Column: First things first as Kings move atop division with 3-0 defeat of Flames
Every hockey season has its own narrative. Individual games become woven into the longer threads of weeks and months, and the season takes on a theme that reflects the team’s personality.
For the Kings, the threads had become a little strained. After winning seven of their first nine games in March their trademark staunch defense began to wilt late in games, and their longstanding scoring problems cropped up again. On Thursday they reinforced those threads with a 3-0 victory over the Calgary Flames at Staples Center, which vaulted them back into first place in the Pacific Division with a one-point lead over the Ducks.
The Kings have five regular-season games left, including one against the Ducks next Thursday. The Ducks have six games left.
Center Jeff Carter scored twice in the second period — he has four goals in his last three games after enduring an eight-game goal drought — and set up Andy Andreoff’s third-period goal as goaltender Jonathan Quick stopped 21 shots and led the Kings to only their second victory in their last six games. But no one was outwardly jubilant in the locker room afterward because they saw their imperfections more clearly than their accomplishments.
“Obviously, it’s a good win for us. We need to get some wins here and get some points. But I think we still have a long ways to go,” Carter said. “There were some breakdowns and whatnot, but I guess you’d call it a step in the right direction.”
Quick shared that pragmatic approach.
“It’s a win, you know. Whatever we have to do to win games, that’s all you want,” Quick said after earning his 39th victory this season and tying the franchise record he set in 2009-10. “You want to get used to finding ways to win games.”
They had lost their way in recent weeks, and had been outscored, 8-1, in the third period of their three previous games. But on Thursday they stayed strong in the third to support Quick’s 42nd career shutout and fifth of the season. Center Anze Kopitar had two assists, on the Kings’ first and third goals.
“There’s a lot at stake,” left wing Milan Lucic said. “We’re in a tight race here to win the Pacific Division, so we can’t take anything for granted and we’ve got to try to do what we can to get those wins.”
Although the Flames have long been eliminated from playoff contention and were playing less than 24 hours after absorbing an 8-3 thrashing at the hands of the Ducks, they played well in the early stages Thursday and showed some pride. The Kings pulled away thanks to the feats of Carter, Drew Doughty, Kopitar and Lucic, core players whose competitiveness has driven the team for much of this season.
After a scoreless first period, the Kings got a power play early in the second period and capitalized on it. With Josh Jooris in the penalty box for goaltender interference after clipping Quick, Kopitar got the puck to Doughty, who blasted a shot toward Calgary goalie Joni Ortio. The puck was deflected by Carter en route to the net and eluded Ortio 46 seconds into the period.
The point was Doughty’s 316th as a King, the second-highest total by a Kings defenseman. Rob Blake tops the list with 494 points with the club, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Doughty top that in a few years.
An even-strength goal gave the Kings a 2-0 lead at 6:14. Brayden McNabb made the play possible with a fine lead pass up the left side, to Lucic. The burly winger used his strength to hold off a defender and slide a backhand pass in front of the net, where Carter had an easy tap-in for his 22nd goal of the season.
An apparent Calgary goal was waved off at the 16-minute mark of the second period on the basis of goaltender interference, a ruling that was made on the ice and was upheld upon review, after Flames Coach Bob Hartley challenged the call. According to the NHL, “the positioning of Calgary’s Joe Colborne in the crease prevented Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick from doing his job.”
Carter said the Kings are intent on cleaning up their defensive play as the playoffs approach. “We want to finish first. We want home ice,” he said. “We’ve got five games left here and we’ve got to put some wins together.”
Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter: @helenenothelen
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