Justin Williams had said Wednesday morning the Kings needed to defeat the Wild primarily for peace of mind about their ability to win on the road. He foresaw them having a "gung-ho start" that would keep them from having to chase the game, a bad habit they had fallen into.
Williams' reputation as a clutch player is well-known, thanks to his most-valuable-player performance last spring in the Kings' second Stanley Cup triumph in three seasons. Now, he can be called a visionary too.
Mike Richards, Dustin Brown, Tyler Toffoli and Williams scored first-period goals to shred Minnesota's disciplined defense, and goaltender Martin Jones — surprisingly starting for the second consecutive night — stopped 28 shots as the Kings easily prevailed, 4-0, at the Xcel Energy Center. In improving their road record to 2-4-4 they also reassured themselves they can elevate their game when they feel they must.
"We wanted to win for the two points, obviously, but really for our psyche, that it's not that hard to do, to show up and play the right way," Williams said.
"We're making steps. We're making strides. We're going in the right direction and we want to start something special here and start playing the right way, and hopefully this can jump-start it."
Brown said it was important for the Kings to stop a bad road habit before it became entrenched. "Historically speaking, this group of players has, from time to time, let it slip. You lose one, you lose two, it's trying not to lose the third one," he said. "At the end of the day it's about trying to stop a streak from starting."
The Kings were commanding against the Wild, which had lost only one of its previous eight home games. The Kings' defense was physical and steady and the forwards helped defensively too.
Offensively, they were opportunistic and good, chasing Wild starting goalie Darcy Kuemper after one period and triggering boos from a savvy crowd that knows a bad performance when it sees one.
Two of the four goals resulted from two-on-one breaks. "I think part of it was how we defended our blue line," Brown said. "A couple mistakes on their part, not getting it by our blue line, allowed us to get those odd-man rushes."
Richards began the spree by deflecting a sharp-angled shot by Dwight King past Kuemper at 4:21. Brown, skating up the left side on a two-on-one break with Williams, wristed a shot past Kuemper at 13:13 for his 200th regular-season NHL goal.
The third goal also was well executed. Toffoli, speeding up the left side with Marian Gaborik on the right, neatly backhanded the puck into the net Kuemper had vacated when he came out in a failed attempt to play the puck.
Williams extended his points streak to six games when he took a pass from Brown and rifled a shot home from the high slot. He has four goals and seven points in that span.
Supporting all this was Jones, who earned his first shutout since April 10. He hadn't made two starts in a row since last December and hadn't started on back-to-back nights since last Dec. 10-11.
He said he was "a little bit" surprised when told he'd start Wednesday but wasn't about to argue. "I don't know what the decision making was, but I was ready to go when my name was called," said Jones, who had stopped five of six shootout attempts in a 4-3 loss at Nashville on Tuesday.
"It was a good first period. We did a good job capitalizing on our scoring chances, and after that we did a really good job checking them. On both sides of the puck we did a really good job. It was a good 60-minute effort."
Coach Darryl Sutter said he went with Jones on both ends of the back-to-back sequence because Jones had played well at Nashville and because Sutter wanted Jones to get a win on the road. In addition, it meant Jonathan Quick, who started the trip opener at Dallas last Saturday, could get some rest before facing Chicago at home this weekend.
Sutter also said he hadn't been concerned about the team's lackluster road record because it included four overtime or shootout losses. "It all comes around," he said.
On Wednesday, it came around just as Williams had said it would.