Kings Play Well Defensively, but Only Get a 1-1 Tie

Times Staff Writer

Now that the Kings have a goaltender whom they believe will keep the puck out of their net, they've stopped scoring.

For the second straight game, in front of a crowd of 19,040 at the Meadowlands, the National Hockey League's highest-scoring team was limited to a single goal Sunday night in a 1-1 tie with the New Jersey Devils.

The Kings, though, insisted afterward that they are not at all concerned with this strange turn of events.

"We'd like to have scored one more goal tonight," Coach Robbie Ftorek said, "but we're very pleased with keeping New Jersey down to one goal."

As Ftorek was quick to point out, the Kings have not allowed an even-strength goal in two games, including a 4-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers last Friday night at Edmonton.

"They're really buckling down and doing the job that we've asked them to do," Ftorek said of his players, who have won only two of their last 12 road games. "So, we're very pleased in that regard. We're creating scoring opportunities off the work we're doing. We're just not putting them in.

"We're playing a much sounder game than we had been."

Indeed, creating opportunities wasn't the Kings' problem.

Converting them was.

Devil goaltender Chris Terreri, a rookie making only his second start of the season, made several spectacular saves in pursuit of his first NHL victory, allowing only a second-period goal by Dave Taylor.

John MacLean pulled the Devils even less than five minutes later, scoring a power-play goal on a 20-foot shot from the left circle that sailed through the legs of goaltender Kelly Hrudey, who otherwise played well for the Kings in his second start since being acquired last Wednesday in a trade with the New York Islanders.

Later, Terreri got a hand from the officials, who swallowed their whistles in the overtime period, as is customary in the NHL.

The most obvious infraction of the rules was made by Tom Kurvers of the Devils, who grabbed Wayne Gretzky in front of the Devil net and threw the King center to the ice with about 2 minutes 50 seconds left.

When no whistle was blown and play continued, Gretzky made a beeline toward linesman Pat DaPuzzo, giving him an earful as they skated up the ice.

Gretzky was still angry as the players and officials skated off afterward, making sure that all three officials got a piece of his mind.

Was his anger justified?

"I can't answer for him," Ftorek said. "You'll have to ask him that question."

Should a call have been made?

"I can't answer that question, either," said Ftorek, apparently weary of being fined. "I think the referee called (the game) to the best of his ability. He didn't call it, so it must not have been a penalty."

And what did Gretzky think of the play by Kurvers?

"He didn't have his stick, so he grabbed the next closest thing," Gretzky said of the Devil defenseman, who dropped his stick as he grappled with Gretzky. "But I guess you learn after 10 years that in the last few minutes of a game, that's not going to be called. It's as simple as that."

Gretzky, in fact, even insisted that he wasn't angry.

"I was more frustrated than anything else," he said. "I had an opportunity to go to the net, and I had the guy beat."

For the first time as a member of the Kings, Gretzky was held without a point for a second consecutive game.

And for the eighth straight game, dating back to Nov. 19, 1983, when he said the Devils were "ruining hockey and putting a Mickey Mouse operation on the ice," Gretzky failed to score in the Brendan Byrne Arena.

Gretzky, though, said he was pleased with the direction that the more tight-checking Kings seem to be headed.

"In order for us to win, we have to play better defensively," he said. "We're not going to go anywhere if we score eight goals a game and give up nine. We've played very well the last couple of games."

He smiled.

"Kelly's pretty good, too," he said of Hrudey.

Indeed, Hrudey seemingly has had little trouble fitting in, although it's clear that he still needs time to become fully acclimated.

When asked if he was concerned about the Kings' lack of productivity, the accommodating Hrudey said that he wasn't and added: "I just can't envision Luc Robitaille, Mario Lemieux, Bernie Nicholls and so on down the line being held off the board for too many games in a row."

Obviously, he meant Gretzky and not Lemieux?

"Oh, yeah," he said. "Sorry."

King Notes

Owner Bruce McNall of the Kings said Sunday that officials of the Minnesota North Stars probably weren't serious this month when they offered him $25 million for Wayne Gretzky during the All-Star break. "Sometimes it's easy to say those things when you know the other guy isn't going to take you up on it," he said. McNall acquired Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers last summer for $15 million, two players and three first-round draft picks.

McNall, General Manager Rogie Vachon and Coach Robbie Ftorek flew from Edmonton to Minneapolis Saturday to watch Robb Stauber, the University of Minnesota goaltender who was college hockey's player of the year last season and whose rights are owned by the Kings. Stauber apparently wasn't called on to make many tough saves Saturday night in a 7-1 victory over Colorado College. "We're glad we saw warmups so we could see him take some shots," Ftorek said. . . . The Kings are 2-7-3 on the road since beating the Vancouver Canucks, 5-2, at Vancouver on Dec. 23. . . . Kelly Hrudey, asked to evaluate his play after making 33 saves: "Steady. That's all. I want to be steady night in and night out, so the team knows what it's getting."

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