LOS ANGELES — Winning two of three on the road is always a good thing. But the victories the Kings had on their just-concluded trip were over Chicago and St. Louis, teams that were struggling.
Enter the Colorado Avalanche. As one of the better teams in the Western Conference, how the Kings showed against them Wednesday would provide more of an indication as to how much the Kings improved over those three games.
As it turns out, not much at all. The Avalanche scored three power-play goals, killed all of their penalties and defeated the Kings 7-3 before an obviously disappointed Staples Center crowd of 17,840.
The Kings are 3-5-0 under interim coach Willie Desjardins and are a league-worst 7-13-1 (15 points). Trailing 7-1, they got late third-period goals from Matt Luff and Austin Wagner, who scored the first of his career.
The Avalanche (11-6-4, 26 points) scored two power-play goals in the first period, one in the second. The Kings had three consecutive power-play opportunities over a period of just less than 12 minutes in the second and came up empty on each one.
Afterward, Kings captain Anze Kopitar began to talk about the success of the recent trip, which included a 5-3 loss at Nashville, before dropping the hammer.
“That trip was pretty good,” he said. “I thought we played some good games. I thought the Nashville game, the third period obviously wasn’t the period that we wanted to have, but we still put ourselves in a position where we could at least get a point out of it or something.
“And come in here tonight, it’s just … I don’t know what to say what happened, really. I mean, there’s no emotion, no desperation, no energy, no nothing. And it’s not acceptable.”
Colorado got on the scoreboard at 11:25 of the first period on a power-play goal by Vladislav Kamenev after Kings forward Kyle Clifford was called for interference. It was No. 2 for Kamenev with assists going to Carl Soderberg and Alexander Kerfoot.
Clifford made up for that penalty when he tied the score at 15:26 of the period. Tyler Toffoli flipped what appeared to be an innocent dump-in that happened to go right at Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov couldn’t properly corral the bouncing puck, and Clifford rushed the net and smacked the puck into the net. Assists went to Toffoli and Alec Martinez.
Less than a minute later, at 16:08, Kings forward Ilya Kovalchuk was called for holding. It took Colorado only eight seconds to cash in on the power-play, thanks to some nifty passing that resulted in Nathan MacKinnon’s 14th goal of the season. Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen assisted.
The Kings entered the game with a penalty-kill percentage of 78.3 percent, 20th among the 31 teams.
Colorado had a bit of luck when defenseman Patrik Nemeth scored his first of the season at 11:33 of the second period for a 3-1 lead. Nemeth took the shot from the blue line and the puck seemed to hit the body of Kings forward Nate Thompson as it slightly changed directions before sailing over the left shoulder of Kings goalie Cal Petersen.
Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin was called for tripping at 16:43 and Colin Wilson scored his sixth of the season just over a minute into the power-play for a 4-1 Colorado lead at 17:49. Wilson received a sweet pass from Rantanen from behind the goal line and scored past Petersen from point-blank range.
Three power-play goals for the Avalanche, none for the Kings, who by then had gone 0 for 3 on their power play.
Kopitar agreed that kind of discrepancy can suck the life out of a team.
“Yeah, for sure,” he said. “I mean, you know how big of a momentum swing it is if you can kill a penalty or if you can score on a power play. Second period, we had so many chances to get it close again and we didn’t do it.”
Desjardins agreed the special teams were one of the main culprits for the lopsided loss.
“Yeah, they’ve been a problem for us, the last probably three or four games, for sure,” he said. “I thought it was a big difference. Like, they just scored on their power plays, so they got lots of momentum off of it and we didn’t score on ours.”
The Kings have always taken pride in their defense. They are allowing 3.23 goals per game, which is just more than .75 of a goal more than they allowed last season when they held opponents to a league-low 2.46.
Top defenseman Drew Doughty was almost at a loss for words.
“Defense is pride, that’s all it is,” he said. “And if you aren’t playing with pride, then you’re going to lose every single hockey game.”
Petersen, who entered with a 1.64 goals-against-average in four games, gave up six in this one before being relieved by Peter Budaj early in the third period. Not that the Kings played well in front of Petersen.
Colorado scored three more times in the third period. Tyson Barrie scored at 1:10, Nikita Zadorov at 2:47 and Matt Calvert at 8:24 for a 7-1 lead. Luff scored at 13:14 for the Kings, Wagner at 15:21.
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar liked the way his team came out of the gate.
“I thought we played to our identity right away,” he said. “Special teams ended up being a huge factor for us tonight.”
Kings forward Adrian Kempe sustained a lower-body injury in the first period and did not return.