On most teams, Detroit's Jimmy Carson would not be a third-line center. And there are some who consider the Red Wings' Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov to be co-No. 1 centers, with Yzerman having the slight edge.
This was only part of the challenge the Kings faced in their home opener Thursday night at the Forum. They started the game without two of their top scorers, Wayne Gretzky and Tony Granato, and then lost Tomas Sandstrom after one period. It got worse when they failed to demonstrate any significant effort during the first two periods.
Twenty good minutes wasn't enough against the Red Wings' balanced offense as Detroit defeated the Kings, 5-3, before a sellout crowd of 16,005.
The Kings needed to take a great leap forward to stick with the bigger, stronger, faster Red Wings. After falling behind 4-1 after two periods, they finally turned up the intensity in the third to pull within one.
Yzerman, who scored twice, ended the suspense with his empty-netter with 1:03 remaining when the Kings had pulled goaltender Kelly Hrudey for an extra attacker with 1:26 left. Detroit was outshot by the Kings, 21-3, in the third.
"The Kings played very hard," Detroit Coach Bryan Murray said. "It's very obvious they're going to change their total approach, as far as skill versus work. They came up short in goal scoring, but they've got a very good work ethic now.
"They made it very scary until Yzerman got the empty-netter."
The good third period wasn't enough to wipe out two sub-par periods, King Coach Barry Melrose said.
"We weren't working hard," he said. "We didn't finish our checks. We made Detroit look good."
Said King defenseman Paul Coffey, who had one assist: "The bottom line is we lost the game. Anyone can take the first two periods off and play a good third period."
The Kings regained some measure of dignity in the third, pulling within one on goals by center Corey Millen and rookie forward Warren Rychel. The Kings took Yzerman and the rest of the Red Wings out of the game, virtually dominating the final 20 minutes.
Millen, who played an inspired third, started the comeback, pulling the Kings within two with his power-play goal at 2:51 of the third that cut Detroit's lead to 4-2. The Kings had gone zero-for-four on the man advantage before Millen's goal.
Showing his exceptional speed, Millen skated down the right wing and put it past Detroit goaltender Tim Cheveldae from the middle of the right circle, beating him on the stick side inside the far post.
Rychel scored his first NHL goal at 12:33, converting from the edge of the left goal crease. By then, the Red Wings were in disarray. The Kings dominated the third period, outshooting the Red Wings, 13-0, with 8:43 remaining. Detroit didn't get its first shot of the period until there were seven minutes left.
The Red Wings built a 4-1 lead on goals by Yves Racine, Yzerman, Slava Kozlov and Dino Ciccarelli. The Kings' first goal came from defenseman Rob Blake, at 8:38 of the first period.
The standouts of the season opener--left winger Tony Granato and right winger Tomas Sandstrom--found themselves at the other end of the spectrum Thursday night. Sandstrom, who scored the winner in overtime against Calgary, was taken to Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood after the first period because of a concussion. Sandstrom suffered the concussion when he was spun around by Detroit rookie center Dallas Drake in the Red Wings' zone in open ice at 10:28 of the first period. Drake went off for interference and Sandstrom left the ice, looking shaken. Sandstrom ended up taking a regular shift the rest of the period before he was taken to the hospital. Granato, who scored the game-tying goal Tuesday, woke up with a strained lower back the next day. Although Granato was feeling better after therapy, the Kings kept him out of the lineup against Detroit. In Granato's absence, Pat Conacher was put on left wing with center Jari Kurri and Sandstrom.