Road uniforms at a home game?
King Coach Barry Melrose, irritated at playing back-to-back games in a two-day span, had declared that Tuesday's meeting against the Winnipeg Jets was no home game even though it was in Los Angeles. He declared it was a road game.
When the Kings took the ice at the Forum in their road uniforms, it looked like Melrose's quirky sense of humor might have taken over, a little jab at the NHL. Not so. It turned out that the Jets needed their home jerseys because they were going to play a reverse-sweater game against Vancouver later this week.
"I do have a black sense of humor," Melrose said. "I do love black . . . I wish we could wear our road uniforms all of the time."
Either way, the Kings picked up from Monday's victory in Buffalo and defeated the Jets, 8-4, before a sellout crowd of 16,005. They had called this their biggest game of the season and it lifted the third-place Kings (32-31-7) to a three-point lead over fourth-place Winnipeg in the close Smythe Division race.
Even though the Kings returned to Los Angeles in the early morning hours, they showed few signs of weariness. Melrose used his bench judiciously and even took a timeout midway through the second period when the Kings were scrambling around for a brief period, although holding a 4-2 lead.
The Kings' offense was spread around as they scored two power play goals and one short-handed. Luc Robitaille had three points, scoring his 51st and 52nd of the season and adding a perfect assist on Jari Kurri's third-period goal at 1:38. Wayne Gretzky, who had three points against Buffalo, repeated that performance with his 10th goal of the season and two assists.
In Buffalo, Gretzky had expressed his displeasure with having to play back-to-back games on Monday and Tuesday because of the Eastern blizzard.
"I spoke up as the captain for the rest of the players," Gretzky said. "I was just trying to defend the players' side. After it was all said and done, we met in Buffalo, and we said we didn't want to make any excuses. Everybody expected that we'd lose both games. But we got a total team effort . . . these were two of the hardest-working games. We played well, and it's a credit to the players because we stuck together."
Rookie defenseman Alexei Zhitnik was one of the Kings' best players on the ice against Buffalo, helping contain the Sabres' Alexander Mogilny. Tuesday, it was Zhitnik's offensive skills on display. He had two second-period assists and blew a wicked slap shot past goaltender Rick Tabaracci at 5:08 in the third period to make the score 7-3. It was his eighth goal of the season.
Tony Granato set up Zhitnik's goal for his third point of the night. Granato scored a shorthanded breakaway goal with five seconds remaining in the first period. The goal came on a bit of a fluke play when Marty McSorley, behind the King net, flipped the puck at the far boards. It took a bad hop off the boards past defenseman Phil Housley at the point and Granato used his breakout speed to go in alone.
It was Granato's 33rd goal of the season and pulled the Kings to a 2-2 tie after one period, helping give them momentum for the second period. During the second, the Kings scored three consecutive goals to take a 5-2 lead.
King goaltender Rick Knickle, who earned the victory, did not come out for the third period because of stomach cramps. He faced 18 shots in two periods. Kelly Hrudey, making his first appearance since Feb. 27, played the third period and gave up one goal.
Owner Bruce McNall probably understands Wayne Gretzky better than anyone else on the club's management team. But even he was caught by a bit by surprise when Gretzky expressed his displeasure with having to play back-to-back games on Monday and Tuesday. "He's a competitive guy," McNall said. "Competitive people get upset by things of that nature. I was not a part of it, the scheduling and the number of calls back and forth. . . . He's upset. We do have the worst travel schedule. He's right--we are often too accommodating to people." McNall said that the team was limited in its options and that any of the choices probably wouldn't have pleased his players. In the aftermath of this episode, McNall probably will get more involved again in the decision-making process.