PHOENIX — If you blinked, you might have missed the first half of the NHL's painfully compact post-lockout schedule.
If that's the case, know that, for the Kings, it went a little better than last season's first half. The team passed the halfway point Tuesday fourth in the Western Conference — three places better than last year — and riding a wave of momentum that had carried it to nine wins in 11 games.
But then, just like last year, the Kings started the second half with a thud, plodding through a listless 5-2 loss to the Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena.
BOX SCORE: Coyotes 5, Kings 2
"They were a refreshed team, we were a tired team. Simple," said Kings Coach Darryl Sutter, whose team was playing for the third time in four nights while Phoenix was playing for the first time this week.
Kings captain Dustin Brown wouldn't use that as an excuse, though.
"That's part of playing at this level," he said. "Even in an 82-game schedule, you're going to have games where you have to fly back to back and play.
"That's just a reality of playing in the NHL. And you've just got to be ready."
The Kings were far from ready when the puck dropped, however, stumbling through a sloppy first period. And the Coyotes took advantage, with Mikkel Boedker and Shane Doan scoring less than eight minutes apart to give Phoenix a 2-0 lead at the first intermission.
Boedker struck first, beating Jonathan Quick cleanly with a left-handed wrister from the high slot. Doan doubled the advantage at 16:47, redirecting a Derek Morris shot from just inside the blue line into the net.
And it got worse in the second period, with the Coyotes doubling their advantage on scores from Boedker and Raffi Torres, the first coming on a power play.
The Kings, who were outskated at both ends of the ice for most of the game, answered on a power play in the closing minutes of the middle period when Mike Richards' shot from the point knuckled by Coyotes goalie Mike Smith. It was Richards' seventh goal of the season.
Brown added a second power-play goal on a one-timer from the left faceoff circle early in the third period, but the comeback stalled there, with Rob Klinkhammer scoring for Phoenix on a breakaway at 10:55. That allowed the Coyotes to match a season high for goals with five, while for Quick, the five goals were the most he has given up since the season opener.
So the question becomes: Where do the Kings go from here? Last year they were ever-so-slightly better in the second half, squeaking into the playoffs and … well, you know how that ended.
Brown says if the team wants to do that again, now is not the time to let up — especially with five games against division foes in the next nine days.
"It's important for us to realize we got off to the rough start and we've been playing better hockey as of late," he said. "But we need to continue to.
"The next 10 days are going to be pretty important to this group. That's where you can really separate yourself from the pack."