The Canadiens, full of class and elan even during the darkest days, made Larry Robinson's first visit here as the Kings' coach a memorable one as new General Manager Rejean Houle presented him with a mural commemorating his playing days.
Then, the sellout crowd of 16,811 at the Forum gave Robinson a warm, one-minute standing ovation in what will be his last visit to the historic building.
And what were Robinson's thoughts?
"Let's get the game going," he said.
Bad idea. Sixty minutes later, a memorable night had turned forgettable. The Kings, playing their worst game of Robinson's eight-game tenure, suffered their first loss of the season, 6-3. Los Angeles (4-1-3) entered the game as the last unbeaten team in the NHL.
Lifting the Canadiens was Finnish rookie center Saku Koivu, a protege of King right wing Jari Kurri. Koivu scored his first two goals of the season, pleasing a delegation of about 50 friends, family and journalists from his hometown of Turku. Kurri was glad the struggling Koivu finally scored, but he and the rest of the Kings were visibly downcast at the result.
"I think we let Larry down," King defenseman Marty McSorley said. "We have to take it upon ourselves to play better. Once you get down, I think we were all pressing."
Said Robinson: "Thank God our goalie [Byron Dafoe] stood on his head or the score would have been a lot higher."
The Kings, in their third game in four nights, were playing without two of their top six defensemen--Rob Blake (torn ligament) and Denis Tsygurov (broken right index finger)--and Arto Blomsten lasted 10 minutes before leaving because of back spasms. Tsygurov said he hopes to play on Thursday in Ottawa.
So the Kings played with five defensemen, and their two young rookies, Aki Berg and Sean O'Donnell, struggled against the rejuvenated Canadiens, who won their second consecutive game under new coach Mario Tremblay.
"He [Berg] is 18, I made lots of mistakes when I was 18," Robinson said. "You don't want to have to throw a young kid into a lot of those situations, but who else do you have? It got to the point where we were having forwards play defense."
The Kings showed almost no life until the third period, and by then the Canadiens were leading, 4-0. Center Yanic Perreault was a lone bright spot with two goals, his fifth and sixth of the season, and forward Tony Granato scored once and had two assists. Wayne Gretzky was held to one shot.
Montreal stopped the Kings' penalty-killing streak with three goals in eight opportunities. The Kings had been flawless since Oct. 15, holding opponents 0 for 24 in a four-game stretch. They stopped the Canadiens on their first chance, but defenseman Patrice Brisebois scored on the power-play at 6:31 of the second period after King left wing Eric Lacroix went off for elbowing. And 1:12 later, left wing Benoit Brunet scored a shorthanded goal to make it 4-0, going around Berg.
Some light was shed on the status of goaltender Kelly Hrudey's injured left ankle, which has been listed as sprained. Team doctor Ron Kvitne said that, like Rob Blake's knee, Hrudey actually had a torn ligament in his left ankle, an explanation of why his comeback has taken so long. Hrudey first hurt the ankle on Sept. 8 and has suffered three setbacks in his rehabilitation process. "It can take three months minimum to fully heal it from a tear," Kvitne said. "With the skate boot, we can try to lessen it. But each time we've had a setback, he has tweaked some scar tissue. A goalie has to be so quick." Kvitne said Hrudey will resume skating on Wednesday, as will defenseman Philippe Boucher (tendinitis in the right wrist) and hopes he can be back in the lineup within seven to 10 days.
* KINGS LOSE BLAKE: Defenseman Rob Blake is out a minimum of two weeks after injuring his left knee. C2
* NHL COLUMN: Politics had a lot to do with Montreal's hiring of its coach and general manager. C2
* DUCKS BEATEN: Colorado scored three goals in the first period and defeated the Ducks, 3-1. C3