The Kings thought they had left their Philadelphia nightmare behind them. The last thing they expected was to experience the same frightening dream at home.
But in style and substance, Saturday night’s 6-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers before 16,005 at the Forum was a replay of the first time these teams played this season.
In that game, Dec. 16 at Philadelphia , the Flyers won, 5-2. King goaltender Kelly Hrudey was shelled for four goals in the second period and was pulled. Saturday night, Hrudey allowed four goals (on 11 shots) in 24 minutes and was pulled again.
Both times backup Mario Gosselin replaced Hrudey.
How similar was this to the first game?
“Very. Quite similar,” King Coach Tom Webster said.
Most of the Kings agreed.
“The first time, they caught us at the end of a road trip and maybe we were tired,” Wayne Gretzky said. “Tonight, there was really no excuse. We got behind them and couldn’t catch up. They played well and we didn’t play very well.”
The game didn’t begin on a promising note for the Kings (19-15-4), as the Flyers (18-17-4) scored on their first two shots.
On the first, Pelle Eklund hovered at the right point, then found Tony Horacek, who scored the first of his three goals.
The second Flyer goal came again from the right point. Left wing Derrick Smith cruised into the King zone and fired a crisp slap shot past Hrudey.
“The idea was for us to come out and set the tempo and take it to them,” Webster said. “When you get behind, you have to take chances. When you take chances against them, they take advantage of it.”
The period had few penalty minutes, but the Kings did get two power plays. They failed to convert on either.
The Kings, who have the best power play percentage in the NHL, went zero for five Saturday. The Flyers, the league’s best penalty killers, saw to that.
The Kings’ only goal of the period came shortly after their second power play had expired. Gretzky skated up the middle into the Flyer zone and was picked up by two Philadelphia defenders.
He passed to Steve Kasper, who drifted to the left of the net. Finally, he out-waited Flyer goaltender Ken Wregget and slid the puck between Wregget’s legs.
The Flyers built a 5-1 lead in the second period, only to see that whittled to 5-3.
Philadelphia struck for three unanswered goals by midway through the period. The first two came within 43 seconds of each other. On the first, Mike Bullard skated through the King defense and took a shot that rebounded in off defenseman Larry Robinson’s skate.
The second goal belonged to Horacek, who redirected Gord Murphy’s shot off the shaft of his stick. That gave the Flyers a 4-1 lead at 4:22. After that, Webster replaced Hrudey with Gosselin.
Hrudey called the Flyers’ third and fourth goals “lucky,” noting that the puck bounced off objects other than stick blades before they went in.
Gosselin then got a taste of what Hrudey had faced, when he was beaten by Horacek.
The Kings then became aggressive. The forwards began back-checking, and the defenseman began to do what the Flyers had done--knock their men off the puck.
The Kings began to come back.
Working in his customary spot behind the net, Gretzky passed out front to Robinson. His shot was stopped, but Mike Krushelnyski got the rebound and scored.
Luc Robitaille scored at the end of the period, to stretch his goal-scoring streak to eight games, which is tied for the longest in the NHL this season.
Few teams feel safe holding even a two-goal lead against the Kings, even the Flyers. They extended their lead to 6-3 on a goal by Rick Tocchet at 8:35 of the third period.
Any realistic chance the Kings had of making up the deficit was shattered when Bernie Nicholls received a high-sticking major penalty for jabbing Philadelphia’s Mark Howe in the face. That gave Nicholls a game misconduct and the Flyers a five-minute power play with barely six minutes left in the game.
The Kings next game is New Year’s Day at Washington, the first in a four-game trip. That game at Washington is an afternoon game, beginning at 10:30 Pacific time. That doesn’t sit well with Wayne Gretzky. “Fly all that way and turn around and play a day game. It’s asinine,” he said.
It is becoming normal for the Kings to be substantially out-shot in games. In 38 games, the Kings have been out-shot 29 times. “It’s been the trademark of this club all year,” King Coach Tom Webster said. “We don’t get a lot of shots. Some guys like to look for the pretty shot.” Though the Kings may be taking the high-percentage shots, this style puts tremendous pressure on their defense and goaltenders. . . . Defenseman Barry Beck slammed into the boards in the third period and left the game. Webster said Beck suffered a concussion and was taken to the hospital. . . . Luc Robitaille is second in the league in goal scoring with 31. He is second in power play goals with 12. Wayne Gretzky leads the league in assists with 60, Bernie Nicholls is fourth with 39. Gretzky also is the NHL’s point leader with 80. Steve Duchesne is ninth in scoring among defensemen.