Kings beat the Devils, and Ilya Kovalchuk, 3-1
This game alone did not prove that the Kings won when they lost the Ilya Kovalchuk free-agent sweepstakes last summer, and it did not prove that the New Jersey Devils lost when they won Kovalchuk’s services for $100 million over 15 years.
But for every Kings fan who has suffered when they were snubbed by prime free agents over the years, seeing the Kings stifle Kovalchuk and the Devils in a 3-1 victory Saturday at Staples Center and take over first place in the NHL was an occasion for pure, priceless joy.
It was fun for the players, too, exhausted though they were in the finale of seven games in 11 days. Jonathan Quick withstood a 20-shot barrage in the third period as the Kings (8-3-0) matched their second-highest win total after 11 games in club history.
Kovalchuk, booed every time he touched the puck, had no points, two shots, three giveaways and a minus-1 defensive rating for the struggling Devils (3-8-1).
The Kings continued to thrive despite playing their sixth consecutive game without defenseman Drew Doughty, who’s still recovering from a concussion. General Manager Dean Lombardi said Doughty was “better” after skating Saturday following the team’s morning skate, but the 20-year-old defenseman must undergo neurological tests before he can be cleared to play in the Kings’ next game, Thursday at Staples Center.
“We have a lot of depth and it has come through so far,” said center Jarret Stoll, who led the way offensively Saturday with a goal and two assists.
“When one line’s not scoring that game, other lines are scoring. Other players are scoring. Defensively we’re solid. Our goaltenders are great. Throughout, line one through line four, all our forwards are creating chances, are doing positive things on the ice and that’s all you can ask for.
“The work ethic’s always going to be there with this group and this character in this room, so it’s just a matter of being consistent with it and having that good team game because tonight we had it. It wasn’t a solid 60 minutes but we played well enough to win and our goaltender was great.”
Oh, and after initially insisting he was too involved in the game to register the sellout crowd’s constant booing of Kovalchuk, Stoll confessed he was attuned to every bit of it.
“It was kind of funny to see their reaction. That’s great. I liked it,” he said, smiling.
“Every time he had the puck we did a good job of smothering him and making sure we had one or two or sometimes even three guys on him and making sure he had nowhere to go. It’s a great team effort defensively and offensively we had some timely goals.”
Justin Williams gave the Kings an early lead with a goal off the rush, on their second shot at goaltender Martin Brodeur. Ryan Smyth carried the puck up the left side before passing to Stoll in the middle. He found Williams on the right side and the speedy winger went around Devils defenseman Tyler Eckford before taking an ice-skimming shot that eluded Brodeur at 6:52 of the first period.
They padded that to 2-0 at 9:32 of the second period, during a power play. Jack Johnson’s one-timer from the left circle hit Brodeur in the chest and before he could snare it in his glove Michal Handzus batted it out of the air and into the net.
The Devils, who lost forward Zach Parise to a lower-body injury in the second period, came back 1:06 later with a long shot by Matt Taormina past a screened Quick, but Stoll stepped up again on the next shift, 24 seconds later. Rob Scuderi took a shot that went wide and took a strange bounce that surprised Brodeur. The puck hopped to Stoll, who had half an empty net and didn’t miss with a backhander.
“That was a great response. That was a much-needed response,” Kings Coach Terry Murray said.
Murray gave his players a much-needed day off Sunday -- and they will spend all of it in first place because the NHL has no games scheduled. It’s nice to be on top now, but as with the Kovalchuk signing, it’s too early to declare total victory yet.
“It’s a long season. We’ve got a lot of games to play,” said Quick, who has stopped 219 of 234 shots in eight games, a .936 save percentage. “We have to take it one game at a time, two points at a time and build off the momentum that we have so far.”