After three weeks. After four losses and four ties.
After embarrassing defeats and valiant comeback attempts, painful injuries and pointless penalties.
After countless pep talks, displays of temper that left clubhouse furniture in ruins and one lost stick, the Kings have won a game.
Letting out all the frustration collected over an eight-game winless streak, the Kings blasted the Edmonton Oilers, 8-3, Saturday night before a sellout Forum crowd of 16,005.
Led by Wayne Gretzky’s five points and a pair of goals each from Steve Duchesne and Bob Kudelski, the Kings racked up their highest goal total of the season to improve to 17-9-5 and move back within three points of the Smythe Division-leading Calgary Flames.
“There’s a sense of relief,” Gretzky said of the end of the streak. “I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t.
“But you have to look at the positive. If people had said in the beginning that we’d have the fewest losses in the division and be just three points behind Calgary with a couple of games in hand at this point, people wouldn’t have believed it.”
And if people had said the Oilers, defending Stanley Cup champions, would stumble from the start of this season, and spend some dark days in the Smythe Division cellar where they are again stuck after Saturday’s loss, few would have believed it, either.
Edmonton, playing without injured center Mark Messier, dropped to 12-16-2. By winning Saturday, the Winnipeg Jets moved a point ahead of the Oilers back into fourth place in the Smythe.
The Oilers came into this game having allowed only 88 goals, fewest in the division, but the Kings were not to be denied this night.
Thursday night, Coach Tom Webster showed his frustration at the winless streak by throwing a stick onto the ice.
Saturday night, the emotional leader was Luc Robitaille, who was slapped with a major penalty for getting into a rare fight. The opponent was Craig Simpson. It was a rematch of their last meeting when Robitaille was suspended for four games for high-sticking Simpson.
Robitaille got Simpson in a headlock in one corner Saturday and pummeled him.
When he was asked if the fight was indeed a continuation of his confrontation last month with Simpson, Robitaille replied with a smile, “Oh, was that who it was?”
Then, he added, “When you’re out for four games, you have memories of sitting home.”
The Kings buried their memories of the previous eight games early Saturday. They got on top with a two-goal spurt midway through the first period, Dave Taylor getting his eighth goal and Kudelski his 10th.
Gretzky got his team-leading 20th goal on a power play to make it 3-0, scoring at the 6:57 mark of the second period.
At 12:54 of the period, Steve Kasper increased the Kings’ edge to 4-0 with his fourth goal.
Duchesne scored at 18:03 in a four-on-four situation.
It took the Robitaille-Simpson battle to get the Oilers on the scoreboard.
Simpson was given a double minor for roughing. Robitaille was given two minutes for instigating and five minutes for fighting.
Given a three-minute major penalty to work with this time, the Oilers managed only three shots on goal, including Anatoli Semenov’s fourth goal.
Edmonton’s other goals were scored by Steve Smith (his seventh) and Petr Klima (his 11th).
Kudelski scored the Kings’ sixth goal. It was his second of the night and 11th of the season. Robitaille added his 16th goal and Duchesne his ninth and second of the night. Duchesne also had two assists.
The Kings got plenty out of their efforts, scoring the eight goals on 34 shots. Fourteen of those came off goalie Bill Ranford. He was replaced by Kari Takko for the final period, but the Kings touched him up for the remaining 10 shots and three goals.
“We’ve been very upbeat,” Webster said of the agonizing winless streak. “We knew the breaks would eventually have to start going our way.”
Although the Kings face a tough week on the road, in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, Gretzky is optimistic.
“Everybody goes through a bit of a tailspin,” he said. “Hopefully, ours is behind us.”
The Oilers left center Mark Messier home to rest his left knee. Messier sprained that knee earlier in the season and missed 10 games. Edmonton won the first game after he was injured, then lost nine in a row. Since Messier’s return, the Oilers are 10-4. But with the knee acting up and only one game this weekend, the Oilers decided to give Messier a few additional days of healing time. He is expected back in the lineup Tuesday when the Kings play at Edmonton. . . . King defenseman Marty McSorley missed his sixth game with a bruised rib. McSorley had been scheduled to return Saturday, but experienced soreness in practice. . . . Defenseman Bob Halkidis has been recalled from the Kings’ Phoenix farm team. Halkidis appeared in two games for the Kings last week on emergency recall after missing the early part of the season while recovering from shoulder surgery.