By all accounts, Jonathan Quick reported to training camp this year in outstanding shape, looking slimmer and more defined in his upper body, well prepared for the rigors of an NHL season.
That’s a good thing, given that Quick has already carried the Kings on his shoulders twice in three games this season, including Tuesday, when he made 31 saves in their 3-1 victory over Atlanta before a sellout crowd in the home opener at STAPLES Center.
Ryan Smyth scored two third-period goals – one into an empty net with 30 seconds remaining – and also assisted on Jarret Stoll’s go-ahead third-period goal as the Kings won their opener at STAPLES Center for the first time since 2006.
The Kings trailed 1-0 after two periods and rallied to win, just as they did in Saturday’s season opener at Vancouver, and just as in that game, Quick was a rock in goal.
Looking composed and consistent, Quick allowed only Chris Thorburn’s second-period goal – attributed mostly to a defensive breakdown in front of Quick – and held up perfectly under some intense Atlanta pressure late in the third period, with the Kings nursing a one-goal lead.
``He had a great experience, playing as many games as he did last year, through the playoffs,’’ Kings coach Terry Murray said, ``and it's important for a young player to be able to reflect on that in the offseason and bring it to your game. I think he clearly has done that. He came in in unbelievable shape, physical shape, and mentally he has taken the next step. He showed it in his game tonight. Very under control.’’
As usual, Quick deflected praise to his teammates, and to an extent, it was deserved. The Kings continued their strong play on the penalty kill, as they killed all five Atlanta power plays, including three in the first 13 minutes of the first period.
Quick has now allowed only two goals in six periods this season, and backup Jonathan Bernier also played well Sunday when he allowed two goals in a loss to Calgary.
``We need to cut back in the number of goals allowed, compared to last year, and part of that was my fault, obviously,’’ Quick said. ``We've done a great job so far, in these first couple games. Bernie [Bernier] played great in Calgary and we've had some great team defense.
``The team has been playing great defense, our penalty kill has been playing well and I know it is only three games, but it's something to build off and continue on Friday.’’
The Kings eventually got the offense going in support of Quick, and it came from a somewhat unlikely source in Smyth, who was dropped to the second line Tuesday.
Smyth had gone without a point in the first two games, despite a couple quality scoring chances near the net, and was removed from the first line in favor of rookie Andrei Loktionov. Smyth instead formed a line with center Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams, and the three veterans looked comfortable together.
``I don't want to say `worry,' but I was thinking about it,’’ Smyth said of not scoring in the first two games. ``It weighs on you a bit, but if you're not getting the chances, then you start to worry a little bit more. But I was getting the chances the last couple games, and they just weren't going in, for whatever reason. But I got a nice one tonight, just a lucky bounce. It came to me, and obviously an open net.’’
The first period was scoreless, although the Kings had to kill off three minor penalties in the first 11 minutes.
Atlanta broke a scoreless tie 2:26 into the second period. Chris Thorburn got off a shot, in the slot between two Kings defenders, and Quick made the save but pushed the rebound to his left. Thorburn beat Kings defenseman Davis Drewiske to the puck and shot the rebound past Quick.
After two periods of frustration, the Kings broke through and tied the game 3:53 into the third period. Williams, parked in front of the net, got a deflection on Anze Kopitar's centering pass, then Smyth knocked in the puck from close range to the left of the net.
``It was people commiting to getting to the front of the net,'' Kings captain Dustin Brown said. ``You get bodies around and, if you want to score, you've got to get to the net. That's something each individual player has to take responsibility for, especially if you want to score goals.
``Smytty's goal, Willy actually makes the goal happen, because he's in front of the net and the puck gets there and it squirts out and another guy is there to get it. We need to continue and build on that, getting guys to the net, because you're not going to score goals without guys in front.''
The Kings didn't wait long to get their second goal. Stoll took the puck up the right side and fired on net. The shot deflected quickly off Atlanta defenseman Ron Hainsey and beat goalie Chris Mason to the far post 6:10 into the third period. Smyth and Willie Mitchell picked up assists.
Smyth added an empty-net goal with 29.8 seconds remaining.
1 - 0 ATL
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 LAK
3 - 1 LAK
Closing hand on puck
Delaying Game-Puck over glass