LOS ANGELES- The Vancouver Canucks won their first game of the season against the Los Angeles Kings, a team they eliminated from last year’s playoffs, 3-1 Saturday afternoon at Staples Center.
Vancouver had dropped two games to the Kings this year, one in each team’s building. Saturday, they got solid goaltending from Roberto Luongo, who stopped 21 of 22 shots in a game filled with minor penalties and major animosity.
The Canucks’ game-winner by Daniel Sedin incensed Kings’ Head Coach Terry Murray, who spent much of his terse 34-second press conference addressing a contested, physical goal in a contested, physical game.
“That’s a goddamned shame that goal was allowed,” said Murray. “The guy’s in the crease, (goalie Jonathan) Quick can’t move his stick and (defenseman Drew) Doughty is pushed off over top of our goaltender.”
“It’s a goddamned shame. It should not be allowed. That’s a penalty.”
That statement emphatically concluded Murray’s remarks as he made a quick exit.
Quick otherwise fared well between the pipes, making 33 of 35 saves in the losing effort.
Both teams set the tone for a grimy game complete with the violence and, at times, the theatrics of a professional wrestling event.
First, there was a scrum behind the Kings net in the opening ten seconds of the game. Then Jannik Hansen delivered huge hit early on Trevor Lewis in the Los Angeles zone. At center ice several players came together after the whistle with Vancouver’s Manny Malhotra as well as Los Angeles’ Matt Greene and Kyle Clifford each earning roughing minors.
The best chance of the ensuing power play was actually shorthanded two-on-one where Dustin Brown carried the puck all the way to the Vancouver net. Though his stick-handling, head-faking dash to the net forced Luongo out of position, Brown skated in too deep and sent the puck across the goal line wide.
The Kings capitalized moments later after Dustin Penner won a puck along the boards from defenseman Christian Ehroff. The hulking Penner then took Aaron Rome on a pony ride to the net before powering through Maxim Lapierre to bank the puck into the net off Luongo’s pad as Penner fell to one knee.
Luck was the residue of power and determination as Penner said he was actually trying to pass the puck to Justin Williams. It was Penner’s first goal as a King after being acquired from the Edmonton Oilers on the Feb. 28 trade deadline.
“I think as the games get tighter down the stretch those are the type of goals you have to score,” said Penner. “It’s not going to be tic-tac-toe nearly as much as you like or you think is going to happen. It’s getting pucks to the net, traffic in front”
After killing a Wayne Simmonds minor, the Kings turned the puck over deep in their own zone. Hansen bum-rushed Scuderi on the forecheck before Raffi Torres stole the biscuit and threw it in front where Hansen made a deft play on his backhand to tie the game.
The officials called the game tight early on with a combined eight minor penalties in the first period and 16 minors in the entire game.
“We didn’t make it easy for the refs either, both teams were doing stuff after the whistle. If they wouldn’t have (called) those penalties in the first, it would have kept going throughout the (game),” Daniel Sedin said.
The Canucks held a 13-3 shot advantage when they had to kill a two-man disadvantage. Vancouver summarily muffled the L.A attack. Luongo intercepted a centering pass from Simmonds to Anze Kopitar that was easily the loudest play on the Kings’ power play.
Vancouver did not allow a single shot on net during the five-on-three disadvantage, which seemed to strengthen their resolve heading into the intermission.
“(The penalty killers) did an excellent job, especially on the five-on-three in the first period. I thought guys really dug deep and made some great plays,” said Luongo. “They cut off a lot of passing lanes and I don’t think they even got a shot on the five-on-three so that was huge for us early in the game like that.”
The pace quickened in the second period as Luongo was tested low three times in the first five minutes. In the L.A. net, Quick had to make a stabbing save with his glove as his body slid in the opposite direction.
Luongo faced only four shots in the opening frame but seemed to find a better rhythm after the Kings’ attack fell short early in the second.
“Of course you want to make a couple saves early to feel good but sometimes that’s not gonna happen. That’s where your focus and all the stuff you work on in practice comes into play,” Luongo said.
Ryan Smyth and Simmonds cruised in on a lone Vancouver defender but Smyth’s dish to Simmonds darted harmlessly into the corner to erase a mistake in transition by Vancouver.
A scramble in front left Dan Hamhuis with a rebound headed his way and an open net staring him in the face, but the puck hit his skate and bounced aside, affording the Kings a temporary reprieve.
The former Canuck Willie Mitchell swept away a puck that got behind Quick to stymie yet another potential Vancouver tally with under eight minutes left in the period.
Vancouver earned another solid chance when Sami Salo joined the Canuck rush. He passed on a shot to go behind the net in an effort to set up a one-time in front for Mikael Samuelsson. A patient offensive play was negated by a hustling goaltender as Quick got across to deflect the puck away cleanly with his right pad.
Alexei Ponikarovsky drilled Hamhuis on a nasty hit that sent the Canuck defenseman Hamhuis into the board skull-first. Ponikarosvky was assessed a boarding minor. He appeared to lift his elbow and though Hamhuis sprung up ready to defend himself, the play could have easily done more damage. Hamhuis turned his head in a way that left him unprotected and Ponikarovsky gave absolutely no quarter as he drilled Hamhuis from behind.
The third period lacked rhythm much like the first with both teams heading to the box a handful of times. Neither team could cash in on their multitude of power-play chances.
Instead, the game swung on an aggressive drive to the net from the right-wing wall by the mobile defenseman Ehrhoff that broke the Kings’ defense down. He weaved to the front of the net where his shot bounced off the goalie Quick and left an easy tap-in for Daniel Sedin. Sedin’s twin brother Henrik recorded the secondary assist on what stood as the game-winning goal.
Both Daniel Sedin and Burrows made contact with Quick at different points during the sequence.
For Daniel Sedin’s part, he said he was merely fighting for position in front and that while he felt contact he did not have an opinion on whether or not his play could be considered goaltender interference. Contact with his linemate Alexandre Burrows knocked Quick off-balance as Ehrhoff took the initial shot on net.
“Burrows runs into me as the original shot’s getting taken and it’s not called. Maybe [if] I dive like they do you get that call. Otherwise I guess you don’t,” Quick told Helene Elliot of the Los Angeles Times.
The Kings nearly had another two-man advantage when Burrows and Keith Ballard each took minor penalties. However, what the officials perceived as a flop or an exaggeration by Doughty left the Kings with a single-man advantage. The call also left them without one of their best offensive players as Doughty served two minutes in the sin bin for diving.
Los Angeles’ power play came and went with little excitement until the closing seconds when a sloppily-placed puck sent Burrows and Daniel Sedin on a two-on-one break. Burrows timed a pass for Sedin brilliantly but his heavy, rising, one-timed shot was devoured by the catching glove of Quick as he slid across powerfully.
“It would have been a big goal but at the same time, it’s a close game and both goalies made saves so it’s a great play and a great response,” Sedin said.
Burrows added an empty-net goal to seal the deal, elate a crowd filled with Western Canadians and send the home fans on hand filing for the exits.
Both teams struggled on the power play, combining to go 0-for-10. Los Angeles has been inconsistent over much of the season but Vancouver’s woes have been a more recent phenomenon.
“We’re never gonna score again,” Daniel Sedin joked. “No, it’s one of those things, we’re not moving enough. I think in the third period we had one or two power plays where we at least got a chance.”
Vancouver faces Anaheim at the Honda Center tomorrow night. The Canucks have not won back-to-back games since Feb. 7, but they have not lost consecutive games since Jan. 22. Their trend of alternating wins and losses has caused some to speculate that they are growing a bit complacent having led the Northwest Division virtually wire-to-wire and remaining the top team in the West for most of the season.
“It’s tough to go full throttle for 82 games. Obviously we feel that we’re not playing our best hockey right now,” said Luongo. “But we’re still a 500 team and that says a bit about our group in the locker room and we just need to get ourselves in gear and realize that obviously there are going to be games like tonight. “
Luongo said he didn’t take anything special from getting off the snide against L.A. this season, focusing instead on preparing for the playoffs.
“We definitely wanted to win this one, but we’re fighting for standings right now. We all know that the real season’s gonna start in a few weeks. If we were to face them in the first round, that’s when it would count,” Luongo said.
“Every team’s desperate right now, there’s still a bunch of teams, most of the teams are still contending for the playoffs and we’re playing one every night it seems,” he added.
The Kings next host the Pacific Division rival Dallas Stars, who are still without their top player Brad Richards due to a concussion. Dallas seemed to be surging anew until they blew a 3-1 third-period lead to lose to Anaheim in overtime Friday night. The Kings have that last opportunity to hold court before they head out on a four-game road trip.