As soon as the Dallas Stars appeared to be showing improvement, they again endured a setback to their frustrating season.
Following another disappointing loss, the Stars look to prevent a third consecutive defeat to the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday afternoon in a matchup of the bottom two teams in the Pacific Division.
One season removed from a run to the Western Conference finals, Dallas (18-17-7) currently sits fourth in the Pacific with 43 points - three more than last-place Los Angeles (17-20-6).
The Stars looked to be finding their groove last month with a 4-0-1 stretch from Dec. 16-27, but have since posted a 3-3-2 record.
Dallas opened a three-game homestand Tuesday with a 5-4 victory over Detroit, but took a step backward in a 5-4 shootout loss to Buffalo on Thursday. The Stars blew an early three-goal lead en route to only their second defeat in the last eight home games.
Five of six players failed to convert in the tiebreaker, and Dallas fell to 0-7 in games that have exceeded regulation.
"It's an embarrassment and a joke," said Steve Ott, who had a goal and an assist. "We come out and dominated the first period. We knew the task at hand and it slipped. It's plain not good enough."
That's the same assessment Los Angeles might have at this point, as it is languishing in the cellar of the Pacific after tying Tampa Bay for the fewest points in the league with 71 last season. It hasn't finished better than fourth in the division since 2003-04.
But even that won't make Dallas any more comfortable on Saturday. It has dropped six of its last nine matchups (3-3-3) against Los Angeles after winning eight straight in the series.
The Kings posted consecutive 3-2 wins over the Stars in a home-and-home sweep on Nov. 11 and 13.
"We talk about teams that are struggling, but if you look at the standings we're right there with them, so we can't take anyone lightly," defenseman Stephane Robidas told the Stars' official Web site. "We need to play better and try to get two points."
Dallas could also use a solid defensive performance, as it has allowed 25 goals over its last eight games with Marty Turco compiling a 2.78 goals-against average in that span.
Turco has also surrendered five goals on 55 shots in losing both games to the Kings this season. He is 2-3-3 with a 2.82 GAA in his last eight matchups.
He'll seek a better effort against a weak Los Angeles offense that has managed a conference-worst 104 goals.
The Kings were outscored 12-2 in dropping the final three contests of their four-game homestand, enduring their seventh shutout of the season with a 4-0 loss to Detroit on Thursday.
"It's very disappointing," left wing Patrick O'Sullivan said. "The season can go one way or another right now, and that's what's happened with this organization in the past. Right around this time, everything falls apart. Games start to get away from you, and then the season is over."
Los Angeles is hoping that isn't the case for rookie defenseman Drew Doughty, the second overall pick in the 2008 draft that missed his first game due to a bruised right thigh and remains day-to-day.