Wearing Davis Drewiske’s old #44 and playing on Drewiske’s old spot with Keaton Ellerby on the third defense pairing, playing on his left, Robyn Regehr began his tenure with the Kings, setting out on his quest to not only prove he’s better than Drewiske (and Alec Martinez), but that he’s better enough to warrant giving up a pair of second-round draft picks for him. The lines today had Anze Kopitar between Dustin Brown and Justin Williams, Mike Richards between Kyle Clifford and Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll between Brad Richardson and Trevor Lewis, and Colin Fraser between Dwight King and Jordan Nolan. On defense, Jake Muzzin was with Drew Doughty, Rob Scuderi was with Slava Voynov, and of course, Regehr was with Ellerby. Regehr was the only King making his debut tonight, as Dean Lombardi did absolutely nothing at the trade deadline yesterday, meaning the Kings are going to try to repeat as Stanley Cup champions with a giant hole on their second line (unless someone really steps up, of course) and a goalie who’s been among the NHL’s worst this year, unless Darryl Sutter finally decides to go with Jonathan Bernier over Jonathan Quick (or Quick finally gets his season turned around). By no means is this an indication that Sutter is going to do that going forward, but Bernier was in goal tonight, as the Kings began a mini two-game homestand by hosting the Minnesota Wild and its shiny new Jason Pominville, as, unlike the Kings, the Wild was not silent yesterday. The Kings are 12-4-1 at home this season, but before embarking on the five-game road trip they just completed, lost two straight games at home. Would they get back on track at Staples Center tonight?
The Kings sure made it appear that way to start this game. Just over a minute into the first period, Williams picked the puck up at the top of the Kings zone at the left point came down the right side on a 2-on-1 with Brown on Tom Gilbert, and Williams walked into the right slot at the circle and beat Niklas Backstrom by his blocker. Not even two minutes later, at the top of the left circle in the Kings zone, Doughty pushed the puck up to Carter in the right side of the Kings neutral zone, who pushed it up to Richards, who entered the Wild zone, cut to the middle, then made a great pass to Carter cutting to the right slot, and Carter beat Backstrom along the ice through his legs. That made for an early night for Backstrom, who was pulled for Darcy Kuemper after giving up two goals on as many shots in just 3:07. The Kings started with a couple of goals, but after the goalie change, the opening frame was more even, as the shots were even at six. Torrey Mitchell headed to the penalty box for tripping with just under two minutes left, but the Kings failed to take advantage.
Just about four minutes into the second period, Regehr broke up a pass by Pominville at the top of the right circle in the Kings zone, the puck was poked to Kopitar, and Kopitar made a pass up to Williams in the right side of the Minnesota neutral zone, and Williams walked into the top of the right circle, and wired a slap shot by Kuemper’s glove, off the crossbar and in. The Kings caught the Wild on a line change, just as they did on Carter’s goal. However, just over halfway through the period, Nolan took an interference penalty, giving Minny a chance to get back in this game, but the Kings didn’t allow it, and not even a minute later, Jared Spurgeon went off for hooking. The Kings weren’t able to extend their lead, though. The Kings were outshot, 6-3, in the middle frame. They weren’t generating much, but they were opportunistic.
Like the game, the third period didn’t feature many chances for either teams. The Wild, though, did get some good chances as the game neared its conclusion, when it was just too little, too late. The Wild was not even able to get one of the three goals needed to tie it, despite holding a 11-5 edge in shots in the final frame.
Throughout the game, Sutter was alternating Regehr with Muzzin, having him play with both Ellerby and Doughty. Whoever he played with, he was solid. I’d like to see him stick with Ellerby going forward. It’s better to have a veteran with Ellerby, and I also don’t want to break up the pairing of Muzzin with Doughty. As far as the game is concerned, it was far from the most exciting. You’d almost have thought the Nashville Predators were in town. Prime scoring chances were few and far between for both teams, but the Kings, particularly early on, were opportunistic, and that put them in the driver’s seat from the start. The Kings moved a point ahead of both the Wild and the San Jose Sharks for the fourth seed in the Western Conference, and while both the Wild and Sharks have a game in hand on the Kings, the Kings do have the advantage when it comes to the regulation/overtime win tiebreaker, having 20 to the Wild’s 17 and the Sharks’ 13. Up next for the Kings, they’ll host the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. Be sure to check in for my post-game reaction after the game, but for now, it’s time for my picks for tonight’s three stars.
Third Star: Jonathan Bernier.
It wasn’t Bernier’s busiest night and there weren’t too many glorious chances for Minnesota, but Bernier did his job, stopping all 23 shots that were sent his way. The thing about Bernier is you’re almost never going to beat him without a quality opportunity, so it’s no surprise he finally got his first shutout of the year tonight. The Kings are now 10-0-0 when Bernier starts, as he continues to roll along while Quick struggles. Will Sutter finally start giving Bernier the majority of the starts? Unfortunately, don’t hold your breath. Expect to see Quick on Saturday.
Second Star: Jeff Carter.
After the Kings opened the scoring early on, Carter didn’t allow the Kings to take their foot of the Wild’s throat, finishing off a give-and-go play with Richards shortly after and ending Backstrom’s night very, very early. As usual, Carter was a constant threat throughout the whole game.
First Star: Justin Williams.
The goals weren’t coming for Williams for most of the season, but they sure are now, finding the back of the net for the fifth straight game, notching six goals in that span. Williams scored on two awesome shots, one to open the scoring early in the first period and one to add to the Kings’ lead early in the second, and was the player who made the biggest difference in tonight’s game.
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