Despite the fact that the Kings entered the game with the 24th-ranked offense in the NHL and they were facing the first-ranked defense, they were able to make it look easy on Saturday night, as they cruised to a 5-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild in Terry Murray’s 1,000th regular season game as an NHL head coach. It was the third time that the Kings have scored five goals this season, but after the previous two five-goal outbursts, the Kings were unable to carry that over afterwards, but they’ll hope that this game was a turning point, rather than an aberration.
Overall, the Kings have scored 11 goals in their last three games, which is pretty impressive, albeit a small sample size. Dustin Penner had been playing better in the last few games, but the Kings were just fine without him tonight, and finally got some secondary scoring, as fourth-liner Colin Fraser and both members of the third defensive pairing of Alec Martinez and Matt Greene all contributed with goals tonight. For Martinez, it was just his second goal of the season, and it was the first for both Fraser and Greene.
Meanwhile, the Kings once again let up in the third period, as they had done on Tuesday against Nashville, which was especially disturbing because they were only winning 4-2 after the second period. Ok, yeah, if you’re going to let up when you’re up 5-0 after the second period, then fine, I understand that, but the Kings are going to have to stop taking their foot off their opponent’s throats when they have a lead after two periods. Mind you, if you take out the 2010 playoff series with Vancouver, the Kings have not lost in regulation in 60+ games when leading after two periods, which is awfully impressive. So perhaps it isn’t really a problem, but the last couple of games where the Kings led in the third they’ve appeared to just be cruising, and if that continues, then that impressive streak is going to come to an end sometime soon. Sometimes it does appear that this team has been reading its own press clippings and feels like they can just show up and win, which is why I never like to see the Kings cruising out there, because I want to see them prove my fears wrong and prove that they know they have to work just as hard as the other team, even harder, if they want to win, despite all of the talent that they do have on this team.
Another issue for the Kings lately has been their penalty kill. Coming into this game, the Kings had killed off 83.6% of their penalties, the 13th-ranked penalty kill in the NHL, and although that’s certainly not bad, the Kings’ penalty kill last season seemed almost automatic, they killed off 85.5% of their penalties and had the fourth-best penalty kill in the NHL, and tonight the Kings killed off just two of three penalties against a Minnesota power play that coming into this game was clicking at only a 12.9% success rate, ranking them 25th in the NHL, and the Kings have allowed four goals in their last 14 times being shorthanded. Again, they could be doing a lot worse, but the penalty kill doesn’t seem to be clicking like it was last year.
But really, neither of those are big issues right now. I’m not here to be negative after a big win like that. For example, I’m not going to mention that the Wild were horrendous (apparently Minnesota head coach Mike Yeo was so angry with his team that he didn’t speak to his team after the game) and that the Kings power play didn’t look great. Wait… Forget I said that. Really though, other than the power play and the third period, the Kings played very well tonight, despite the fact that the Wild played terribly. I mean, that’s how blowouts like this happen anyways. One team plays really well, one team plays really badly, and this is usually the result. The Kings put up five goals on a team that was giving up just 1.87 goals per game coming into the night, the best goals against in the NHL, and chased the goalie who had the best goals against average and save percentage in the NHL, they finally got some secondary scoring, and despite the fact that they had lost seven of their last nine games coming into the night, they’ve now won two of their last three, and they enter a three-day break on a high note before hosting the reeling Anaheim Ducks (although they’re coming off a win over the Canucks) on Wednesday for the first half of a home-and-home on back-to-back nights with the Ducks.
So after a solid win, the Kings have some momentum to build off of as they prepare to renew their rivalry with Anaheim for the first time this season. However, before I get you set for that, let’s recap Saturday night’s victory over the Wild…
1st period: Offense has been a problem for the Kings this season, especially early in games, at even-strength, and from their bottom lines, but in this one, the Kings got an even-strength goal from a fourth-liner just 2:49 into the game. Colin Fraser, playing just his second game with the Kings, coming off a very strong debut had another very strong game for the Kings, and got it started off by opening the scoring for his first of the season and first as a King. Ethan Moreau threw it out in front to Fraser, who jammed the puck by Josh Harding who didn’t appear to really be sure about where the puck was. Trevor Lewis also got an assist. At the 17:38 mark, the Kings were given a five-minute power play when Warren Peters was assessed a major boarding penalty on Alec Martinez. Martinez left the game but returned for the start of the second period. The Kings failed on their first 2:22 of the major, but would have 2:38 of a power play to start the second period. Not including the major they were on to end the frame, the Kings went 0-for-2 on the power play, while the Wild didn’t have a power play. The Kings outshot the Wild 12-3, and the Wild didn’t record their first shot until the game was over 11 minutes old. Wild defenseman Marco Scandella left the game after just four shifts and less than seven minutes into the game with an apparent head injury, and did not return, forcing the already injury-depleted Minnesota blue line to play with five defensemen for the rest of the night.
2nd period: The Kings couldn’t generate much on the major, and for a while it looked like they were going to waste a golden opportunity, but finally, at the 2:00 mark of the period and with 38 seconds remaining on the major, Alec Martinez, the man who got hit into the boards in order for the Kings to get the power play, decided to take matters into his own hands, as Justin Williams tried to wrap it in from the side of the net but the puck squirted out to Martinez and he whacked the puck into the net from the other side of the net as he was falling down for his second goal of the year. Simon Gagne also picked up an assist. Then at the 6:49 mark, Dustin Brown came streaking down the left side, avoided a hip check from Marek Zidlicky, took a shot on goal and then picked up his own rebound and put it by Harding for his fourth goal of the year. Jack Johnson picked up an assist. Then at the 11:44 mark, shortly after Jonathan Quick had made an outstanding save, Simon Gagne picked up the puck behind the Wild net and carried it in front and put a low backhand by Harding for his sixth goal of the season. Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams picked up the assists, and Harding would be pulled in favour of Niklas Backstrom after allowing four goals on 21 shots. Then, Matt Greene welcomed Backstrom to the game at the 14:13 mark by slapping a puck that came back to him at the point after a won faceoff in the Wild zone, as the puck took a weird path to the net as it appeared to maybe hit Cal Clutterbuck from near where Greene shot it and then hit the ice and skipped up and raised on its way to the net and beat Backstrom. It was Greene’s first goal of the year, and Trent Hunter and Jarret Stoll picked up the assists. The Kings outshot the Wild 15-11 in the period, while neither team had a power play, but the Wild got one at the 19:20 mark after Simon Gagne tackled Brad Staubitz after delivering a hit on Anze Kopitar that apparently Gagne was not pleased with. Gagne received a two-minute roughing penalty, but the Wild did not capitalize during the first 40 seconds, and would have 1:20 of a power play to start the third period. It was the first time that the Kings had scored four goals in a period since they did so in the third period of a 4-0 win in San Jose on December 26th, 2010.
3rd period: At the 0:47 mark, with Gagne still in the box, Cal Clutterbuck ended Jonathan Quick’s bid for his fourth shutout of the season. The puck popped out to Clutterbuck in front of the net who shot it low and past Quick, for his third goal of the year. Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley picked up the assists. Then at the 12:23 mark, Marek Zidlicky took a shot along the ice from the right point that went towards the slot and hit the stick of Darroll Powe and went past Quick for Powe’s second of the year to make it a 5-2 game. Nate Prosser also got an assist. That’s as close as the Wild would get though, as the Kings held on for a 5-2 win in front of a sellout crowd of 18,118 at Staples Center (mostly Kings fans this time). A penalty-filled frame saw each team go 0-for-2 on the power play, while there were also a pair of coincidental roughing minors. The Kings went 1-for-5 on the power play on the night, while the Wild went 1-for-3. The Wild outshot the Kings 12-9 in the third, but the Kings outshot them 36-26 on the night.
So the Kings appear to be getting back on track, as well as starting to find a rhythm on offense. The Kings now get a mini three-day break that they head into with a good feeling, and then they’ll look to keep it going in a home-and-home set with the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday and Thursday. Stay tuned for a game preview coming sometime before the puck drops at Staples Center on Wednesday at 10:30 PM ET/7:30 PM PT.
NOTE: Terry Murray, the oldest head coach in the NHL at 61 years old, in his 1,000th regular season game as an NHL head coach was opposed by the youngest head coach in the NHL, 38-year old Mike Yeo.
NOTE: Long-time Kings broadcaster and former player Jim Fox recently became am American citizen and was honoured in the second intermission and presented with an American flag in an emotional presentation, so a big congratulations to him.