The Kings celebrate Justin Williams' first period goal during their 3-2 shootout win over the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on December 19th, 2011: Thanks to LAKings.com

The Kings celebrate Justin Williams' first period goal during their 3-2 shootout win over the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on December 19th, 2011: Thanks to LAKings.com

Exhale, Kings fans…

That would have been devastating had the Kings not escaped this game with two points. But, they did, and they finish the road trip and the John Stevens era with a .500 record of 2-2-0, with Darryl Sutter set to take over when the Kings return to Los Angeles (I’ll make my official post about it once it’s officially announced, which will likely be tomorrow, maybe Wednesday).

The Kings may also regain the services of Mike Richards in their next game at Thursday, at home against the Ducks, but that’s not yet confirmed. Even if he’s not ready to go in Darryl Sutter’s debut, it appears he could be back soon, which will be a huge boost for this team.

The Kings kind of ended their streak of 11 straight games without scoring more than two goals, but not really. The Kings only scored two goals in regulation, and didn’t even score in overtime, their third goal was only awarded by winning the shootout. So, that doesn’t really count, and technichally the franchise record streak of consecutive games with less than three goals is up to 12 games.

But, who cares? The Kings played an excellent offensive game tonight, taking 40 shots on goal (I know, but they actually looked good tonight when taking a ton of shots on goal and had quality shots and chances). In fact, not just offensively. Their defensive play and Jonathan Quick helped keep both Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul off the scoreboard, which hasn’t been done much this season. They actually had some good quality chances this time as well, and were getting some good net presence and puck movement going, as well as showing some excellent cycling, and even some speed, while winning puck battles and getting to loose pucks. The only thing I was bothered with was that some of their shots were still largely from the perimeter, rather than walking in a bit before taking the shot, or passing it off to someone in a better spot. Some of their attack was still from the perimeter and you’d like to move it into a better scoring opportunity, but, tonight looked a lot better than usual, and unlike other times when they took a bunch of shots but most didn’t have much hope of going in, tonight I can honestly say that, largely the reason they had only two goals was that they ran into a hot goalie (what else is new). In the past, it was more of a mixture of the Kings not putting many quality chances on a hot goalie. Tonight was more due to a hot goalie.

Also, the Kings could have had zero goals, if not for a couple of lucky breaks for the Kings. On their first goal, Drew Doughty dumped the puck in and it took a funny bounce right to Justin Williams in front of the net, who made no mistake. On their second goal (a power-play goal!), the linesmen missed the puck going out, offside wasn’t called, and the Kings took advantage on the same play. Some Leafs fans were complaining about the bad call costing them, but the Kings largely dominated this game, and especially in the second period when they scored that goal. They deserved some breaks. Also, shortly after the Kings’ second goal by Dustin Brown, Brown was called for a high-stick with the Kings on the power-play. So, that took away the Kings’ power-play. The Leafs didn’t have much time on the power-play they got after their penalty expired — 16 seconds to end the second period and 12 seconds to start the third period — but still, the Kings took advantage of the bad call that went in their favour, and the Maple Leafs didn’t. That was not the only difference, as Toronto missed many chances, going 0-for-5 on the power-play. The Maple Leafs had the second best power-play in the league coming into the night, and it could have been a different game if they could have taken advantage of some undisciplined play by the Kings. Obviously, there’s no reason to be upset about this game going to extra time. The point the Leafs got doesn’t matter, they’re an Eastern Conference team, and it’s only the Kings’ second shootout win this season, and I’m not worried about a potential tiebreaker at this point. I’ll worry about that if it comes back to bite the Kings at the end of the season.

That said, I’ll admit that I probably would have been complaining if I were in their shoes as well. Either way, the Kings have been getting some rotten luck lately, but they got some in their favour tonight, so I suppose I won’t complain about the Kings getting bad luck for a while… Until the next time bad luck goes against them…

Well, the Kings have a great chance to make it two straight wins and hopefully get on a bit of a roll, and perhaps build off this strong game and finally get a game with three real goals when they take on the bottom-feeding Anaheim Ducks back home at Staples Center on Thursday. Before we get set for that, let’s recap this win in Toronto…

1st period: The Kings avoided an early deficit after keeping the puck out after a scramble in front of Jonathan Quick, and then opened the scoring at the 7:54 mark. Drew Doughty dumped the puck in down the right side, and before it went around the net, took a funny bounce off the glass to Justin Williams who was all alone in front and wired a wrist shot by the glove of James Reimer, for Williams’ fifth goal of the season. Rob Scuderi also got an assist. But, of course, the Kings gave it right back. Just 3:07 later, Quick fell victim to his own poor puck-handling yet again, when he misplayed it to the Leafs and they kept the play alive, then the puck got around to John-Michael Liles at the left circle who blasted one by Quick’s glove, his fourth goal of the season, with an assist to Tyler Bozak, at the 11:01 mark. The Maple Leafs outshot the Kings 15-14 in the opening frame and went 0-for-2 on the power-play, while the Kings went 0-for-1. They would also have 47 seconds of a 4-on-3 power-play to start the second period, and then 46 more seconds of a 5-on-4 power-play if they didn’t score on the 4-on-3 (which they didn’t). The 4-on-4 resulted from a Luke Schenn boarding penalty on Brad Richardson, and then Matt Greene retaliating. I find it so dumb that Greene gets retaliating there. I know it’s a rule, but it shouldn’t be. What do you expect teammates to do when one of their own takes a dirty hit? Player won’t be as afraid to do that, because they know other teams will retaliate and they won’t end up putting their team shorthanded because of it. 47 seconds into the 4-on-4, Dion Phaneuf took a cross checking penalty to put the Kings on the 4-on-3 advantage. Kyle Clifford and Jay Rosehill fought after the Williams goal, a spirited tilt and a great sign to see from Clifford. The fight appeared to be a draw, but Rosehill had to go to the Toronto dressing room after the fight for some repairs.

2nd period: Los Angeles absolutely dominated the second period, outshooting Toronto 16-4. They put on tons and tons of sustained pressure, but, as it’s gone all year, they couldn’t get the puck in. I was really impressed with how they bounced back tonight after getting embarrassed in Detroit, this was the best I’ve seen them play in a long time. Perhaps all season. Finally, they got rewarded with a lucky break. On a power-play, Drew Doughty had trouble with the puck, and it went out of the Leafs zone. However, the linesmen didn’t see it that way. Doughty kept it in, fed it off to Anze Kopitar at the half-wall, then to Simon Gagne below the goal line, and then he fed it up to Dustin Brown in slot who one-timed it by Reimer’s glove from the slot. Brown’s sixth goal of the season came at the 14:58, and it was great to see the Kings power-play finally look good. Mind you, it was against the league’s worst penalty killing team. Late in the frame, the Kings got a chance to extend their lead, but Dustin Brown’s follow-through on a shot hit a Leaf in the face, and was mistakenly called a high-stick. It would be 4-on-4 play for 1:32 before the Leafs got 16 seconds of a power-play to end the second period, and then 12 seconds of it to start the third. As mentioned earlier, LA outshot Toronto 16-4 in the frame, and went 1-for-2 on the power-play (the one they didn’t score one was the one that ended earlier on the bad high-stick call) while the Leafs went 0-for-2 on the power-play, with that abbreviated power-play also continuing into the third period. Drew Doughty missed the start of the period, getting facial lacerations repaired. By the way, he had an excellent game. He’s played well lately, hopefully he’s turning it around.

3rd period: The Kings were 9-0-1 on the season so far when leading after two periods, but just 2:56 into the period, the Leafs tied it up. Coming down the left boards, Mikhail Grabovski slowed down, and then made an incredible saucer pass to Matt Frattin who tapped it in from the right side, for his fourth goal of the season. Nikolai Kulemin also got an assist. Shortly after, the Kings got a power-play and a chance to take the lead back, but failed. That would be the only power-play of the frame, other than the short power-play Toronto had to start it, so each team went 0-for-1 in the period, while the Kings went 1-for-5 in regulation and the Leafs went 0-for-5. The Kings outshot the Maple Leafs 40-29 in regulation, but the shots in the third period were even at 10-10. The momentum seemed to have tilted in the Leafs’ favour for a bit after the Frattin goal, but the Leafs couldn’t capitalize and Quick and the Kings held their ground.

Overtime: A fast-paced, exciting overtime solved nothing. The Leafs outshot the Kings 4-2, but the Kings held a 42-33 advantage in shots on the night. There were no penalties in overtime, meaning the Kings finished 1-for-5 with the man-advantage on the night and the Leafs finished 0-for-5.

Shootout:

Being the home team, the Leafs choose when to shoot, and elected to shoot first.

1st round:

Phil Kessel came in and wired one of the post. He is now 1-for-5 on the season.

Jarret Stoll came in and did his patented wrist shot, but his laser was sent over the net. He must have thought it was regulation time still. He is now 1-for-3 on the season.

2nd round:

Matt Frattin came in and shot it wide. He is now 1-for-2 on the season.

Anze Kopitar’s attempt was stopped by Reimer’s blocker. He is now 1-for-4 on the season.

3rd round:

Joffrey Lupul stick-handled a little too much and he lost the puck to Quick’s pokecheck. He is now 2-for-3 on the season

Captain Dustin Brown finished off an excellent game for him and his team by coming in and wiring one off the crossbar and in to win the game for the Kings. Like Doughty and a few others, he’s looked better lately, and hopefully is turning it around, finally. He is now 1-for-3 on the season. The Leafs fall to 3-2 in shootouts on the season, while the Kings improve to 2-2, winning their second straight shootout.

Well, it’s going to be a much more pleasant plane ride home for the Kings, who will have lots of time to ponder their future under Darryl Sutter, as well as the firing of Terry Murray. Being on a road trip with games to play and prepare for, they may not have had much time to do that yet. Stay tuned for a game preview for their game with the Ducks on Thursday sometime before the puck drops at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT at Staples Center, but I will also very likely be doing a story about the hiring of Darryl Sutter in the next day or two. John Stevens is expected to stay on as an assistant coach under Sutter for at least the remainder of the season, while Jamie Kompon’s future with the team is not yet known.

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