GLENDALE, Ariz. – The table was set for a glorious reunion.
Ryan Smyth, back in the Kings’ lineup, would resume his point-per-game play, and help propel his center, Anze Kopitar, back to the top of the NHL scoring list.
It was a nice vision for the Kings, albeit one that ended quickly Saturday night. Justin Williams suffered a broken leg on his second shift of the game, and the Kings went on to lose, 3-2, to the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena.
Faces, on the ice and on the Kings’ bench, looked grim less than five minutes into the game when Williams got tangled with teammate Anze Kopitar and Phoenix defenseman Ed Jovanovsky, twisted his right leg awkwardly and could not get up.
``As soon as it happened,’’ Kings coach Terry Murray said, ``I walked over to (assistant coach) Jamie Kompon and I said, `I think he broke his leg.’’’
Murray, unfortunately, was correct. After a delay of approximately five minutes, a stretcher was brought onto the ice and Williams, very deliberately, was placed on it and wheeled away, as he appeared to be in significant pain, clutching his head.
``When he was coming in front of the bench, on the stretcher, pulling his hair, he was hurting,’’ Murray said. ``He was hurting a lot.’’
After the game, Murray could not offer a potential timetable for Williams’ return, and said it was possible that one might be determined after a doctor’s evaluation Sunday.
Murray announced that Williams had suffered a broken leg, but had no further details, and Kopitar, the closest King to the action, said he didn’t see exactly what happened.
``I don't even know if it was me or Jovanovski,’’ Kopitar said. ``We got tangled up and we went down. I kind of skated away. At first, he didn't seem hurt at all to me, so I skated away. Then I looked back and he was laying there and, as soon as I got down there to him, I knew it wasn't good at all, because he was pretty mad and pretty frustrated.’’
Frustration would be a good word, in general, to describe the Kings’ feelings on Saturday. In their first game after an unusual eight-day holiday break, the Kings stayed in the game until the end but couldn’t quite do enough to take at least one point.
The Kings tied the game 2-2, 3:58 into the third period, on Michal Handzus’ power-play goal, but Phoenix’s Keith Yandle scored at the 9:20 mark for a 3-2 Coyotes lead.
When Phoenix’s Matthew Lombardi got called for hooking with 2:04 remaining in the third period, and James Vandermeer got called for tripping 1:14 later, the Kings had a two-man advantage for 46 seconds, which they extended to 6-on-3 when they pulled goalie Jonathan Quick.
The Kings had several opportunities in the final minute, but defenseman Jack Johnson sent two slap shots wide of the net and, in the final 20 seconds, Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov made saves on slap shots by Drew Doughty and Alexander Frolov.
The Kings fell to 9-2-1 against Pacific Division teams, and both of the regulation losses have come to Phoenix, which kept its hold on fourth place in the Western Conference and second place in the Pacific Division, one spot ahead of the Kings.
Quick had another strong game, with 32 saves, but the Kings were outshot 35-25, trailed 2-1 after the first period and made some costly turnovers.
``Machines can break down, probably more, because of rust than use,’’ Murray said. ``I wouldn't say that we were rusty, but eight days between games is a long time. On the other side of it, we used it, I think, the right way. Now we have to get games under our belt to get the timing back and do the right things.’’
It could have been a joyous night for the Kings. In addition to Smyth, who had been out since Nov. 16 with an upper-body injury, the Kings also regained the services of Wayne Simmonds, Jack Johnson and Brandon Segal, each of whom had missed time in the past month with various injuries. Jarret Stoll (groin) and Randy Jones (head/neck) remain out.
Williams’ injury certainly brought down the mood, although the Kings’ immediate, on-ice response was good.
Just over a minute after the devastating injury to Williams, the Kings took the lead. Dustin Brown chased a puck down in the corner and fed it out to Davis Drewiske. Bryzgalov made the save on Drewiske's point shot, but Brown skated in front and knocked in the rebound at the 5:49 mark for a 1-0 Kings lead.
The Coyotes tied the game 8:45 into the first period. The Kings killed a penalty, but the Coyotes kept the pressure on. Robert Lang skated the puck into the corner, then fed a pass to Adrian Aucoin in the high slot. Aucoin's shot beat Quick to tie the game.
Phoenix took the lead on perhaps the oddest play of the Kings' season. Off a faceoff in the Kings' zone, the puck popped in the air right in front of the Kings' goal. Rob Scuderi attempted to handle it, but the puck tipped off the front of Scuderi's glove and into the Kings' net, with 6:04 left in the second period.
Martin Hanzal, who took the faceoff for the Coyotes, was credited with the goal.
The Kings tied the game on the power play, 3:58 into the third period. Kopitar shot from just above the top of the left circle and Handzus, parked in front of the net, got the tip-in.
``As bad as we played in the first two periods, we were still only one behind,’’ Kopitar said. ``We tied it up, but then it was the same story again. We just make it too hard on ourselves, with our turnovers and not-strong plays at the blue line, getting pucks in deep.’’
The Coyotes scored the game-winning goal 9:20 into the third period, as Yandle, a defenseman, joined the play and got rewarded, after a tentative, offensive-zone play by Kings rookie center Corey Elkins led to a Coyotes breakout.
Yandle took a pass from Peter Mueller in the Kings’ zone and shot. Quick made the save, but Yandle got around Drewiske in front of the net, picked up his rebound and scored before Quick could recover.
``It's one of those things where everyone needs to focus on what they need to do,’’ Brown said. ``Short shifts are especially important after a layoff like that, and keeping it simple.
``Tonight, there were a couple instances when we made it really hard on ourselves. They had us in our own zone, running around, numerous times, partly because they protected the puck well, but a lot of times we had the puck originally and lost it.’’
1 - 0 LAK
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 PHX
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 PHX
Interference on goalkeeper