DALLAS – How would the Kings look after their two-week break? How would Jonathan Quick play, after not having much game or practice time recently? How would Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson play, after logging major minutes during the Olympics?
The answers, respectively: Good, great and fantastic.
The Kings had a near-perfect scenario play out Tuesday night, as they turned in a strong effort against an opponent that didn’t look ready to play, and the Kings cruised to a 5-1 victory over the Dallas Stars before an announced 15,571 at American Airlines Center.
The victory, coupled with Phoenix’s loss to St. Louis, allowed the Kings to pass the Coyotes for fourth place in the Western Conference with 20 games remaining.
``Well this was clearly a big game here,’’ Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``Coming back, first of all, after the Olympic break, and both teams are coming off four or five practices. We look at the standings and we know the situation. Every game is going to squeeze somebody in the conference and, again, our game here tonight was important. We try to put a little bit of separation, if we can, and we got it done.’’
The win had further significance. With his 31-save effort, Quick set a Kings single-season goalie record with his 36th win of the season, one more than Mario Lessard totaled in 1980-81. Quick also recorded an assist for his second career point.
``I think right now it just means that that's what it took to get into (fourth) place at this point,’’ Quick said. ``We've still got a long road ahead of us. We can't get too complacent. We've got to focus on what's ahead of us and take one game at a time.’’
The victory also gave the Kings 80 points after 62 games. Last season, the Kings totaled 79 points in 82 games as they finished far out of the Western Conference playoff race.
``I think it's just the build-up from last year,’’ center Anze Kopitar said. ``Last year we played some good hockey and we got to 79 (points) but we obviously missed the playoffs. To be good in this league, you have to stay consistent. I've said it many times before, but it is what it is.
``Even if I go back to my first year, we split the Anaheim series 4-4, and they won the Stanley Cup. Everybody can beat everybody, and it's just a matter of staying consistent.’’
This season, the Kings have largely done that, and Doughty, Johnson and Quick – along with Alexander Frolov – provided a clear example Tuesday of why things are different.
Frolov had arguably his best game of the season, and left town with a much better memory of Dallas. The Kings’ previous trip to Dallas marked the low point of Frolov’s season, when Murray made him a healthy scratch on Oct. 19.
This time, Frolov showed fire from the opening faceoff. He got rewarded with a second-period goal and two assists and was named the game’s first star.
``Fro had a good game,’’ Murray said. ``He was very strong on the puck. He just followed through with the kind of effort we've seen in the last several days of practice. He's been tremendous with his hard work and getting himself prepared to give this kind of an effort. He's certainly a world-class player in my mind.
``He's a (former) 30-goal scorer, and this is an incredibly important month for us, with 20 games now, and we need our best players to step up like that.’’
Jarret Stoll, Brad Richardson, Ryan Smyth and Kopitar also scored, as the Kings built a 4-0 lead in the second period and never looked back, but the game’s biggest stars were three players on the back end, all of whom happened to be Olympians.
Doughty (Canada) and Johnson (United States) were opponents on Sunday in the Olympic gold-medal game. Back with the Kings this week, they were made defensive partners by Murray, who wanted to get a long look at his young defensemen together.
It worked out great. While some of the other Kings were playing their way back into form after the two-week break, Doughty and Johnson looked every bit as strong as they did during the Olympics. Doughty had three assists and Johnson had two.
``He had a great game. He had the puck a lot. He made some really good plays,’’ Murray said. ``I remember him having the puck a lot tonight. He was sharp and alert. He brought great focus again. I clearly was concerned about the Olympians coming back, and a step back in their intensity, but everyone was on board and on page here tonight.’’
Each defenseman logged approximately 27 minutes of ice time.
``I think it's probably the right thing to do,’’ Doughty said of the big minutes. ``A lot of guys were off for 10 days, so they maybe need (fewer minutes) and we've been going. It was good to kind of keep playing.’’
All of the Kings were fairly strong early, as the Kings started the game strong against a Dallas team that seemed a step slow. The Kings got rewarded for their play early.
Frolov corralled a puck behind the net, and didn't score on a wraparound attempt, but Stoll crashed the net from the right side and knocked the puck past Marty Turco at the 5:44 mark.
The Kings took a 2-0 lead 3:15 into the second period. Doughty took a shot from the top of the right circle, through traffic, and Frolov took advantage from the front of the net, as he controlled the rebound and scored on a backhand.
Richardson scored the goal that gave the Kings a 3-0 lead, but Doughty did the work. Doughty's end-to-end rush started the play, as he carried the puck behind the Dallas net, then wide, then centered to Richardson, who scored from close range. Quick also got an assist on the goal with 8:23 remaining in the second period.
The Kings took a 4-0 lead with a power-play goal with 2:14 remaining in the second period. Frolov took the puck wide, down low, and centered to Smyth, who was parked directly in front of the net. Smyth scored from close range as Frolov recorded his third point of the night. Oscar Moller also got an assist.
Quick lost his shutout bid 5:19 into the third period, when Mike Ribeiro scored a power-play goal. Ribeiro carried the puck inside the blue line, cut inside against Rob Scuderi, then put a fake on Sean O'Donnell and beat Quick with a wrist shot.
1 - 0 LAK
2 - 0 LAK
3 - 0 LAK