Daily News Kings still in search of first win of 2024

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Six weeks ago, the Kings boasted the top offense and best defense in the NHL on a per-game basis.

Two weeks into the new year, they’re the only team in the league that doesn’t have a victory in 2024.

Their season-long road trip, which won’t get any less daunting with back-to-back games against contenders in Carolina Monday and Dallas Tuesday, has accounted for half of their active losing streak. The eight-game freefall represents their longest skid since a 10-game stinkfest in February of 2019.

For a time, there were extra-session losses that made responsibility-absolving cliches viable, as the Kings dropped one “could have gone either way” contest after another. But there was palpable tentativeness at times in overtime defeats to Tampa Bay and Florida earlier last week, and a detour from the rails Saturday in Detroit, where the Red Wings turned a 1-1 game into a 5-3 win thanks to four unanswered goals. Detroit, for whom Coach Todd McLellan was an assistant when they last won the Stanley Cup in 2009, swept the season series and interjected some even harsher reality into the Kings’ room.

“We can’t make crap up, we’ve got to tell them where we are, and we have to be honest with them,” said McLellan, whose squad scored all three of its goals on the power play. “We’ve tried to accentuate a lot of the positives, because there are a fair number in the game, but, when it’s all said and done, I think that each individual has to do some inventory-checking, making sure they’re bringing what they can.”

Assessing contributions during their funk –– which has allowed once struggling Edmonton and Seattle to move within a solitary point of the Kings, leaving their present playoff position in peril –– may not be a joyous endeavor, especially in examining an offense that has been sucking steak through a straw to produce an average just an eyelash over two goals a game.

They’ve gotten three goals from defensemen, with Drew Doughty’s power-play tally and Matt Roy’s first two appearances in the “G” column this season. That per-game average is in step with their production from the back end all season. They have 15 total goals from the blue line, below the NHL’s mean and median, while their opponents Monday, the Carolina Hurricanes, have twice as many, leaving them three goals by a defenseman behind league-leading Colorado.

Meanwhile, the Kings’ bottom-six forward group has not just been tepid, it has been totally incapable of providing supplemental scoring. Of the seven forwards who have skated regularly on the Kings’ third and fourth lines, none have scored a goal at even strength or shorthanded, and four of the seven players don’t even have a point during the funk.

The lone goal in the group was scored by $68 million depth contributor Pierre-Luc Dubois, and it was a garbage-time tally with the second power-play unit rather than his regular linemates. Dubois has also posted a minus-7 rating during the downturn, the worst mark on a roster where breaking even could be considered famously profitable since no skater has a positive rating over the past eight games.

As the Kings have slumped, other clubs have carried their shoulders high. Seattle has won nine straight, Edmonton has captured 10 in a row and first-place Vancouver has reeled off five consecutive wins. While the Kings’ season will reach its midway point after Tuesday’s game, hopes of winning the division have dimmed given what is now a 13-point deficit behind the Canucks.

“We just try to stay positive. Every good team goes through adversity throughout the season. It’s a long season,” Quinton Byfield said. “Right now it just feels like everything is going wrong, basically, but, you know, that’s how it goes sometimes. We’ve just got to stay positive, and it’ll turn around.”

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While the Kings try to make an about-face, their opponent in Monday’s Martin Luther King Day matinee will be hoping to keep moving in the same direction. Carolina has earned points in every game during the calendar year, going 4-0-1 in 2024 after closing 2023 on a three-game high note. They scored five or more goals in five of those seven victories.

In Dallas, the Kings will meet a Stars club on Tuesday that has won three of its past four games to stay afloat in the Central Division. The brightest star in the skies of the Lone Star State has been a Southern California native, Arcadia’s own Jason Robertson, who has 43 points in 42 games.

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