The Kings, Wayne Gretzky and all his greatness included, lost their first hockey game of the season. It had to happen sooner or later and it happened when the Philadelphia Flyers came to town Saturday night.
If it hadn’t been for Gretzky, Flyer goalie Ron Hextall probably would have had a shutout, and it’s no small deed to shut out the Kings. It hasn’t happened since March 12, 1986. And since Gretzky arrived this season, the Kings have been the the National Hockey League’s highest-scoring team.
But Hextall was outstanding, holding the Kings scoreless until just 3:47 remained.
Gretzky, however, finally took a shot that pulled Hextall to his right just as Bob Carpenter stopped the puck and sent it past Hextall’s left side.
The Kings were on the board, but the Flyers had a 4-1 victory.
Until this showdown that drew a sellout crowd of 16,005 to the Forum, the Kings and the Flyers were the league’s only unbeaten teams. Now the Flyers (4-0) are the only unbeaten team, and the Kings are about to embark on their first trip of the season with a 4-1 record.
Hextall, who stopped 30 of 31 shots, said that the game had the intensity and atmosphere of a playoff game.
“It was in fact due to our first game playing against Gretzky with the Kings,” he said. “I think it pumped our emotion up right from the start. Whenever you play against him, it’s easy to get fired up, so I think we played a very strong game from start to finish.
“It’s a whole different team. Just Gretzky’s presence, his leadership, his work ethic, rubs off on every member of that team. All that and his leadership is going to help this franchise a ton.”
The Kings, the leaders in the Smythe Division, will play at Calgary Monday before Gretzky makes his big return to Edmonton to play against his former Oiler teammates Wednesday.
No one was complaining about ending this 5-game home stand 4-1. But the loss itself was frustrating. Especially with the lack of scoring.
“We had ample opportunities to put the puck into the net, but they made some saves and sometimes our shots went wide,” said Robbie Ftorek, Kings coach. “Philadelphia played soundly and took advantage of the opportunities we gave them.
“They forced us into some mistakes and took advantage of them.”
For Glenn Healy, who had been in the Kings’ goal in their last 3 victories, it was a tough loss. He had held the Flyers scoreless until just 7 seconds remained in the first period.
Defenseman Mark Howe drew Healy out of the net skating to his left, then feigned a shot. Healy dove to the ice, reaching out to his right in anticipation of a Howe’s shot but he was too early. Howe finally stopped holding the puck and took a shot that sailed over Healy’s outstretched arm.
Healy tried to get an interference call after that goal. “I felt I was interfered with by their man in front,” he said. “They’re notorious for crashing guys and having guys in front, but the referees never call it.”
The first two periods were very much a standoff between Hextall, who had 3 straight victories, and Healy, who also had won 3 straight.
Both teams took 8 shots in the first period. The Flyers took 10 in the second period to the Kings’ 11. The Flyers took 9 in the third to the Kings’ 12.
Brian Propp scored out of a scramble, or what Healy termed a “pile up” in front of the Kings’ net 6 minutes 41 seconds into the third period to give the Flyers a 2-0 lead. Dave Poulin added a short-handed goal on a breakaway after taking control of a pass from Bernie Nicholls that caromed off Steve Duchesne’s skate, and the score went to 4-0 when Ron Sutter skated in on Healy to shoot, pick up his own rebound and score.
Philadelphia Coach Paul Holmgren gave credit to his team’s penalty-killing unit and the team effort. But he wasn’t taking anything away from the Kings. “We’ve had great efforts every night and tonight was by far our best game of the year,” Holmgren said. “We beat a good, high-powered team. . . . We know they have some real gunners that play on their power play units, and we did a pretty good job on them.”
Going into the game Saturday night, the Kings led the NHL in scoring with 26 goals. Wayne Gretzky and Bernie Nicholls were tied for the league scoring lead with 12 points each. . . . Although it was in serious danger until the final minutes of the game Saturday, the Kings’ scoring streak of 176 games is now the NHL’s longest. The New York Rangers’ streak went to 180 games before it was stopped Monday night in a 5-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils. The Kings didn’t beat the Flyers all last season. The Kings have won only 2 of their last 9 games against the Flyers.
Mike Krushelnyski of the Kings skates around the Flyers’ Pelle Eklund to take a first-quarter shot.