wings.
In winning for the fifth time in seven games, the Kings moved up to 10th place and joined three other teams with 78 points. The San Jose Sharks are eighth because they've played the fewest games of that quartet; the Calgary Flames are ninth because they have the tiebreaker over the Kings with 30 regulation or overtime wins to 28.
"With the way it is and the amount of games left you're always scoreboard watching. It's just so tight," said Dustin Brown, who contributed two assists and extended his point streak to nine games.
"But we've got to win games for us to have a chance, and that's our main priority. Afterward you worry about what happened around the league."
Last Friday at Detroit the Kings squandered three leads over the Red Wings but avoided a repeat of that unpleasant history. Justin Williams and Anze Kopitar scored in the first period, Drew Doughty beat Jimmy Howard with a long blast in the second and defenseman Slava Voynov scored on the power play in the third, setting up Jeff Carter's final flourish into an empty net.
Detroit, playing without multiple Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom, forward Todd Bertuzzi and all-world center Pavel Datsyuk, took 24 shots at Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick.
"Probably the most important part of the game is we weathered the storm in the second," Brown said of the middle period, when the Red Wings scored their first goal.
"They had us hemmed in the zone a good amount of time in the second. We found a way to sustain that and get a goal back and that goes a long way against a team like that."
Williams gave the Kings the lead by jabbing home the rebound of a shot by Doughty at 6:48 of the first period, and Kopitar padded that to 2-0 on a short-handed goal. Kopitar took a pass from Brown and broke in one-on-one against defenseman Kyle Quincey before rifling a 35-foot shot that eluded Howard at 13:15.
"That was a great individual effort by Kopi there," Doughty said. "I actually didn't think he was even going to get a shot off ,but next thing you know, it's post and in."
Detroit made it 2-1 at 4:06 of the second period, after Jiri Hudler finished off a passing play by taking a feed from Henrik Zetterberg and flicking a shot past Quick. But the Kings didn't wilt.
Carter won the puck and carried it up the boards before he passed it to Doughty for a long blast. Mike Richards, jostling with Detroit defenseman Ian White in the slot, created a screen and initially was credited with having tipped the puck past Howard.
The play was reviewed for a possible high stick but was allowed to stand.
It was initially credited to Richards — which would have been his first in 25 games — but was later and correctly given to Doughty.
The Kings' special-teams play came to the forefront again in the third period, when they capitalized on a power play to take a 4-1 lead. Voynov, dashing deep into the zone, scored his sixth goal of the season with an off-balance shot that banked off Howard's leg
and eluded the goalie at 8:23.
Detroit pulled within two at 13:30 of the third period on a goal by Johan Franzen from close range, but Carter's goal sent the crowd home happy and kept the Kings' salvage mission alive.
"We've just got to worry about ourselves," Doughty said. "All we can control is all the games we're winning, and hopefully some other teams lose some for us."