ST. LOUIS -- Perhaps all the fuss over the Kings’ penalty kill was a bit premature?
A major weakness in the first three games of the season, the penalty-kill unit was perfect Saturday night, and saved its most important kill for last as the Kings held on for a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues before 19,150 at Scottrade Center.
The Kings won their third consecutive game to improve to 3-1. Five games remain on this season-long road trip, but there were many positive signs, most notably with the penalty-kill unit, which had succeeded just four times in 11 chances in the first three games.
All five St. Louis power plays were killed, the defense was disruptive and goalie Jonathan Quick (29 saves) had his strongest game of the season, as did Drew Doughty, despite the fact that his mouth was bloodied by an errant puck in the second period.
"There were some big blocks on the PK out there again," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "That’s the desperation that you have to show when you’ve got a group of guys like they can throw out there. It’s incredible, the talent that St. Louis has on the power play, but (good penalty killing) requires everyone.
"It requires the goaltender and I thought Quicker was real good there tonight with a couple huge stops, again the blocking of some of those point shots. There’s that desperation that is very contagious, and hopefully we can just build on this."
The Kings did allow a third-period shorthanded goal to Alexander Steen, which made the score 2-1, and continued to struggle in the faceoff circle. They won only 23 of 58 (40 percent) and it appeared as though those struggles might cost them late.
Kings forward Justin Williams was called for slashing with 2:29 to play and the Kings nursing the one-goal lead. The Blues pulled the goalie for a 6-on-4 advantage and had a faceoff in the Kings’ zone with 24.5 seconds remaining.
St. Louis’ David Backes beat Michal Handzus on the draw, but the Kings held firm in front of Quick and made the slim margin stand up.
"The one thing we’ve learned is that a couple teams have come back on us already this year and last year as well. We just have to continue to stick to our game plan," Doughty said. "We can’t sit back and watch them. We have to make plays.
"We just have to play our game, as if it was a 2-2 game and we were trying to get a goal. We obviously have to be careful and not be cheating, but we just have to keep it simple and stick to the game plan."
Doughty’s play in both ends was a major reason the Kings had a two-goal lead to nurse.
Under criticism after an awful first game, Doughty had his best effort of the season Saturday. His first-period slap shot, on the power play, was saved by Chris Mason, but Ryan Smyth, camped out to the right of the net, knocked in the rebound to give the Kings a 1-0 lead with 9:13 left in the first period. Anze Kopitar also got an assist.
The Kings benefitted from some luck in the second period. Michal Handzus skated down the left side, on a 2-on-1 with Alexander Frolov. Handzus passed across, but Blues winger David Perron got his stick up and deflected the puck past Mason. Frolov and Matt Greene picked up assists.
That two-goal lead held up until 6:37 remained in the third period, and even then, the referees needed some time to sort it out.
Steen shot from the right circle, with Quick scrambling to get back into place. The shot got past Quick, did not hit a post and came back into play. Officials did not signal a goal, but at the next stoppage, video clearly showed that the puck circled the inside netting, and Steen was awarded the shorthanded goal.
By that point, Doughty was back on the ice. Halfway through the second period, Doughty had to leave the game after an errant puck got deflected and hit him in the mouth.
Doughty missed the rest of the second period but returned for the third period.
"It was just sort of a reaction play," Doughty said. "It happened so quick that I didn’t have any time to get away. It was pretty painful."
"I was feeling good out there. I thought today was maybe one of my stronger games of the season so far. I thought that after that first game I obviously came back and played better in my next two, but I think tonight I probably played my best out of the four and I felt good. It was unfortunate to get that bounce in the second, but I came back and I thought I did OK again."