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Kings Can’t Shut Down the Wild’s West Show

Times Staff Writer

The NHL season may only be a month old but the Kings played a key home game Monday night against one of the Western Conference’s elite teams.

The Detroit Red Wings? No. The Colorado Avalanche? Try again.

The power the Kings faced was the surprising Minnesota Wild, which came in with the best record in the conference and did not disappoint.

Behind three goals from budding star Marian Gaborik, the Wild handed the Kings a 5-2 defeat in front of 16,653 at Staples Center to improve its record to 9-2-2, which now stands alone as the best in the league.

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“It was disappointing for our team but we have to give the No. 1 team in the NHL credit,” King Coach Andy Murray said. “They’re playing hard and competing. They’re doing what they have to do to win.”

The Kings’ problem on Monday was a lackluster power-play unit, which scored once in six chances.

“Our puck-protection skills in the offensive zone was not good,” Murray said. “We were losing too many loose-puck battles. And it looks like we’re having opportunities to shoot the puck, but we’re not shooting it. Minnesota does an excellent job of blocking out at the front of the net and we were not able to get the puck through.”

The Kings, who have been up and down this season when playing with a man advantage, didn’t just have trouble scoring in that situation; they also gave up a short-handed goal by Gaborik in the second period.

“The bottom line, for your power play to work, you give a responsibility to your top-end offensive players and that’s a responsibility that they’ve asked for and they need to execute,” Murray said about a King power play that began Monday’s game ranked only 20th in the NHL, and 25th at home.

With Jamie Storr playing instead of No. 1 goaltender Felix Potvin, the Kings seemed a little sluggish right from the opening faceoff. After giving up five goals in an overtime victory over Nashville on Saturday, the Kings’ defense picked up right where it left off by giving up a goal 2:40 into the game.

Gaborik, who established a team record last season with 30 goals, put the Wild ahead, 1-0, when he collected a loose puck that bounced between King center Ian Laperriere’s skates and beat Storr with shot from near the right circle for his fourth power-play goal of the season.

Storr, who had not played since losing at Columbus eight days ago, appeared to have lost sight of the puck after former King Cliff Ronning’s shot missed wide and bounced off the backboards.

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“It was a scramble in front of the net and went to the side,” said Storr, who finished with 18 saves. “This all happened in a split second and before you know it, the puck is in the empty net.”

The Kings came back to tie the score, 1-1, before the opening period ended when rookie Alexander Frolov scored his fourth goal of the season at 15:25.

Frolov, who has three goals in his last two games, was set up by a perfect backhand pass from Eric Belanger and easily beat Minnesota goaltender Dwayne Roloson from the edge of the crease.

But Minnesota, which has been in the league only since the 2000-01 season, jumped back on top in the second period on Gaborik’s second goal of the game and ninth of the season.

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With the Kings on a power play, Gaborik found himself with plenty of open ice after picking up the puck in the neutral zone and then squeezed in a goal between Storr’s pads from the left circle to give the Wild a 2-1 lead at 6:53.

“That goal bothered me the most,” said Storr, who was playing in his third game this season. “When a goal like that goes in, it’s a deflater for yourself and for the team.”

The Wild added an insurance goal late in the third period when Ronning blasted home a shot over diving King captain Mattias Norstrom and beat Storr high to his glove side at 17:07.

With Storr pulled to give the Kings a six-on-four power play, Los Angeles cut Minnesota’s lead to 3-2 with 1:39 remaining on Jaroslav Modry’s fourth goal.

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But that was the end of the Kings’ comeback as the Wild responded with two empty-net goals in the final minute.

Now the Kings hit the road for 17 days, starting an eight-game trip at San Jose tonight.


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