Mike Richards during the Kings' 2-1 victory at Staples Center against the Florida Panthers on December 1st, 2011. Richards and Willie Mitchell would both leave the game and not return: Thanks to LAKings.com

Mike Richards during the Kings' 2-1 victory at Staples Center against the Florida Panthers on December 1st, 2011. Richards and Willie Mitchell would both leave the game and not return: Thanks to LAKings.com

One year ago today, the Florida Panthers were in Los Angeles, and lost to the Kings, 3-2 in regulation. Yesterday, 364 days after their last visit, the Panthers returned to LA, and once again suffered a regulation defeat to the Kings, for their seventh consecutive loss to the Kings, as ever since a 5-2 win at Staples Center on November 27th, 2002, the Panthers have gone 0-6-1 against the Kings, as the Kings came away with a 2-1 win before a crowd of 17,720 at Staples Center on Thursday night. It was the Kings’ second game at Staples Center that they haven’t sold out this year, and they were games against Nashville and Florida. Coincidence? No.

However, despite getting the win, it was far from a perfect night for the Kings. First of all, the Kings offense once again struggled, recording just two goals. After an early 5-on-5 goal from Jack Johnson, the Kings were only able to score one more goal for the rest of the night, a second period power-play goal that started off with a beautiful Slava Voynov pass and was finished off with a beautiful Dustin Brown shot. Furthermore, after a nice start for the game, the Kings were clearly outplayed for the majority of the game after that, as the Panthers recorded a whopping 42 shots on goal. Fortunately for the Kings, Jonathan Quick is back into one of those grooves that he was in earlier this season, and was somehow able to keep 41 of them out. Unfortunately for the Kings, if Quick hadn’t been brilliant in so many of the Kings’ victories this year, then they wouldn’t have many wins, as Thursday marked the 19th time in 25 games this season that the Kings have failed to score more than two goals in regulation. On the other hand, although the Panthers had most of the opportunities, the Kings created some of their own, and maybe could have had some more goals, but Jose Theodore was also outstanding in net for Florida.

And finally, the injuries. Willie Mitchell played just one shift before leaving the game with a lower-body injury and not returning. Then, to make matters worse, Mike Richards took a high hit from Sean Bergenheim late in the second period. Richards didn’t come out for the start of the third period, or for any part of the third period, and will go on injured reserve tomorrow retroactive to Thursday, meaning I think the earliest he can return is one week from when he goes on injured reserve, and since he’s being placed on it retroactive to this Thursday, he should be eligible to return next Thursday when the Kings host the Minnesota Wild. That would mean Richards only misses two games, but that’s the absolute best-case scenario. It’s not known if he’ll be even close to ready to play then. Dean Lombardi admits that Richards spent time in the “quiet room” after the hit, but hasn’t said that it’s a concussion. Richards is listed as having an “upper-body injury”, but it appears that there are at least concussion-like symptoms.

So, obviously that is not good news, and here’s hoping that it’s not a serious injury and that Richards won’t be out for long, because that’s a big loss for the Kings. Perhaps not as big as last year when they lost Anze Kopitar, not only because it’s not the playoffs or almost the playoffs and may not even be serious or season-ending like Kopitar’s was, but because the Kings are a better team (on paper, at least) now and now have two top-tier centres. Richards was in Philadelphia when Kopitar was hurt last year, meaning the Kings were left without even one. Now, the Kings still at least have one if one gets hurt. In this case, they still have Kopitar, and Richards’ injury may not even be serious. But, head injuries are scary, unpredictable, and never a good thing. As far as Mitchell’s lower-body injury is concerned, Terry Murray says that the Kings don’t expect to put Mitchell on injured reserve, but that he expects Mitchell to miss at least a few games. The Kings placed Richards on injured reserve so they could make room for Dustin Penner, who has been activated off of the injured reserve after missing nine games with a broken knuckle and will play tomorrow against the Canadiens. It will also mean Andrei Loktionov’s stay in Los Angeles appears to be extended for a while. Meanwhile, there will be no call ups to take Mitchell’s spot on the blue-line, as it appears that the Kings will just play Davis Drewiske until one of Mitchell or Alec Martinez returns from the injured reserve.

Personally, I have to agree with Dean Lombardi when he talked about how it’s a bit ridiculous that the Kings end up with a four-minute penalty kill just because they weren’t happy with the hit on Richards and went after Bergenheim. It’s part of the game, players avenge hits they don’t like, they shouldn’t be penalized for it. Bergenheim got two minutes for roughing, however, I believe that was for the scrum, not the hit. Also, I can’t agree with his, the referees’ Dean Lombardi’s, Terry Murray’s and Brendan Shanahan’s assessment of the hit. I thought it was dirty. Bergenheim said after the game “It was almost like having the dirtiest hit on Wayne Gretzky,” Bergenheim joked about the reaction of the Kings on his hit on Richards. “Keep your head up. He’s a physical player himself and has done some fairly dirty stuff. Actually the Booth hit under today’s standard would probably be a pretty long suspension. It was a perfect hit right in the chest.” Yes, perfect hit right in the chest. Which explains the concussion that Richards likely suffered. Except it doesn’t. Also, what was the Kings’ reaction? They all said after the game that it was a hockey hit, and their on-ice reaction was definitely approporiate. Maybe he should keep his mouth shut.

Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen also chimed in after the game, saying “We thoroughly outplayed them. They were trying to run around and chase us and hack us and slash us. When you are getting outplayed as badly as they were, that’s the response.” Were the Kings outplayed? Yes. Were his players dirtier than the Kings? You could make that argument, but he failed to acknowledge that. Should him and his team not talk so much smack because they lost and haven’t made the playoffs in over 10 years? Yeah, that would probably be smart. I, for one, am looking to the rematch in Florida on February 9th.

Well, it may have come at a price, but it was still a win. The Kings will now prepare to host the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, but before we get set for that, let’s recap Thursday’s win over the Florida Panthers…

1st period: Other than Willie Mitchell’s injury, the Kings got the game started off the way they wanted to, as Jack Johnson opened the scoring at the 1:35 mark. At the left point, Johnson took a cross-ice pass from Matt Greene and then fired a wrist shot on the goal that hit Panthers defenseman Mike Weaver and redirected by a helpless Jose Theodore. Anze Kopitar also recorded an assist, as the Kings got a rare even strength goal as well as a rare early goal all at once. For the most part, it was a strong opening frame for the Kings as they outshot the Panthers 13-9, but Florida started to get stronger as the period wore on, and a couple of late penalties by the Kings also helped contribute to that. Each team went 0-for-1 on the power play, while the Panthers would have 1:45 of another one carry over into the second period.

2nd period: At the 10:30 mark, perhaps looking to get some momentum back for the Kings, Colin Fraser fought Bracken Kearns. Fraser got his second take down in as many fights this year, but once again, it wasn’t much of a fight. The Panthers continued to carry the play and even dominate as they sought the tying goal, outshooting the Kings 10-1 in the first 12:20 of the second period, but didn’t have an answer for Jonathan Quick, who, once again, was absolutely brilliant. In what’s been an amazing season for Quick, this may have been his best performance so far. Despite the Panthers’ domination, it would be the Kings striking next, taking a two-goal lead, a lead that must have been pretty daunting to a Florida team that has recently been struggling on offense (just eight goals in their last five games after this game) and couldn’t seem to get anything by Quick. On a Kings power play, Slava Voynov started the rush before making an amazing stretch pass to Dustin Brown who came in and wired a laser wrist shot from the left circle over the right shoulder of Theodore at the 14:13 mark of the period. Jonathan Quick also picked up an assist, his second of the season and sixth of his career, putting him two shy of Kelly Hrudey for the all-time Kings record for assists and points (no goalie has ever scored a goal for the Kings). As I’ve mentioned before, Brown is probably the most snake-bitten player in the league, and after having a goal robbed from him on Monday, he finally got one tonight, ending an eight-game goalless drought. But, of course, many Kings goals do not get celebrated by their fans for very long (although the problem may be that the players are celebrating for too long), because once again, the Kings gave up a goal shortly after scoring one, this time it took the Panthers just 1:26 to claw back within one. Erik Gudbranson’s point shot was stopped by Quick, but Sean Bergenheim was there to knock in the rebound at the 15:39 mark. Tomas Kopecky also picked up an assist, and Gubranson recorded his first career NHL regular season point on the play. Shortly after, there was the Bergenheim high hit on Richards, the hit that has landed Richards on the injured reserve. Richards and Jarret Stoll took offense, and somehow the Panthers ended up with a four-minute power play (the Kings had a choice between that and a two-minute 5-on-3 against. Tough choice. Except not at all). The Kings had some penalty trouble in the second period, however, the Panthers went 0-for-4 on the power-play in the frame, including failing on 34 seconds of a 5-on-3 early in the period. They also failed on the first 3:08 of their late four-minute power play from the Richards/Stoll/Bergenheim scrum, that would carry over for another 52 seconds into the third period (the Panthers started both the second and third periods with power-plays). The Panthers, as I mentioned, dominated the second period, outshooting the Kings 16-7.

3rd period: Trent Hunter served the remainder of the Mike Richards penalty to start the third, which was not a good sign. The Panthers failed on the remainder of the power play, and pulled their goalie late, but couldn’t get the equalizing goal, as the Kings held on for the 2-1 regulation win. The Panthers went 0-for-1 on the power-play and 0-for-6 on the night, while the Kings didn’t have one and were 1-for-2 on the night. The Kings have killed their last 24 penalties and haven’t given up a power-play goal in five games, while their power-play goal tonight ended a three-game drought. That snake once again came back to bite Dustin Brown, as he almost had his second goal of the game in the third period, his hard wrist shot beat Theodore, but not the post.

After beating a team that they usually have success against, the banged-up Kings will press on without Willie Mitchell and Mike Richards as they try to beat a team that they usually don’t have success against, the Montreal Canadiens. Stay tuned for a game preview coming sometime before the puck drops at 3:30 PM ET/12:30 PM PT.

NOTE: After 25 games, the Kings (13-8-4) have the same 30 points that they started the last two seasons with. 15-10-0 last year, and 14-9-2 in 2009-10, and have many of the same problems as the last two years. Unfortunately for the Kings, they do not look like a better team than the last two years. But, there’s lots of hockey left, and it’s a better team on paper. Will they end up doing better than the last two seasons?

Also, if you made it all the way to the bottom of this ridiculously long post, I leave you with a question (feel free to leave your answer in the comment section…) Should Bergenheim have faced supplemental discipline? If so, what, and how much?

And, finally, the pea in the whistle incident. Just one more reason to love Bob and Jim (Thanks to LAKingsInsider.com). http://lakingsinsider.com/2011/12/02/bob-jim-and-the-pea-in-the-whistle/

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