By Bobby Scribe.
The Kings entered tonight’s game after a very disappointing performance Saturday against the fiscally challenged Phoenix Coyotes. They looked to rebound and make a statement against the league’s offensive powerhouse.
The first 5 minutes was justifiably nervous time for all Kings fans concerned and, admittedly, there were a few plays that caused this writer to nearly swallow his heart. Then, a subtle transition occurred. The Kings appeared to calm down. Everyone got into a groove. Passes connected. Breakouts led the puck from the defensemen’s sticks to that of the forwards in short and effective passes and with speed through the neutral zone. The Kings sustained pressure through the forecheck. Shots landed on goal and created rebounds until a relatively harmless play resulted in a scoring opportunity and a shot by Alexander Frolov, followed by Michal Handzus and finally Wayne Simmonds found the back of the net to give the Kings a 1-0 lead. That third line did throughout the period what Terry Murray stated (and we all hoped) they would do – generate offense while preventing the Sharks’ top players from doing the same and if anyone wondered how one shuts down an offensive line that includes Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton, the answer is that you make them play defense.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the first period was Jonathan Quick’s play. He gobbled up rebounds. His lateral speed was, as we became accustomed to last season, exceptional and he foiled several San Jose Shark scoring opportunities. Would it last?
The first period also put on display a developing chemistry between Rob “stone face” Scuderi and Matt Greene, a defensive pairing that saw its first match tonight. That shut down line was effective in not only suffocating the Shark’ forwards but allowing Kings’ center and wingers to leave their own defensive zone with speed.
The Kings started the second period with a power play after, at the end of the first, Ryane Clowe expressed his opinions to Justin Williams a bit too aggressively. The Kings expressed their own opinion of Clowe and the Sharks with a patented Ryan Smyth goal after three Kings jammed the front of the net and Smyth picked up the rebound and banged it in. He really should submit that move to the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Few perform it more effectively.
Jonathan Quick continued with his stellar play as he robbed Scott Nichol and if stealing the puck was a penalty, Kings’ left wing Alexander Frolov would have spent ten minutes in the box. Jack Johnson showed how, in a well played game, the puck finds your stick and sometimes ends up in the net. Johnson took an air-born centering pass from Michal Handzus, cleanly make contact and deflected it past Nabokov. Make no mistake, the goal was all talent. Shortly thereafter, not to be outdone, Anze Kopitar took a shot from the right point and hit the post. Unlike Saturday, cheers followed the “ping” as the fluttering puck ended up in net and gave the Kings a commanding 4-0 lead.
That was the end of Nabokov.
The Sharks tried to motivate themselves back into the game. Sharks’ Frazer McLaren picked a fight but thought the better of it when he realized that Los Angeles Kings’ enforcer Raitis Ivanans was looking back at him. Jody Shelley did the same after Sharks’ Brad Staubitz took a run at Kings defenseman Davis Drewiske. Shelley got the jump on Ivanans for a few seconds but the big Kings’ winger quickly responded and started to pound Shelley with right hands. Unfortunately, the Kings could not capitalize on the power play and when they tried to turn it into a two man advantage, they were called for too many men on the ice. That proved a critical moment in the game.
Devin Setoguchi scored with a one timed snap shot on a pass from Joe Thornton. Alexander Frolov was called for a high stick penalty and Rob Blake scored on the ensuing power play. The second period ended with the Kings leading 4-2.
The third commenced with the Sharks still with the man advantage. They cut the Kings lead to 4-3 on a nice pass by Dany Heatley that both Matt Greene and Jonathan Quick could not knock away before it landed on Setoguchi’s stick by the net. All the talk about Rob Scuderi’s toughness was on display throughout the game but not more so than the third period when he took a puck to the face. After he contributed a little blood, Scuderi stepped to the dressing room but returned with a clogged nose and a deeper scowl. I suppose someone should have cautioned Scuderi that being paired with puck meet face legend Matt Greene may be an occupational hazard through a right of passage.
Michal Handzus made a goal saving defensive play as he played the secondary goaltender on an ensuing scramble and at around the 13 minute mark the quiet line of Ted Purcell, Jared Stoll and Dustin Brown had an effective and energized shift that led the Kings to a few scoring opportunities and a return to the first period’s five man attack. Unfortunately, the Kings could not add to their lead after an undisciplined hooking penalty by Dany Heatley and the Sharks made the Kings pay when Heatley scored on a wicked slap shot from the left point that beat Jonathan Quick on the short side.
The 15,035 fans that saw the Kings dominate the game with four consecutive goals now viewed the Sharks with all the momentum.
As anyone who is familiar with Kings goaltending last season before Jonathan Quick took over the reigns knows, nothing kills momentum like a bad goal. Sharks goaltender and Nabokov’s replacement, Thomas Greiss gave up just such a goal less than 30 seconds later, with 5:50 remaining, to Ted Purcell from the far right boards and behind the goal line. The Kings nearly made it 6-4 on a beautiful saucer pass by Ryan Smyth to Anze Kopitar that Kopitar could not control and settle down as he tried to move the puck to his backhand rather than shoot. The missed opportunity proved irrelevant as Davis Drewiske finished the high scoring game with an empty net goal to seal the Sharks’ fate. A bitter hit from behind by Douglas Murray and Ryan Clowe’s attempts to vent showed which team was the winner and which was going home with 2 losses in their first 3 games.
The three stars were named, in order from 3 to 1, as Joe Thornton, Alexander Frolov and Anze Kopitar. My number one star was Michal Handzus followed closely by Ryan Smyth.
While this game wasn’t exactly a guide on how to hold a lead or an example of an effective penalty kill, as every Sharks goal was on the power play, what mattered most is that the Kings responded after a poorly played game against one of the worst teams in the league with a good game against arguably the best. In fact, Kings fans are so content with tonight’s win, we’ll even let Rob Blake keep his goal.
Here is the post game interview with Terry Murray.