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A Long Strange Trip Closes

Several days ago there was hoopla that the Kings, those streaking Kings, would leapfrog from 10th to 3rd in the turbulent NHL Western Conference standings.

Two losses later (OK, one was an overtime loss) changes the tune.

With a 3-0 humbling in Long Island Saturday, so ends an 11-game point making streak and an epic road journey that righted the ship after a disastrous January homestand.

Try to Stay Positive Guy says: “Hey, LA went up in the standings to 8th! We’re in the playoffs if it all ended today!”

Guess that’s not bad in the Wild Western Conference.

In the meantime: Don’t panic.

Don’t panic.

That Whispering Voice In the Back of Your Head says: “Kings just lost in a freakin’ shutout to the New York Islanders.”

OK, panic!

You there, running around the room like Chicken Little, find a Lakers fan who is still fretting about last week’s losses if you can!

Do you feel better now?

Now, hold those anxiety spasms. It’s still mid-February. The Kings still have games (23 to count) and time left to climb the standings.

But in the meantime, the Phoenix Coyotes and San Jose Sharks have won and are starting to speed ahead of the Kings for the Pacific Division winner’s playoff spot.

And the Kings are still on the playoff ropes, with Anaheim, Chicago, Dallas and Columbus (yes, those Columbus Blue Jackets, they of only one playoff appearance ever) on their heels.

So continues the craziness that is the NHL Western Conference.

Kings players, personnel and fans shouldn’t fixate on Saturday’s loss. (Or that other loss at Madison Square Garden, though that’s one of those special losses that gives the losing team a point). Even though this latest defeat came at the hands of the New York Islanders, who were last relevant in 1993. Or the early 1980s. Or when they wore that Aquafresh-colored, “Gorton’s Fisherman” uniform that could give the infamous “Burger King” a run for the money as the Most Ridiculous Jersey in the NHL.

Actually, I’m being a bit harsh. This loss was to an Islanders team that is on the rise, playing above .500 in its last 30 games, which in itself is a phrase not commonly heard.

Still, it appears the Kings overlooked this one. After the Kings let up a shorthanded goal to the Isles’ Frans Nielsen in the first period, the tone was set for the rest of the night. Anze Kopitar admitted to the TV audience in an intermission interview the Kings “weren’t ready” for the contest.

That pretty much was the understatement of the night.

“The first power play we get we make a soft easy pass and they jump on it and that’s kind of the way the whole thing went all night long,” Kings Coach Terry Murray said.

And then there’s an eye to be cast toward Andrei Loktionov. If you can find him. He’s now in Manchester, the minor league outpost. The Kings’ coaching staff decided to play with the lines, added some size with Kevin Westgarth and took Loktionov (FYI: 3 goals, 2 assists, +3 in 12 games since his call up in January) out of the lineup.

And thus, a speedy role player on a 7-0-3 stretch of the road trip was unavailable in a game that was decided more on speed than brawn.

“I don’t think we completed three passes in a row tonight. We had a lot of plays end after that second pass,” Murray said.

To draw another example of speed, Nielsen’s moxie nearly gave him another goal while the Kings were on the power play in the second, when the Kings woke up (to an extent) and outshot the Islanders 17-8. That was one of the few bright spots Saturday; the Kings’ defense followed that with holding the Isles to four shots in the third period.

Downer: Even so, the Islanders still scored on those few chances in both periods.

But today is Wednesday. We’ve moved on from Saturday’s debacle, and aside from time heals all wounds and what not, here is another truth: the last game of the road trip is here. The Kings return home (kinda, oh all right, it’s at the Honda Center) to face the Anaheim Ducks Wednesday before getting back into the swing of things at the Staples Center Thursday against the Minnesota Wild, which is now ahead of the Kings.

According to reports, there will be more chemistry tweaks for the Kings in Anaheim. On defense, Alec Martinez (39 games, 3 goals, 7 assists, +5) sits in favor of Davis Drewiske, who hasn’t suited up since Jan. 6. Released from the injured reserve list, Marco Sturm should get the green light for another go-around.

The stark question now is do the Kings refocus on what’s in front of them, an equally streaky Ducks team that has just fallen apart in allowing 21 goals in three consecutive losses, and continue to build on their recent success before the trip to the Big Rotten Apple, or revert to a streakiness not seen since streaking was the rage in the ’70s.

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