LOS ANGELES • When the Blues made their “things to do” list this season, certainly winning in Los Angeles was high on it. Unless they get the opportunity to meet the Kings again in the postseason, it’ll still be there to start the 2014-15 season.
For the ninth consecutive time, the Blues were unable to master the Staples Center surroundings, losing 3-2 to the Kings. It was the only regular-season visit for the Blues this season.
While it was the 26th game of an 82-game journey, the night had significance on a number of levels. It was the finale of a trip that promised to polygraph a Blues team that hit the road with the best winning percentage in the NHL.
Facing three of the most successful teams in the standings, playing in places that have been historically hostile, the Blues hoped to have their good start validated.
Things started that way, with a win in Colorado, the first in four years. But things went sour in San Jose, where a horrific start led to a 6-3 loss. Thus, LA became the ultimate tell and you might say the Kings called the Blues’ bluff.
Third-period goals by Kevin Shattenkirk and Vladimir Tarasenko made the score look better, and contributed to the frustration.
“The trend is we've had slow starts, outplayed significantly in the first period, out-competed, not ready for the tempo,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said, “As players and coaches we have to get ready for the tempo of the game.
“We revved it up halfway through the hockey game. We can't play like that. The score was 3-0. I don't think you can judge the game by what happened after. Who knows how much they let their foot off the accelerator.”
Not even Blues captain David Backes’ lucky shirt could turn the tide. The blue shirt is one he has occasionally worn since his earliest days with the team, a shirt that has seen him through tough times, a shirt he has vowed to retire.
“It will not be worn by me again,” Backes said. “You may see it in pieces here or there, but never in one piece again.”
The hope was the Blues might take apart the Kings, a team they have been built to beat, in a building that has been their Waterloo. The hope was that Friday night in San Jose was an anomaly.
It’s now a trend.
“It’s another team that is a hard team to play against, that’s going to be in the playoffs, that’s won a Cup recently, that we’ve had to battle against the past couple of years in the playoffs,” Backes said. “So we had something to prove.”
“No matter who we’re playing against, it’s about us getting better every night. We took a step back at San Jose and we wanted to get back on the horse.”
The horse wasn’t having it. The start wasn’t quite as bad as it was in San Jose, where the Blues fell behind 4-0 in the first period. But it wasn’t good.
First, the Blues were unable to capitalize on a power play just 18 seconds into the game. The ice then tilted toward the visiting end as the period progressed.
The Kings got a 1-0 lead with 9 minutes, 22 seconds remaining, aided by officiating indifference. Robyn Regehr kept the play alive while holding Vladimir Tarasenko’s stick — without a call. That allowed Justin Williams to find Jarret Stoll, who snapped his third goal of the season past a screened Jaroslav Halak.
The lead became 2-0 with 3:47 remaining. A fluttering shot by Drew Doughty sifted through traffic and hit the crossbar. Tyler Toffoli fired home the carom for his fifth goal.
The Blues came on in the waning moments, but they went to the intermission trailing 2-0 to a team that had seven goals in its previous five games.
“I think sometimes we kind of wade into games a bit,” Ken Hitchcock said. “We aren’t sure in some games and we don’t dictate the way we’re capable of, especially the first time we play teams and we’re unsure of what they’re going to bring. And then I think we really dial it up.
“I think when we’re at our best is when the game is either tied or we have an early one-goal lead.”
Ah, yes, remember when the Blues were tied or had an early lead? Good times, good times.
The Note is 0-4-2 when trailing after one period, and when Toffoli scored again 5:48 into the second, making it 3-0, a comeback became most unlikely.
The game was devoid of excitement over the next 25 minutes as the Kings hunkered down and the Blues chased a game they couldn't catch.
But Shattenkirk's with 5:54 remaining broke the monotony. It was Shattenkirk's 100th point as a Blue. Vladimir Tarasenko then tipped in his ninth goal with 15.5 seconds to play.
And darned if the Blues didn't pressure to tie it in those waning seconds.
“We're a good enough team that we can get back in games, “ Shattenkirk said. “But when you play two teams like this (San Jose and Los Angeles), they wake up eventually and it's too hard to get back into it.
"We have to keep games close from the get-go.”
With only three losses after 23 games, the Blues (18-5-3) lost two in a row for the first time on this tainted trip. The team returned after the game and will host the struggling New York Islanders on Thursday at Scottrade Center.
Get there early, and hope the Blues come early as well.