Kings show the passion needed to earn 2-1 victory over Flames
Concerned that a four-day break between games might leave his players passive against the Calgary Flames on Thursday, Kings Coach Terry Murray gathered them for a talk at center ice after their morning skate.
He told them they’d have to build their intensity before they even got to Staples Center and prepare for a fast and physical game against a team that historically gives them fits.
Sometimes players’ eyes glaze over when a coach speaks. The Kings listened, battling in every area of the ice to scratch out a 2-1 victory and stretch their winning streak to three games.
“We knew it was going to be a good challenge to respond,” center Anze Kopitar said. “Maybe there was a little bit of rust the first few minutes but as soon as everybody got their first shift in I thought we were pretty sharp throughout the whole 60 minutes.”
Kyle Clifford scored his NHL goal when he redirected a pass from Wayne Simmonds off his stick and skate and past Miikka Kiprusoff in the first period, and Kopitar scored the Kings’ first power-play goal in four games at 5:10 of the third period, when he tapped in the rebound of a Jack Johnson shot that had been blocked in the slot.
Former King Olli Jokinen’s power-play goal with 3:21 left in the third sliced that lead in half -- and ended the Kings’ home penalty-killing streak at 45 in a row from the start of the season -- but with Jonathan Quick making 26 saves they held on to win a game that was as much about effort as strategy or matchups.
“My three years here I think it was the best 60 minutes we played against that team,” defenseman Drew Doughty said. “I don’t know what it is but we’d come out slow against them. And if we had the lead we’d lose it, or if we’d lose it we never got it back.
“I thought we were stellar the entire time except for maybe that last five minutes.”
They welcomed the return of left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky, who missed the previous 12 games because of a broken finger and played 12 minutes 19 seconds, including penalty-killing time. However, they lost forward Brad Richardson to an undisclosed upper-body injury in the first period. Richardson, who has played wing and center and is valued for his energy and tenacity, is scheduled to see a doctor Friday.
That was the only dark note for the Kings (16-10-0), who climbed to fifth in the Western Conference standings and are one of six teams with 32 points. Doughty said he’s sure the Kings have reversed course after losing seven of eight games from Nov. 15 through Nov. 29.
“We’re still not happy about all those losses but we definitely look past that and now that we’re on a roll we just want to continue it,” he said.
The Flames had an apparent goal overturned at 6:20 of the first period after video review in Toronto showed Matt Stajan had made a kicking motion to propel the puck into the net after a scramble. Given a reprieve, the Kings took the lead at 12:08. Simmonds, who has had a quiet season offensively, stole the puck in Calgary’s zone, skated deep on the left side until he was below the faceoff circle and threw the puck in front for a redirection by Clifford.
The rookie winger got the puck as a souvenir and said he will send it to his parents. “It’s a cheap Christmas present,” he said, though it had great value to the Kings. “It was an ugly goal and it was good to get the first one and even makes it better that we won tonight.”
Kopitar extended the lead to 2-0, with assists from Johnson and Dustin Brown, and only Jokinen’s tip of a long shot by Anton Babchuk got past Quick.
Doughty said the Kings’ next two games, Saturday at home against Minnesota and Monday at Detroit, are “must-wins.” He said that before the victory over Florida that began this streak, too. It’s OK to say that when you can back it up, which the Kings have done so far.