LOS ANGELES – Crank out some new milk cartons because Los Angeles’ star players and winning ways are no longer missing.
The Kings snapped a four-game losing streak and earned their second victory in their last nine contests with a 3-2 come-from-behind win against the Florida Panthers at Staples Center Thursday night.
Following a faceoff loss and a turnover that gave the Kings possession in the offensive zone, a blast from Dustin Brown created a titillating rebound that Anze Kopitar swiftly backhanded home for the game-winning goal.
“The whole team was good, but the best players came through in the end. It was great to see the winning goal, seeing Kopitar finish it off,” Kings head coach Terry Murray said.
Jonathan Quick stopped 24 of 26 shots on net and continued his sharp, steady play in net. Quick’s 12-5-0 record ties him for the best mark for a Kings goalie through 17 decisions since the 1980-81 season.
Brown demonstrated why he wears the captain’s C as he ramped up the physical intensity of the game. He was credited for six hits but seemed to be getting a piece of a Panther or four on every single shift.
“It was important for us to go out and get a forecheck going and take some bodies. I think it was a good follow-through by Brown and other people,” Murray said.
The Kings surmounted some early tentativeness to get their offensive game going. They sustained pressure five-on-five following an early power play and were able to frequently carry the puck into the offensive zone as the game progressed.
On a night where the consistently productive line of Ryan Smyth, Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams were broken up on the lineup sheet, the trio was on the ice together to open the scoring. Williams left a pass for Stoll whose shot from between the circles skittered through a partially screened Tomas Vokoun. Smyth was the man in front and also received the secondary assist on the goal.
The lines were mixed and matched throughout the night. In the third period the Kings premiered a combination that coach Murray said he’d had in mind for quite some time with Michal Handzus, Kopitar and Brown. It was a mixture that proved effective late in the game.
Florida scored the equalizer when Keaton Ellerby’s hard point shot was deflected off the glass behind the net only to pop out on the opposite side of the goal. Kings defenseman Peter Harrold lost his balance there creating an easy tap-in for Michal Repik, who could nearly have blown the puck into the net following the odd sequence.
Shawn Matthias had a pair of solid chances for Florida to close the period but neither found the back of the net. He would be robbed in the third period as a textbook two-on-one rush left him alone in the left slot with a one-time pass on his stick. His wrist shot was engulfed by the body of Quick, who tracked the play brilliantly and held the puck for a draw.
The Kings carried play in the second period dishing the biscuit with aplomb and getting traffic in front of the Florida net. After an extended trip into the Florida zone, Kopitar collected a turnover and sprung Williams with a stretch pass. Williams was behind the defense but a backchecking Ellerby lifted his stick and shut down the play as both men slid into Vokoun and his net.
In a swing that was emblematic of the Kings’ recent struggles, a series of sustained possessions and scoring chances were negated by a quick Florida goal. Florida dumped a puck into the right corner that was recovered by Steven Reinprecht, who slid the puck to a fresh-off-the-bench David Booth for a wrist-shot goal scored inside the right faceoff dot between three Los Angeles defenders.
Booth’s goal was his first in 13 games and his sixth of the season.
“It’s finally good to put one in the back of the net. I had a couple of chances there, good chances…but one’s not good enough, especially when you lose by a goal,” Booth said.
Coach Murray recently commented that his team had not elevated their play in the face of adversity at times but that was not the case Thursday. The Kings responded to the blown assignment and goal with a physical cycle from their third line that was capped off when a Kyle Clifford shot attempt squirted back to Harrold in the high slot. Harrold sent a rising wrister over the shoulder of Vokoun to knot the game at 2.
“I was very pleased with the emotion tonight. You have to have emotion to play the game,” said Murray. “That’s a quality that’s important to have. I thought the guys responded well to being down 2-1.”
“A lot of the good things were being said on the bench and everybody rallied to get the job done.”
After drawing even, Kopitar’s tally with under three minutes to play put the Kings up for good.
In addition to Harrold scoring his first goal since Jan. 23, 2010, the Kings got solid performances from the recently maligned defensemen Jack Johnson, Drew Doughty and Matt Greene. All three men positioned themselves effectively, played physically and made smart decisions. Greene had what might have been his best game since his return or at least his most aggressive as he registered eight hits.
Greene, who has been trying to round back into form following his recovery from shoulder surgery, discussed the importance of Kopitar’s goal and the win to which it led.
“It was a huge relief. Over the last nine games we have been giving up those goals at the end of the game and those are back-breakers,” said Greene. “To go out and have your best player give you that effort and give you that goal means a ton for the guys on this team. With our top players, we go as they go, so for him to step up and get that goal was huge for us and I think everyone in here feels about 60 pounds lighter.”
The Kings have little time to relish this win as the Western Conference’s best team by record, the Detroit Red Wings, rolls into town Saturday. Los Angeles is 9-2-0 at Staples Center and remains the only NHL team not to have allowed a power-play goal at home. Those marks will likely be tested by the Red Wings, who own the Western Conference’s best road record at 6-3-0.
In other Kings news, Braydon Schenn has officially been returned to the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League. After reaching the Memorial Cup final last year, the team has struggled to a .400 record without Schenn and linemate Matt Calvert, who is now with the American Hockey League’s Springfield Falcons.
While his time in Los Angeles and Manchester may have cost Schenn a run at the WHL scoring title, Kings prospect Linden Vey currently leads the WHL in scoring with 48 points through 26 games for the Medicine Hat Tigers.
The biggest Kings news of the day turned out to be no news at all as both General Manager Dean Lombardi and Assistant General Manager Ron Hextall told Helene Elliot of the Los Angeles Times that no trade was in place for the Boston winger Marco Sturm at this point in time.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie tweeted, “Final word on aborted Sturm deal: LAK were furnished with player’s medical records. They had concerns with what they saw.”
McKenzie acknowledged the possibility that the deal would be revisited later.
Sturm is expected to remain on injured reserve for another two weeks to a month, meaning that any urgency Boston feels to dump his salary or the Kings feel to add forward depth is dampened considerably.
Lombardi said the rumors were exaggerated but also said “we looked into it seriously” on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada radio show.
Hear the full interview here:
A reporter, editor, educator and entrepreneur from Southern California, Andrew has taught at Temple University where he earned a Master’s Degree in journalism.
Andrew has also edited copy on The New York Times sports desk. He currently covers the Los Angeles Kings and Ontario Reign for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group, the Pacific Division for Hockey Primetime and both the Kings and Anaheim Ducks’ prospects for Hockey’s Future.