The beauty of sports is that the plot is never predetermined. At any moment, the script can flip.
Most bets would have been on a wide-open, high-scoring game between the Kings and Tampa Bay Lightning, but what developed instead was a tight-checking, hard-hitting, acrimonious game with a playoff atmosphere, and the Kings landed the lone big blow in a 1-0 victory before a sellout crowd of 18,118 at STAPLES Center.
The Kings improved to 9-3-0 behind Justin Williams’ third-period goal – he has now scored a goal in four consecutive games – and the first shutout of the season for goalie Jonathan Quick (24 saves).
Beyond that, though, the Kings maintained their poise, stood up for each other and played with structure in an early November game that had a playoff feel. The Kings and Lightning entered the game tied for the most points in the NHL this season.
Dustin Brown took a scary first-period hit from Mattias Ohlund, but got up. Anze Kopitar got driven into the boards in the second period by Mathieu Roy, but got up. Finally, Willie Mitchell – not exactly a well-known pugilist – had seen enough and fought Tampa Bay agitator Steve Downie, a moment that seemed to galvanize the Kings.
``I thought it was great,’’ Williams said. ``It was a really fun game. Everyone was into it on our bench. Everyone was yelling, and usually when everyone is yelling, that means guys are into the game, guys are focused, guys are intense.’’
The game featured a combined total of only 50 shots on goal, but had 65 recorded hits.
The object of much of the Kings’ ire, Downie, got a misconduct penalty at the end of his fight with Mitchell – presumably for his colorful language after the fight had been broken up – and the game threatened to get nasty at times. Tampa Bay was also upset with Drew Doughty’s open-ice hit on Downie, which resulted in a charging penalty.
``I think it got a little out of hand,’’ Kings captain Dustin Brown said. ``The refs tried to, I guess, keep it in hand. Everyone knows that Downie is what he is. It started pretty early on, and if you keep a guy like that in the game, it's going to escalate, and it kind of boiled over tonight.
``At the end of the day, he got (kicked) out of the game with about five minutes left. We knew that going in, and we tried to make it a non-issue. He wants to act like that, and try to get us off our game, and I thought we did a pretty good job of ignoring him, even with all the stuff he was trying to do out there.''
The rough play obscured, a bit, two strong efforts from Kings players who have been outstanding in the first month of the season: Quick and Williams.
Quick improved his personal record to 8-1-0 this season, and while the Kings’ defense did a solid job of limiting Tampa Bay’s quality scoring chances, Quick also deftly dealt with traffic in front of the net and again was a stabilizing presence.
Quick raised his save percentage to .942 and had his ninth career shutout.
``The defense was great in front of me, and I was able to see the puck,’’ Quick said. ``There were a couple (shots) early on that I really wasn't too happy with, a couple rebounds I let get away from me, but I was fortunate enough that the team defense stepped up and cleared them out before they scored.
``Then late in the game, in the third period, we played real tight. We didn't allow much and we got a big goal in the third period for a great two points.''
That big goal came courtesy of Williams, and some smart thinking from Ryan Smyth on another strong play from a line that has been the Kings’ most productive this season.
Just over five minutes into the third period, Roy’s outlet-pass attempt deflected off the skate of teammate Dana Tyrell, who was apparently unaware the puck was coming.
Smyth picked up the puck, quickly spotted Williams alone in the offensive zone and whipped an accurate pass. Williams kept the puck steady as he did a quick spin move in front of the net and beat goalie Mike Smith from close range.
``Sometimes just have a way of happening out there,’’ Williams said. ``Smytty made a great pass to me, and it's just the way I was positioned. I felt that was my only move. Fortunately it went in. He didn't poke-check me or anything like that. It was a huge goal for us.’’
Williams, who had 10 goals in 49 games last season – a season cut nearly in half by a devastating leg injury – now has six goals in 12 games this season. Williams’ four-game goal streak also matches the longest of his career.
Doughy, who missed the previous six games due to concussion symptoms, returned to the lineup and played a team-high 24 minutes, 44 seconds, with three blocked shots.
Wrist shot -
1 - 0 LAK
Misconduct (10 min)
Martin St. Louis