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|01/08/11 - Post Game - Kings - Sat, 08 Jan 2011|
|01/08/11 - Post Game - Blue Jackets - Sat, 08 Jan 2011|
|1/7/11 - Ron Hextall On NHL Live - Fri, 07 Jan 2011|
|01/06/11 - Post Game - Predators - Fri, 07 Jan 2011|
|01/06/11 - Post Game - Kings - Fri, 07 Jan 2011|
|01/06/11 - Pre Game - Kings - Thu, 06 Jan 2011|
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The midpoint of the Kings' season arrived with Saturday night's game against Columbus, and they commemorated it, unintentionally, with something of a three-period microcosm.
This season has been three months of fits and starts for the Kings, the highest of highs -- a 12-3 start -- followed by stretches of head-shaking play. The same could be said for Saturday's game.
The Kings dominated early and stumbled late. If nothing else, they will be able to head into the second half of their schedule with some momentum, as they jumped on Columbus early and held on for a 6-4 victory before 18,118 at STAPLES Center.
Jarret Stoll had his first two-goal game of the season, including a shorthanded goal, and Jack Johnson had three assists after, earlier in the day, signing a seven-year contract extension. The Kings jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the second period then survived after the Blue Jackets twice pulled within one goal in the third period.
``This game was a good indicator, I think, of our half-season so far,'' Kings center Anze Kopitar said. ``We all know that can't happen again. Hopefully this second half will be good. We finished the first half on a good note, with two points. Now we want to keep it going and build off that.''
The Kings managed to hold on, as they broke a five-game losing streak and got a much-needed win after starting this season-long eight-game homestand with an 0-4 record. In the roller-coaster Western Conference, one victory meant a four-spot jump in the standings. Remarkably, the Kings moved from 12th place to eighth place.
Now officially halfway through this season, a season that started with high expectations, the Kings have a 23-17-1 record, for 47 points. Through 41 games last season, the Kings were 23-15-3, for 49 points, and went on to finish sixth in the conference, with 101 points.
Saturday night's two points were certainly welcomed by the Kings, after five games' worth of frustration, but the excitement was tempered by the opponent and the late-game play.
Columbus entered the game in 13th place in the conference and had lost three consecutive games by a combined margin of 14-3. World-beaters the Blue Jackets have not been, of late, but regardless, the Kings put together a dominating first period and looked to be on their way to a rout.
Dustin Brown scored 2:13 into the game, after a nifty pass from Kopitar, Alec Martinez scored a power-play goal at the 9:24 mark and Stoll provided what should have been the dagger, as his goal with 4:10 remaining gave the Kings a 3-0 lead in the first intermission.
Stoll's shorthanded goal, seven minutes into the second period, made it a four-goal game, but things got quite ragged for the Kings after that. Columbus twice pulled within one goal late in the third period, and the Kings couldn't completely breathe easily until Justin Williams scored into an empty net with just over 30 seconds remaining.
``A lot of stuff happened out there tonight,'' Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``It was a great start to the game. The first half of the game, I thought, was exactly what you want to have, with the compete, with the intensity and doing the right things, getting it in, scoring some goals.
``Then, things start to change after we give up that first goal. We got a little too casual, again, with puck management through the middle of the ice. We give them a lot of energy and give them a lot of life for the rest of the game, I thought, from that point. Bottom line is, you get that win. Hopefully good things can start to happen here, if we build off this and move forward from the five-game losing streak.''
The Kings also got two assists each from Drew Doughty, Marco Sturm and Michal Handzus, and Jonathan Quick survived some rough puck-handling -- errors that cost him on two goals -- to get the win, with 30 saves.
``I think a lot of guys played well tonight,'' Johnson said. ``We definitely needed that win. Even though, at times, it was kind of ugly, we'll take it any way we can get it. A win's a win.''
If nothing else, the Kings hope it will be the start of something good. Both defenseman Willie Mitchell and winger Alexei Ponikarovsky, two key, veteran players, returned from injury Saturday, and the Kings hope to start generating some positive momentum.
``(Matt Greene) talked about it before the game, to take a look around the room,'' Kopitar said. ``This is as healthy as we've been all year, and we've added Sturmy to the lineup as well. Those are the guys. I'm pretty sure there's not going to be any major changes, and we have to feel comfortable with everybody that is here, and we have to trust everybody, that we're going to do the job. It was definitely not the way we wanted to finish that game, but two points are two points.''
The new-look first line of Kopitar, Brown and Ponikarovsky debuted Saturday and scored a goal on its first shift, as the Kings took a 1-0 lead 2:13 into the first period. Kopitar carried the puck into the Columbus zone and dropped a blind, backhand pass. Brown picked it up, steadied the puck for a moment and beat Columbus goalie Mathieu Garon with a high wrist shot. Doughty also got an assist.
``It was just one of those plays,'' Kopitar said. ``I was cutting across and I saw the D coming toward me. I saw Brownie open, so I think that was pretty much the only way to get it to him there. So I tried it and it connected, so it was a good start.''
A power-play goal gave the Kings a 2-0 lead 9:24 into the first period. Johnson sent the puck to the blue line, and Martinez took a slap shot from the left point, with Handzus running traffic in front. The shot beat Garon, and Sturm also got an assist.
Stoll's first goal gave the Kings a 3-0 lead with 4:10 remaining in the first period. Doughty held the puck near the left boards, looked up and spotted Stoll. Doughty fed a sharp, cross-ice pass right onto the stick of Stoll, who skated to the net and one-timed a shot past Garon. Doughty picked up his second assist of the period, and Ryan Smyth also got an assist.
The Kings kept the scoring going with a shorthanded goal 7:12 into the second period, for a 4-0 lead. With the Blue Jackets going for a line change on the power play, Johnson alertly sent a long pass up ice, onto the stick of Sturm. Stoll then went to the net, took a cross-ice pass from Sturm and scored on a high wrist shot. Johnson and Sturm picked up their second assists of the game.
That was the Kings' third shorthanded goal of the season, and their first since Mitchell scored against Dallas on Oct. 28.
Columbus got on the board with 6:30 remaining in the second period. Brown's pass attempt got deflected by Columbus' Matt Calvert, and the puck went to the crease. Quick essentially fanned on his attempt to play the puck, and it trickled over the line as the Blue Jackets pulled within 4-1.
Columbus pulled within 4-2 with Nash's goal 6:47 into the third period. Jakub Voracek carried the puck wide, and Quick got out of position behind the net. Rick Nash picked up the puck on the right side and, before Quick could get back in position, fired a high shot into the net.
A 4-on-4 goal by Columbus made things uncomfortable for the Kings, as Fedor Tyutin pulled the Blue Jackets within 4-3 with 9:02 remaining. Tyutin found open ice in the high slot, unmarked, and took a pass from Antoine Vermette and beat Quick with a one-timer.
The Kings took a two-goal lead late in the third period, then lost it. First, Smyth crashed the net and scored on a rebound of a shot by Williams to give the Kings a 5-3 lead with 3:31 remaining.
Following their season-long theme, the Kings quickly gave up a goal after scoring, as Columbus scored 58 seconds later. Quick stopped the puck and held it on his stick near the goal line, but did nothing except leave it stationary for Voracek. Voracek's pass toward the crease deflected off a stick, directly to Nash, who scored to make it a 5-4 game with 2:33 remaining.
Williams clinched the victory with an empty-net power-play goal with 31 seconds remaining.