Although the Los Angeles Kings cruised through the Stanley Cup playoffs last year, their regular-season run was far from a cakewalk.
They're finding it tough sledding again, but they'll have a new face in the lineup as they continue a challenging five-game road trip Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings.
Los Angeles (3-4-2) has had problems all over the ice during this trek, which began with a 7-4 loss to Anaheim. The Kings bounced back with a 4-2 victory in Columbus, but fell 3-0 against Nashville on Thursday despite getting 32 shots.
Star defenseman Drew Doughty was a minus-2, posting a negative rating for the third straight game. He ranks among the worst in the NHL at minus-8 on the season.
Doughty may have a new defensive partner after Los Angeles acquired defenseman Keaton Ellerby from Florida for a fifth-round draft pick Friday. Ellerby, the 10th overall pick in 2007, practiced alongside Doughty on Saturday.
"I think we complement each other well," Ellerby said. "Obviously, he's a very offensive guy. He's always up in the play. I'm going to be back there – big body, banging guys around and being the physical presence, hopefully, in our pairing.
"Having a guy like that to be paired up with is pretty exciting. I couldn't have asked for a better situation to come in to."
The Kings are also struggling to score, averaging 2.1 goals and tallying two or fewer in regulation six times in nine games. They weren't much better at 2.3 during the 2011-12 regular season, when they barely reached the playoffs as the Western Conference's No. 8 seed before winning 16 of 20 and the Cup.
They're currently tied for the fewest points in the West.
"We need our top guys to be a hell of a lot better players," coach Darryl Sutter said. "That's clear."
Things probably won't get easier in Detroit, where the Kings lost twice last season by a combined 12-5 score. Jonathan Quick has gone 6-9-0 with a 3.16 goals-against average in 15 career games against the Red Wings, his worst GAA versus any West foe.
Niklas Kronwall had two goals and three assists in four games against Los Angeles in 2011-12, and the defenseman has been coming up big for Detroit (6-4-1) this season.
Already with eight assists, Kronwall scored his first goal - the 50th of his career - on a booming slapshot during a third-period power play Saturday to lift the Red Wings to a 2-1 win over Edmonton.
Pavel Datsyuk teed up Kronwall with a pass and scored Detroit's other goal, also on the man advantage. Henrik Zetterberg assisted on both tallies, giving him at least one point in nine of his last 10 games and 16 overall in that stretch.
The Red Wings entered Saturday ranked 29th in the league on the penalty kill at 69.6 percent, but held the Oilers to one goal on eight chances.
"We practice penalty kill every practice, so it gets better in the game," Datsyuk said. "We're picking up every day. It's hard to jump right back to the top, but we're taking it step by step."
The Kings are among the worst in the NHL on the power play at 11.6 percent.