LOS ANGELES- A blowout on the ice turned into a squeaker on paper as the Los Angeles Kings surrendered three late goals to the Colorado Avalanche in a contest L.A. won 4-3 in a Saturday matinée at Staples Center.
Los Angeles outshot Colorado 42-17 in the game and built a 4-0 lead on the back of a series of man-advantage opportunities. The Kings struck twice on the power play and got goals from four different players—Anze Kopitar, Alec Martinez, Drew Doughty and Jarret Stoll—to build the four-goal lead they held in the final frame.
“We were pretty happy with the game we played,” Doughty said. “We dominated pretty much the whole thing, but obviously we’re not happy with our lapse at the end. Good teams shut games down, and we didn’t do that.”
Jonathan Quick made 14 of 17 saves and played 52:42 of shutout hockey before the late rally from Colorado.
The Avalanche find themselves on a skid that has seen them win just one of their last 13 games. This slump has caused them to plummet to 14th place in the Western Conference, leading only the rebuilding Edmonton Oilers.
Hindered by 11 minor penalties, Colorado struggled to establish any sort of rhythm against the Kings Saturday.
“You never want to let in any goals obviously but we took a few too many penalties,” said goalie Brian Elliot. “You’ve just got to try to see as much as you can. We did a good job coming back, we got to focus on that and know that we can score and have confidence that we can do it.”
The game had its share of chippy moments, including boarding minors to Wayne Simmonds and Dustin Brown, a bevy of Colorado minor penalties and a rematch between Kevin Westgarth and David Koci from a preseason scrap in which Westgarth broke Koci’s jaw.
“They were coming with a physical approach towards us and we were giving it right back,” said Doughty. “We were smart about it and didn’t take too many stupid penalties.”
Los Angeles carried the play immediately and got on the board in the opening minutes. Simmonds chipped a puck in deep, which he recovered to set up a Brad Richardson wraparound attempt. Richardson’s shot yielded a chunky rebound that was swept home by Anze Kopitar for his 20th goal of the season. Richardson, who recorded his first career hat trick in a game at Colorado earlier this year, was instrumental on the play.
“(Richardson’s) success this year has come against Colorado. He’s the man,” Kings Head Coach Terry Murray said.
“He did a nice job on the first goal, really big job, just taking the puck on the wraparound, taking it hard to the net and Kopitar’s there for the rebound.”
Los Angeles carried a 14-5 shot advantage into the first intermission.
Doughty’s stretch pass early in the second sent Ryan Smyth in on the recently acquired Elliot, who batted away Smyth’s lively wrist shot with his glove.
The Kings drew a pair of penalties to gain an extended two-man advantage. Despite over 90 seconds of offensive-zone time, they failed to cash in after a series of fanned shots, broken sticks and failed backdoor plays.
Los Angeles would dent the twine again when Kyle Clifford’s determined battle along the boards set up Alec Martinez with a wrist shot from the far left corner of the offensive zone. His shot beat Elliot on the stick side where the enforcer Westgarth stood as a leviathan in front of the Colorado net.
Westgarth was in the lineup not only because of his toughness but because of Marco Sturm’s abrupt departure from the Kings. Acquired earlier this season from the Boston Bruins, Sturm was placed on waivers in order to increase the Kings’ flexibility in making a trade before the Monday Feb. 28 trade deadline. The risk they took became a reality when the Washington Capitals claimed the veteran left winger Sturm.
“I found out at about 9:15 this morning,” said Murray. “I had been thinking about (not starting Sturm) through yesterday, watching Colorado play the last couple games with their lineup, I certainly had Westgarth on notice.”
Simmonds’ boarding minor created a ten-man scrum that amounted to very little. On the ensuing penalty kill, the Kings’ captain Brown won a race to a loose puck in the Colorado zone and drew a hooking call on Colorado’s captain Paul Stastny as he broke in hard on Elliot.
Los Angeles drew another two-man advantage as Ryan Wilson cleared the puck into the stands during the Kings’ abbreviated power play.
The L.A. power play resulted in what appeared to be an insurmountable 3-0 lead. The big bodies of Smyth and Michal Handzus overwhelmed the Avs in front of the net, allowing a Doughty blast from the point to find pay dirt. Smyth earned the secondary assist, the 400th helper of his career. Fittingly, he not only started the scoring play but he helped finish it with one of his trademark screens.
“You’ve got have net presence against these NHL goaltenders today, if they can see the puck from the blue line they’re making stops,” Murray said.
“You go back to your days in youth hockey and it’s something that’s always talked about and it was pretty good tonight.”
The Kings widened their shot-on-goal advantage to 30-10 through two stanzas.
Colorado continued cutting ruts in the ice to the sin bin. Matching minors to Smyth and Erik Johnson followed by a Matt Hunwick penalty gave the Kings a four-on-three advantage. They added an insurance goal–which stood as the game-winner– when a one-time blast from the left point by Jarret Stoll singed the nylon behind Elliot.
The Kings’ scorching penalty kill faltered during an extended two-man advantage for Colorado. David Jones received the puck off a cross-ice pass and beat Jonathan Quick between his pad and his arm. Johnson and John-Michael Liles assisted on the play to break up Quick’s shutout.
That trio would strike once more when a D-to-D exchange culminated in a low-flying Johnson shot that was deflected into the L.A. net by Jones for his 22nd goal of the season.
Stastny added a goal off a botched exchange between Quick and no one in particular. Stastny tapped the loose puck in off the leg of Michal Handzus to make Colorado’s effort look spuriously respectable in the box score.
The Avs have been the most active team in the Western Conference in terms of trades this season and they have also sustained one injury after another, leading to a perpetually shuffling deck in the Avs’ lineup.
“Anytime you have new players it takes a while to build chemistry but that’s not why we’re at where we’re at,” said Avalanche Head Coach Joe Sacco. “These guys have been nice additions to our team and they’re only going to get better as we move along. I’m excited to have these two players here and I think they’re going to make us a better team when it comes down to it.”
Early in the season, they got Thomas Fleishmann from Washington, Hunwick from Boston and then the young netminder Elliot as they swapped starting goalies with Ottawa. Their biggest deal by far was trading the emerging power forward Chris Stewart and the rookie standout defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to St. Louis in exchange for the former No. 1 overall pick Johnson and Jay McClement.
Johnson racked up three minor penalties to go with his two power-play assists. The Kings’ Murray continued to praise the potential of Johnson in his newly attributed Colorado sweater.
“(Erik Johnson) misses a whole year because of an injury. We go back two years ago, Jack Johnson misses half the season with an injury. It takes time for young guys especially to get up to speed. You’ve got a new system, a new style and a new philosophy,” Murray said.
“He was drafted high, he was a first pick and it’s not a mistake. He’s got great potential locked in that body and he’s going to become a very good player, an important player for Colorado,” he concluded.
Los Angeles, currently on an 11-1-3 roll in their last 15 games, host the perennially contending Detroit Red Wings Monday night.
“It’s definitely going to show us how we measure up to the best teams in the league and it’s a must-win,” Doughty said.
The Kings find themselves in the thick of a crowded Western Conference playoff picture, with their 74 points to place them fifth in the West. There are ten teams with 70 or more points and while Vancouver’s total of 87 seems rather distant, second-seeded Detroit’s six-point advantage may not be so difficult to catch with a four-point win Monday.
Murray praised Detroit’s star power and management, but emphasized the importance of every game remaining on the schedule first and foremost.
“They’re all playoff games now,” said Murray. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Detroit or any other team right now, the points are critical. Obviously, the conference is so tight that any game can make a difference.”