NEWARK, N.J. -- Whether they intended it or not, the New Jersey Devils might have engaged in a bit of rope-a-dope with the Kings on Thursday night.
In the game’s opening minutes, the Kings brought great energy and intensity, scored a goal and threatened several other times. By the end of the game, though, the Kings seemed spent, emotionally and physically, and only the play of goalie Jonathan Quick allowed them to salvage one point.
Quick turned in a strong 36-save effort, but the Kings failed to score after the game’s second minute as they fell to the Devils 2-1 in a shootout before 12,256 at Prudential Center.
New Jersey’s big offensive guns, Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, scored in the first two rounds of the shootout while the Kings’ Simon Gagne and Anze Kopitar failed to score.
``A point is always good, especially in these circumstances,’’ Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``I’m not satisfied with it, no. Coaches are never satisfied. We got a point. Give New Jersey a lot of credit. Give Jonathan Quick a lot of credit. I thought we got the point for us here tonight. He was very big at the right time, a couple breakaways there. Their top line, with Elias, was very dangerous, just about every time on the ice. At the end of the day, you got a point and you move on.’’
After a season-opening 1-1 trip to Europe, the Kings had four days off and looked fresh at the start against the Devils, as Gagne scored a goal 1:47 into the first period, his first goal with the Kings.
It looked as though it would be the Kings’ night, even after New Jersey’s Patrik Elias tied the game 13 minutes into the period. The Kings even got to face cold backup goalie Johan Hedberg at the start of the second period, as future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur left with an undisclosed injury.
But the Kings, who totaled 11 shots in the first period, totaled only a combined 11 shots in the final two periods. They had their moments of solid end-to-end rushes, but far too often, potential forays into the New Jersey zone were halted by neutral-zone turnovers.
After Elias’ goal, with seven minutes remaining in the first period, the Devils found their legs and put consistent pressure on Quick, who was more than equal to the task.
``He’s really composed and he never panics,’’ Kopitar said. ``That’s what you want from the goalie. If he gives you the chance to win, that’s all you can ask for, and he definitely does that for us.’’
It was hard to guess exactly how the Kings would look. A grueling preseason trip, coupled with the trip to Europe, meant games in Kansas City, Denver, Anaheim, Hamburg, Stockholm, Berlin and Newark in the past three weeks, with a couple transcontinental flights in between.
The Kings did their best to ease back into things, with a three-day mini-camp in Maryland this week, and it seemed to pay off early, but by the middle of the game, the Kings seemed to have lost their edge.
``The energy was there for a little while in the first period,’’ Murray said. ``I thought that, about after the three-minute mark of the first period until the 13-minute mark, there was good energy. We had some play going on that I liked.
``And then after we get into the second and the third, I thought we hit a bit of a wall there. I thought our legs really left us. Our energy was low. Not only does it happen now with play, with passing the puck and execution, but now you’re making those mistakes mentally, and a lot of those pucks came back at us.’’
Really, the Kings missed their chance early. The had the Devils on their heels after Gagne’s early goal, and the Kings had a handful of quality scoring chances in the first 10 minutes of the period. At one point, Brodeur was forced to make two sprawling saves just to prevent a two-goal deficit.
``We came out pretty strong and we were all over them,’’ Kopitar said. ``Then things kind of shifted in the middle of the first. Other than that, I didn’t think we were sluggish or slow by any means. We’ve just got to work for 60 minutes.’’
The Kings took the lead 1:47 into the game, on a nice counter-attack after the Devils nearly scored. Justin Williams, under pressure, did well to control the puck under pressure in the right circle, then pushed the puck to the front of the net. Gagne picked up the pass, then tucked a backhand shout past Brodeur from close range. Kopitar also got an assist.
The Kings continued to dominate the action after their goal, but it was the Devils who scored next, and tied the game with 6:57 remaining in the first period. Parise's wraparound attempt went wide, and Petr Sykora's shot was deflected on the way to the net, but before the Kings could cover or clear the puck, Elias skated in and knocked it past Quick to make it a 1-1 game.
Hedberg replaced Brodeur at the start of the second period. Brodeur briefly needed attention at the bench after a first-period save but stayed in the game.
Hedberg did a strong job over the final two periods and overtime, but also benefited from the Kings’ neutral-zone breakdowns.
``We’ve definitely done better, I know that for sure,’’ Quick said. ``At moments, we were playing our game and playing really well. At times, though, we got away from it a little bit. We’ve just got to refocus here. We’ve got a big game against Philly in a couple days, so we’ll get ready for that.’’