Goaltending and special teams. Playoff teams, and playoff wins, are built around those two areas, and Saturday afternoon’s game had the feel of a postseason affair.
The Kings got a power-play goal, a shorthanded goal and killed a 5-on-3 disadvantage late in the third period, and got outstanding play in goal throughout all of it, as they held on for a 2-1 victory over the Washington Capitals before 18,118 at STAPLES Center.
Michal Handzus scored a shorthanded goal, 2:50 into the third period, to break a 1-1 tie and give the Kings a second consecutive victory. But even with his big goal, Handzus wasn’t even one of the Kings’ top three players in the game.
Those would be, in no particular order, center Brad Richardson, goalie Jonathan Quick and defenseman Drew Doughty, all three of whom had hands in controlling Washington, the highest-scoring team in the NHL, and superstar forward Alexander Ovechkin.
Ovechkin had a game-high seven shots on goal but was rarely a threat. That’s a credit to Quick, who made one brilliant save on Ovechkin, in particular, in the third period; to Doughty, who (while paired with Rob Scuderi) largely kept Ovechkin under wraps; and to Richardson, who absorbed a hit from Ovechkin and made a game-winning play.
The Kings could have been in trouble when Ryan Smyth was called for boarding less than three minutes into the third period of a tie game. But Richardson got the puck deep into the Capitals’ zone, then battled for it.
Ovechkin delivered a hit, but Richardson maintained control and centered the puck to Handzus, who found himself all alone in front of goalie Michal Neuvirth. Handzus showed poise, moved to his left, and beat Neuvirth with a high shot. The shorthanded goal came 2:50 into the period and held up as the game-winner.
``I was surprised he stayed on his feet, because he took a big hit from Ovechkin on the play,’’ Kings coach Terry Murray said of Richardson. ``He hung in there and did a great job finding Zeus off that weak side.
``But from the start, just coming into the zone with speed and his foot quickness and getting the puck into the right areas, staying with it, it was obviously a tremendous play, to see him dig in. That's the way he's been playing for me, in my mind, the last 20 games.’’
That was enough for Quick, who a day earlier – along with teammates Dustin Brown and Jack Johnson, was named to the United States Olympic team.
Quick didn’t have to work much in the first period, when Washington had only four shots on goal, but had to be near-perfect in the final 40 minutes. He was, allowing only Mike Green’s second-period power-play goal, and Quick finished with 26 saves.
``He played fantastic,’’ Doughty said of Quick. ``He has stolen so many games for us this year. He has probably been our MVP this year. Quicker has been great and he just keeps on doing this for us. You've got to give him credit.’’
All of the Kings had to be fantastic at one point in the third period. Johnson got called for cross-checking, and then Sean O’Donnell went off for clearing the puck over the glass, which gave the Capitals a 5-on-3 advantage for 53 seconds.
The Capitals got only one shot on goal, and the threat ended when Jason Chimera was called for holding with seven seconds remaining in the Capitals’ power play. Against Washington’s power-play unit, which has the second-highest success rate in the NHL this season, the Kings’ penalty-kill unit went 4-for-5.
``The PK has been really good for the last 20 games, probably,’’ Murray said. ``They've done a tremendous job blocking, sacrificing, blocking shots and, again, a lot of it goes to the goaltender. The save percentage in the penalty-kill situations is much improved.
``But the 5-on-3, less is best sometimes. Just get big bodies in the shot lanes and discourage them from shooting. The veterans did a great job in that area tonight.’’
The Kings played their best, overall, in the first period. The Kings failed to score on their first two power plays of the first period, but came through on their third power play.
Smyth scored a Smyth-type goal with 59 seconds remaining in the first period, on the power play. Anze Kopitar shot the puck in from the right side, and Smyth, parked in front, whacked at it and put it past goalie Neuvirth. Doughty also got an assist.
The Kings finished the first period with a 12-4 edge in shots. The Capitals got their third shot on goal 4:15 into the period, but had only one shot the rest of the way.
The Capitals tied the game 2:13 into the second period with a power-play goal, as Green drew the penalty -- Scott Parse, for tripping -- and scored the goal. Green's slap shot from near the top of the right circle beat Quick. The Capitals controlled the second period and outshot the Kings 13-3, but the Kings were able to respond.
``I think that's just maturing,’’ Richardson said. ``We've had a lot of talks, and we have a lot of veteran leaders. A guy like (Sean) O'Donnell, he comes in here and settles us down. We had an awful second period. That was pretty clear.
``We didn't have much going, but we came in here and talked it out. Coach came in and settled us down, and we had a pretty solid third period.’’
Handzus gave the Kings the lead with a shorthanded goal 2:50 into the third period. Brad Richardson did some strong dirty work behind the Washington net, won the puck and fed a centering pass to Handzus, who was all alone in front. Handzus showed great patience and eventually roofed a shot into the Capitals' net.
Then it was all up to Quick, who, in his last 16 games, has a 10-5-1 record, a 2.28 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage. Quick was at his best Saturday, but, typically, deflected the praise to teammates.
``Our penalty kill, I think you have to start with them,’’ Quick said. ``They were great all night. We did a great job of keeping the puck off Ovechkin's stick. He loves those one-timers, and I don't think he had too many of those. I think, with the 4-on-5 unit we had going, we built momentum off that. Zeus had a great goal there, shorthanded, and we did a great job there at the end, stopping them from tying it up.’’
LAKings.com's NOTES Today was the third straight sellout (sixth overall this season)
...The Kings are 6-1-1 in their last eight home games
...The Kings have killed 32 of their last 36 penalties in the last nine games (88.9 percent).
... They have killed 13 of their last 14 penalties
...Today was only the third time Washington has been held to fewer than two goals
...Michal Handzus scored his 16th career short-handed goal (fifth with the Kings)
...Handzus now has four game-winning goals this season (he had four last season as well)
...Jonathan Quick in 10-5-1 with a 2.28 GAA and .920 save percentage in his last 16 games
...Brad Richardson has seven points in the last seven games (2-5=7)