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|Doughty's Hit on Hall - Sun, 16 Jan 2011|
|01/15/11 - Post Game - Oilers - Sun, 16 Jan 2011|
|01/15/11 - Post Game - Kings - Sun, 16 Jan 2011|
|Section 330 Sings "This is LA" at 1/15 Game - Sat, 15 Jan 2011|
|Vachon, Quick and Heidi Androl Talk Equipment - Sat, 15 Jan 2011|
|Vachon, Quick and Heidi Androl Talk History - Sat, 15 Jan 2011|
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After practice Friday morning, the Kings laughed, joked and smiled. They played 80s rap music. A spirited game of ``toss the ball of used tape into the trash can'' developed.
This was a team that had lost seven of its previous eight games?
In the moment, it was hard to know what to make of the scene. Were the Kings too loose, or had these reached a moment of Zen calm? Turns out, it might have been more of the latter than the former, as it translated into a victory, and some real reason to smile.
It was too late to make this homestand a great one, or even a good one, but the Kings did manage to end it on a high note, with a 5-2 victory over Edmonton before 18,118 at STAPLES Center. Perhaps keeping things loose was the best medicine.
``We tried the approach of being ultra-serious, no smiles, everything like that, not having fun, complete business, and that didn't work for us,'' Kings assistant captain Matt Greene said. ``Then we went through a half-and-half process. At the end of the day, we just regrouped and realized that what's done is done, and that it was time to start new, start fresh. It's a cliche, but it's true that when you're having fun, you're playing your best.
``We've got a new focus and we've got a new direction that we're going to go in. Everybody is on the same page, and if that breeds a little more fun and guys get a little looser, then so be it, as long as we win.''
The Kings finished their season-long homestand with a disappointing 2-6-0 record, and now face a rough stretch of road games, but at least they have some momentum now.
Jarret Stoll had two goals, including a late goal into an empty Edmonton net, and the Kings shut out the Oilers for the final 44 minutes of the game. Drew Doughty broke out of a scoring funk with a goal, and Marco Sturm and Anze Kopitar also scored.
The Kings also might have dodged a bullet. Wayne Simmonds left the game early in the first period with a lower-body injury, after getting tangled in a post-whistle scrum along the boards, and Simmonds stayed in the locker room for the rest of the game.
``Quite honestly, we'll know better tomorrow,'' coach Terry Murray said after the game. ``He wasn't able to come back, as you saw. It was close, though. When I talked to the trainer at the end of the (second) period, he thought he could maybe come back out and give it a try. But he came back, just before we went back out on the ice, and said he's going to hold him off. We'll have a better idea tomorrow. … It doesn't sound too serious, and I'm definitely hoping that. I'll get more information tomorrow.''
Any risk of getting over-excited about the win is negated by a glance at the standings. Edmonton has been in last place in the Western Conference for almost the entire season, so beating the Oilers, at home, isn't exactly a reason to do backflips, but the Kings played well for most of the game and showed some positive signs.
After an up-and-down first period, that ended in a 2-2 tie, the Kings seemed to gain some focus and intensity after a hit that didn't even lead to a goal. Less than two minutes into the second period, Doughty leveled Edmonton rookie forward Taylor Hall along the boards, a hit that video replay seemed to indicate was clean, shoulder to shoulder.
The ensuing scrum -- which is when Simmonds got hurt -- led to a Kings power play, and although they didn't score, they seemed to perk up and play better. Stoll's first goal, at the 7:08 mark, put the Kings up 3-2, and they never lost the lead after that.
``That was a good play,'' Murray said. ``You know, both of those kids went at each other early in the first period, right in front of our bench. Hall came to Doughty, and it was pretty intense. They were looking to hunt each other down. That's two young guys who are going to end up playing against each other for 15 years. They're kind of setting the table here, for that kind of play. It was good to see the way Doughty responded. I was a little bit surprised at Hall at the beginning, because I don't know him that well, but he wanted to get his share of licks in there too.''
Three weeks ago, this eight-game homestand was seen as an opportunity, a chance to bank some points in a tight playoff race. It quickly turned into a weight. If Saturday's game, against a last-place team, was the Kings' Battle of Waterloo, at least they won it.
The road gets tougher, literally. Starting Monday in Dallas, the Kings play 13 of their next 16 games on the road, a critical stretch of play that will carry them into late February.
Winning only two games on this homestand, by any measure, was a missed opportunity, in terms of playoff positioning. But the Kings remain only three points out of a playoff spot in the West, with a game or two in hand over several of their closest conference foes. The challenge, going forward, will be to remain competitive on the road. It's not the path the Kings would have chosen, but it's the only one in front of them right now.
``Sometimes getting on the road is great,'' Greene said. ``I know we've got a long road trip coming up here, but at the same time, we've just to play games. We've got to play hockey. That's the best thing, to get us out of this funk that we've been in. Get a game like this, and follow it up with a back-to-back here, and keep playing. That's what we've got to do, keep playing good hockey and get on a roll and see what happens.''
If nothing else, the Kings were able to build some positive momentum. After some wobbly first-period play throughout the lineup, including goalie Jonathan Bernier, the Kings showed significant improvement and limited the Oilers' offensive chances.
Bernier had allowed 11 goals in his previous two periods entering Saturday, but looked sharper in the second and third periods and finished with 24 saves. The Kings' defense did a good job of controlling things in front of Bernier over the final two periods.
``Tonight, we had the good energy from the beginning, right through to the end,'' Murray said. ``We got pretty good stops, and our whole mindset of moving the puck and getting it north, getting it into the offensive zone, was excellent. So we'll just have to move by what happened the other games, now, and look forward to what's in front of us.''
It wasn't easy for the Kings early, against the Oilers.
The Oilers failed to score on a first-period power play, but took a 1-0 lead 6:02 into the first period. Dustin Penner took a pass from Ales Hemsky and took the puck to the net. Penner faked a move to the back of the net, and when Bernier moved to his left, Penner tucked the puck into the corner of the net.
The Kings tied the game with 8:47 remaining in the first period. After Penner fanned on a shot attempt, the Kings started a 4-on-2 break. Simmonds' pass deflected off the stick of Doughty and went across to Sturm. Sturm took a sharp-angle, off-balance shot and beat goalie Devan Dubnyk to the top corner to make it a 1-1 game.
A goal on the counter-attack gave the Kings a 2-1 lead with 5:11 remaining in the first period. Justin Williams carried the puck up the right side, into the Edmonton zone, and Kopitar jumped into the play from the left side for a 2-on-1. Williams did a nice job of pulling the puck around an Edmonton defender and got a shot on goal. Kopitar was there in front and was credited for the tip-in goal.
The lead lasted for just 67 seconds, though, as the Kings followed a season-long trend of allowing a goal quickly after scoring one. Ryan Jones brought the puck out front from behind the net. Bernier missed on a poke-check attempt, and Andrew Cogliano skated to the front of the net to knock in the rebound and make it a 2-2 game.
The Kings took a 3-2 lead 7:08 into the second period, just after the end of an Edmonton power play. Dustin Brown, just out of the penalty box, picked up the puck high in the defensive zone and carried it through the neutral zone. Stoll skated through the middle of the ice, took a good pass from Brown, found some space and beat Dubnyk with a close-range wrist shot. Sturm also got an assist.
``I think we said the right things, in between the first and second periods and between the second and third,'' Williams said. ``We had to treat this like a playoff game when we were up 3-2. The points, right now, with the way we've been playing, are far too important to let slip. Every play was going to be important out there, and if we thought every play was going to be important, then we beared down out there. I thought we didn't give them much, at all, in the later part of the game when we were up a goal.''
The Kings took a two-goal lead 2:44 into the third period. Doughty picked off a stretch-pass attempt by the Oilers in the neutral zone and skated the puck into the Edmonton zone. Doughty pulled up and, with two defenders in front of him, scored on a high wrist shot to the top corner to give the Kings a 4-2 lead.
Stoll's empty-net goal, in the final two minutes, clinched the victory and allowed the Kings to keep smiling, as they did after practice a day earlier.
``The good thing with hockey is, usually, there's always another game,'' Williams said. ``Moping around really doesn't do much. It makes other people miserable around you and it keeps your confidence down. We got on the ice yesterday and had a real good practice. We came and put our work boots on today.
``What we need to do now is focus on our consistency. We can't get too high. We've got a big back-to-back coming up, and we need to focus on that.''