Andrei Loktionov celebrates with Brad Richardson after Richardson's goal during the Kings' 4-1 win over the Canucks at Staples Center on December 31st, 2011. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI via Getty Images)

Andrei Loktionov celebrates with Brad Richardson after Richardson's goal during the Kings' 4-1 win over the Canucks at Staples Center on December 31st, 2011. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI via Getty Images)

What a New Year’s Eve party the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks just put on.

Games between the Kings and Canucks are often very entertaining and filled with bad blood, and tonight was no different. This is one of the most underrated rivalries in the NHL, and the Canucks are the Kings’ biggest rival. The Ducks are not the Kings’ biggest rival. Playoffs build rivalries, not location. Ever since the Kings and Canucks played in the 2010 playoffs, every game between these two teams has been filled animosity, and tonight was the most entertaining yet.

It’s not often I can say I’ve been entertained during Kings games this year, but I can honestly say that I’m very happy with my decision to stay home and watch this game and not go out and celebrate the new year with friends. There were plenty of entertaining hits, fights, scrums, and Roberto Luongo appeared to be wanting to fight Jonathan Quick during one scrum in the third period, after Quick had gotten involved in a scrum behind the Kings net. Hey, it was actually a pretty good game as well.

It was easily not only the Kings’ best game of the season, but by far the most entertaining. This rivalry is awesome. I’m really looking forward to next season when the Kings and Canucks are both part of one of the new conferences as part of the NHL’s realignment. Maybe they’ll even treat us to a playoff series this year, which would no doubt be an entertaining sequel to their series from 2010.

The Canucks are a team who you can get off their game if you get under their skin, and that’s what the Kings did tonight. After a shaky start, the Kings went on to play a fantastic game in all areas of the game for pretty much the remainder of the night. It was a huge win for the Kings to kick off this homestand, and a win that moves them up into the first place in the Pacific Division, although the San Jose Sharks have *FIVE* Games in hand on the Kings, and the Dallas Stars have two.

Darryl Sutter decided before the game to put Mike Richards on left wing on the top line with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, which led to a second line of Brad Richardson, Andrei Loktionov and Trevor Lewis. That was a second line that had combined for two goals on the season coming into the night (both by Richardson), and I even joked that Sutter making that the second line was him begging Dean Lombardi to trade for some offense, but perhaps this line could work? They showed immediate chemistry tonight, as Richardson scored the first Kings goal, Loktionov picked up an assist on it, and then Loktionov picked up another assist on the Kings’ next goal by Matt Greene. Loktionov had just two assists in his first seventeen games this season, but moved back to centre tonight, where’s he’s clearly way better, he doubled his assist-total on the season. Even on the wing for the last couple of games, I thought Loktionov looked much better, and what do you know, maybe he’s making a case to stay up here when Simon Gagne is healthy. A part about Loktionov’s game that I don’t like still is that he passes up too many shots. In his 18 games up here, he has zero goals. If I were him, I’d be shooting every chance I got. On a 3-on-1, he was coming down the left side and had a lane to shoot, but tried to pass it back to Richardson at the high-shot and the puck was deflected by the Canuck defender. Hopefully he finally breaks his goose egg sooner rather than later. Oh yes, and his good Russian buddy, Slava Voynov, also picked up two assists.

It was an excellent team game by everyone on the Kings tonight. They got goals from their top players, and from depth players, and shut down a high-powered Vancouver offense. Although the power-play still looked pretty bad tonight, they even finally got a power-play goal! The Kings have also beaten the top two teams in the Western Conference in the last week, the Blackhawks and the Canucks, outscoring them by a combined margin of 6-1. Finally, the Kings are playing like the team I expected to see this season and the team that can compete with the elite teams in this league. They even scored four goals for the second time in four games. Will this game be the start of a homestand that marks the turning point of this season? We’ll find out soon, but first, let’s recap this win over the Canucks…

1st period: The game actually didn’t start well for the Kings, as Jarret Stoll was in all alone on Roberto Luongo but shot high, and they played sloppy hockey and committed a few turnovers in the first few minutes, and it led to an early Vancouver goal. However, with the Lakers playing in the afternoon, the ice was even worse than normal and the puck was taking crazy bounces all game. Henrik Sedin got the puck at the right boards and fed it to his brother Daniel, who then made a beautiful no-look backhand pass to Kevin Bieksa in the high-slot who wired a slap-shot off the post and in, on Vancouver’s first shot of the game, for his fourth goal of the season, at the 3:06 mark. The rough start continued, as Stoll (who missed the earlier chance) took a penalty, and the dangerous Canucks power-play had a chance to make it 2-0. However, the Kings penalty kill continued to shine and killed it off. The Kings tied it up at the 9:16 mark. From the right boards, Andrei Loktionov threw the puck in front. Brad Richardson’s initial shot was stopped, but he put his rebound over Luongo, for his third goal of the season. Slava Voynov also got an assist. Later in the period, there was a scrum in front of the Vancouver goal, and Alexander Edler closed his hand on the puck in Luongo’s crease. The Kings wanted a penalty shot, however, the refs missed it. Shortly after, the bad ice helped contribute to a Vancouver turnover in their own end, and Mike Richards picked it up, made a move to his backhand, but hit the far post and it stayed out. Anze Kopitar could have put home the rebound, but he skated by the puck with his stick in the air because he thought the puck had gone in. For the most part, the Kings dominated the opening frame, outshooting the Canucks 15-7, but it was tied 1-1. The Canucks went 0-for-1 on the power-play, while the Kings didn’t have one.

2nd period: The Kings tried to jam one by Luongo, but it just stayed out. However, shortly after, Andrei Loktionov worked it back to Matt Greene at the right point who one-timed a slapshot by Luongo at the 8:20 mark who was without a stick and not completely back in position yet, for Greene’s second goal of the season. After the goal, Brad Richardson decked Henrik Sedin on his way to celebrate with his teammates. The Canucks went after him, and he and Keith Ballard ended up with roughing minors. Shortly into the 4-on-4, Mike Richards was assessed a double-minor for a high-stick on Ryan Kesler that drew blood, but once again, the Kings penalty kill came up huge, killing off the 4-on-3 Vancouver power-play and then the 5-on-4. Shortly after the Richards penalty expired, the Kings took the puck the other way. Justin Williams made a nice pass to Anze Kopitar who got in behind the defense, and Kopitar made a nice backhand move to put it over Luongo at the 13:08 mark, for his 11th goal of the season and the goal that ended his career-long 17-game goalless drought. Jack Johnson also got an assist. Vancouver outshot LA 14-12 in the second period and went 0-for-3 on the power-play, while the Kings went 0-for-1.

3rd period: At the 4:15 mark, Drew Doughty took a shot at Daniel Sedin behind the Kings net, and a scrum ensued. Jonathan Quick even got into the action, which led to Roberto Luongo leaving his crease and going up near his blue line and appeared to be willing to go with Jonathan Quick. Quick motioned Luongo back to his crease, however. Alex Burrows took the only penalty on the play. Shortly after failing on that power-play, the Kings got another one, and this time, they finally took advantage. From the left boards, Jarret Stoll got it up to Slava Voynov at the right point, who fired a shot into the slot that Justin Williams redirected by Luongo’s five-hole at the 9:33 mark, for his sixth goal of the season. Shortly after that goal, another scrum ensued behind the Vancouver net with Kyle Clifford taking down Keith Ballard. Then, everyone got involved. Clifford and Ballard each got 10-minute misconducts and their nights were over, and Brad Richardson and Mark Mancari served the roughing minors for their respective teams. After the 4-on-4 play, the Canucks took more dumb penalties, and the Kings were left with a 5-on-3 power-play for 50 seconds, but just like in Winnipeg on Thursday, the power-play looked bad and they didn’t take advantage. This time, though, it didn’t matter, as the Kings held on for a 4-1 victory. Vancouver outshot Los Angeles 7-6 in the third period, but the Kings held a 33-28 shot-advantage on the night. The Kings went 1-for-4 on the power-play in the period and 1-for-5 on the night, while the Canucks didn’t have one and went 0-for-4 on the night, as the Kings’ amazing penalty kill continues to impress, this time shutting down the top power-play in the league. On one of Vancouver’s late penalties in the third period, Drew Doughty made a great pass to Mike Richards who was in on a breakaway, but Luongo made a nice blocker save.

Well, it was a great start to the homestand and the new year for the Kings. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to the next game between the Kings and Canucks, and we won’t have to wait long, as these two teams will meet next on January 17th, at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. Before that, the Kings have some more business to take care of. Will they be able to keep it going? We’ll find out soon. Stay tuned for a game preview coming sometime before the puck drops on the Kings’ next game, at Staples Center against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday at 10:30 PM ET/7:30 PM PT.

NOTE: The Kings have won five of their last seven games, and have not lost in regulation in that span. They are now 4-0-2 under Darryl Sutter, and 6-2-2 since Terry Murray was fired. Against his old team tonight, I thought Willie Mitchell played an excellent game, and was very physical with some of his old teammates. I also thought Dustin Penner had a pretty strong game. Hopefully the numbers start to come for him.

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