They stayed in character against the Chicago Blackhawks for 60 minutes, and it worked so well that left wing Luc Robitaille and center Michael Cammalleri followed their roles even after they stepped off the ice Saturday afternoon at Staples Center.
Robitaille talked. Cammalleri listened. And executed.
Role-playing should always work so well. Cammalleri scored twice in the Kings’ 3-1 victory over the struggling Blackhawks before a sellout crowd of 18,118. His first multigoal NHL game and King goaltender Roman Cechmanek’s long flirtation with a shutout helped push Chicago’s winless streak to 11 games.
Jon Sim added two assists and Brad Chartrand scored his first goal of the season, finishing off a two-on-one at 12:38 as the Kings were short-handed in the second period. Cechmanek, who faced 21 shots, was close to his fourth shutout of the season when Chicago left winger Kyle Calder scored his eighth of the season, at 18:53 of the third period, on the power play.
So it was Cammalleri’s first goal, coming on a wraparound at 5:17 of the third period, that turned out to be the game-winner. As Cammalleri recounted the goal in the dressing room, Robitaille sat next to him, providing a running counter-commentary.
“The first one was a forechecking situation and Luc and [Sim] were just pressuring hard,” Cammalleri said. “They were just causing so much havoc that I was able to grab the puck. Luc was yelling, ‘Put it in! Put it in!’ I had the opening side and I heard him yelling. So I just turned and put it in.”
If anything, Cammalleri should be the poster boy for King Coach Andy Murray’s opportunity-calling system. The Kings’ avalanche of injuries has created job openings at the major-league level, and the 21-year-old has stepped into the void with four goals and six points in the last six games since being recalled from the Kings’ minor-league affiliate in Manchester, N.H., on Nov. 17.
“I’ve had a chance to play with Luc the last couple of weeks in a row and that’s been nice,” Cammalleri said. “We’re talking now. We’re reading off each other and that helps a lot. When you know where your linemate is going to put the puck, it makes it easier to go recover it yourself.”
His seemingly rapid adjustment this season has a lot to do with last season.
“I learned a lot last year; even subconsciously, you learn a whole lot,” he said. “It’s a different feeling out there, knowing you can make the plays you want and contribute to the success of the team.”
Said Murray: “Mike’s battling to keep himself in the lineup and that’s a good way to do that.... The puck has gone in and I’m sure he feels a lot better about himself. But these young guys, it’s a matter of keeping it up and continuing to play at that level.”
If it keeps up, the Kings could stay above water until the some semblance of the cavalry returns. The first member of that sizable unit may return in the form of center Jozef Stumpel, who has been on the injured-reserve list since Oct. 30 because of a bruised chest.
Stumpel has been out 14 games since suffering the injury Oct. 25 against Chicago and has been proceeding on an often-mysterious timetable. Murray said Stumpel would travel with the team to Dallas and St. Louis. Stumpel could play tonight in Dallas, but Murray said he would not know until the team gathered at the airport Saturday night.
The growing list of injured Kings comes into sharper focus by comparing the Kings’ lineup of Game 22, against the Blackhawks, to their roster of Game 1 in Detroit. There were seven players appearing in that game against the Red Wings -- including Stumpel, Ziggy Palffy and Ian Laperriere -- who were not on the ice against Chicago on Saturday.
And so the injury-plagued Blackhawks, who lost their sixth consecutive game, may have been the perfect opponent at the perfect time.