The mood in Staples Center ran the spectrum early after puck drop, and none of it was a good sign for the Kings.
They played a sluggish first period in which the big roar in the first 15 minutes was for the score of the Dodgers’ playoff game. It was a low groan when Drew Doughty lay on the ice in pain from a slash to the knee by the San Jose Sharks’ Timo Meier.
That turned into silence when Kevin Labanc scored nearly three minutes into overtime for a 3-2 win that spoiled the Kings’ season opener Friday. The Kings were caught changing out players in the three-on-three play and Labanc converted a pass from Logan Couture.
A win would have capped a great comeback for the Kings, who erased a 2-0 deficit on goals by Anze Kopitar and Tyler Toffoli. Ilya Kovalchuk didn’t score in his Kings debut but dazzling rookie Austin Wagner created three chances with his speed in his NHL debut, including a turn-the-corner pivot past Erik Karlsson.
“It’s a work in progress,” Wagner said. “It’s the first game of the season. It’s my first game. Some of the guys were saying to me, ‘It’s nothing to worry about.’ If I’m going to keep getting chances, some of them are going to go in.”
A seething Doughty went to the dressing room without putting much weight on his left leg following a whack from Meier near the benches in the second period. He returned later in the period after only a few missed shifts as the building exhaled.
Toffoli’s second-period goal was a reflection of the Kings finding their forecheck and countering the Sharks’ transition game. They kept the puck in San Jose’s end and Tanner Pearson’s shot off the end boards bounced to the right side for Toffoli to swipe in with Sharks goalie Martin Jones unable to slide over in time.
It was an underwhelming start until Kopitar got the crowd back into it with a tap-in strike to get the Kings to 2-1 late in the first period. Alex Iafallo did the initial work when he distracted two Sharks behind the net. The Kings worked the puck up top, from Doughty to Derek Forbort, whose shot Iafallo redirected to Kopitar on the right side for his first goal of the season.
“You don’t want to get down, 2-0, but I think coming back shows, again, the character of this group,” Kopitar said. “They have a game under their belt. We didn’t. I thought when we kind of got our feet wet, we were a lot better, a lot more composed with the puck, made some good plays, encouraging plays.
“Obviously the power play’s going to have to get better [than 0 for 5]. We’re going to have to find a way to score. That’s pretty much the difference in this game.”
San Jose imposed its game early and got goals by Meier and Evander Kane. Meier deflected Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s shot halfway through the first period after Joe Thornton spotted Vlasic from the boards and zipped the puck to him. Kane’s second goal in as many games was a shot ripped high over Jonathan Quick, short side, after San Jose’s forecheck locked in the Kings.
Wagner looked locked in from his first shift, and he nearly scored on two partial breakaways. The 21-year-old said he slept “off and on” the night before, and his first game occurred with all the ceremony of a season opener, namely player introductions. His family flew in from Calgary, Canada, and his brother, Tyler, was texting him beforehand.
“They were, like, blowing up my phone,” Wagner said before the game. “I’m freaking out right now with all this pressure. But there’s no pressure, to be honest. I don’t have pressure going in and performing.”