DALLAS – Nine games into a season is too early for a defining moment, but this one felt close to it.
In the opening minutes of the second period, the Kings had a 5-on-3 power play for 1:36. They cycled and shot, huffed and puffed, but could not get the puck past Marty Turco.
Then, a breakthrough. Ryan Smyth scored with seven seconds left in the one-man advantage, the first of four consecutive goals that helped the Kings to a huge 4-1 victory over the Dallas Stars on Monday night before 16,210 at American Airlines Center.
The sense of relief after the game was palpable. The Kings broke a three-game losing streak and finished their season-long road trip with a 3-3 record.
``We feel it’s huge for us,’’ coach Terry Murray said. ``At the end of the day, we were .500 on the road trip. We always used to say, years ago, it’s a good trip if you can do that.’’
Sure, the Kings defeated a Dallas team that was missing injured key forwards Mike Modano and Brad Richards, but the Kings – decimated by the flu – were a coughing, wheezing bunch, and they had one significant healthy scratch.
After the morning skate, coach Terry Murray announced that Alexander Frolov would not play, and Murray pulled no punches in criticizing Frolov’s recent play and his desire.
Had the Kings lost Monday, things could have spiraled downward quickly. Instead, the Kings played a brilliant second period, in which they outshot the Stars 18-4 and turned a one-goal deficit into a two-goal lead.
``The important thing is, we need to be like that from the get-go,’’ captain Dustin Brown said. ``We played 40 minutes tonight. We played a hell of a 40 minutes, but I think that’s been our problem over the last three games. It’s spurts here and there.’’
Smyth scored the tying goal and assisted on the period’s two other goals, scoring by Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. That line, the Kings’ top line, once again dominated, and Smyth now has six goals and seven assists in his first nine games with the Kings.
The line was at its best with about five minutes left in the second period. They cycled the puck in the Dallas zone for approximately 40 seconds before Williams’ centering pass found Kopitar, who scored to put the Kings ahead 3-1.
Wayne Simmonds scored an empty-net goal with 1:37 to play, and Brown added two assists. Jamie Benn had given Dallas a 1-0 lead 17:18 into the first period.
Things were far from perfect for the Kings. They were outshot 11-8 in a first period that was mediocre at best, and they might have faced a bigger deficit if not for a handful of strong saves by Jonathan Quick, who finished with 29 saves.
Dallas got consistently strong play from Turco in the first period, and took the lead with 2:42 remaining in the period.
Brenden Morrow controlled the puck behind the Kings' net, and made a perfect no-look, backhand centering pass. It went to the stick of Benn, who got position in front of the Kings' net and beat Quick on a one-timer for a 1-0 lead.
The Kings, in almost every way, looked like a different team in the second period, as they outshot the Stars 18-4 and scored three consecutive goals.
Smyth tied the game 5:17 into the period as he parked himself in front of the net and redirected a shot from Brown from the left circle, and beat Turco to tie the game.
The Kings continued their strong play, killed Sean O'Donnell's slashing penalty, and got rewarded with 6:34 left in the second period. Matt Greene did an outstanding job of keeping the puck in the Dallas zone at the blue line, and quickly shot the puck. Williams, skating toward the Dallas net, redirected it past Turco for a 2-1 Kings lead.
With Frolov out of the lineup, Murray rotated wingers in his spot, with usual fourth-line winger Raitis Ivanans getting most of the work.
Frolov spent a big part of the game working out and later watching the game from a massage table. During a third-period interview, he said, ``There’s nobody that wants to be scratched, but it was his decision. He’s the head coach and I have to respect it.’’
After the game, Murray said, ``I hope that the team understands that everything we do, as coaches, is for the team only. There’s nothing personal. I like Fro a lot. He played great for me there last year. He scored 33 goals. It’s just, I did it for the team.
``And any time you make a change in your lineup, whether it’s a fourth-line guy or a top-line player or a defenseman, you’re only doing it for the team. There needs to be a message that’s taken, for everybody.’’
Brown said Murray informed him in the morning that he would be taking Frolov out of the lineup.
``That doesn’t normally happen with one of our better players,’’ Brown said, ``but for the guys in here, it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up and play well, and I think we did that. The team, obviously we want Fro on board. That’s something they’re going to have to deal with, management and all that. Obviously we want Fro in here, but at the same time, he needs to bring his `A’ game.’’