The Kings beat the Stars. The Stars beat the Kings. Back and forth, over and over.
In a game that will be remembered more for gritty and physical play than for the moments of individual skill, the Kings took a few punches but delivered the ones that counted as they beat Dallas 3-1 on Thursday night before a sellout crowd of 18,118 at STAPLES Center.
After the game, they pulled out the calculator and totaled up 91 penalty minutes, including four fights, one 10-minute misconduct and a game misconduct.
The Kings, collectively held their breath through a handful of scary hits, including one on Drew Doughty – recently recovered from a concussion – that caused Doughty’s helmet to pop off as he sprawled to the ice in the corner, and a big shoulder check on Jarret Stoll.
Somewhat amazingly, all of the Kings were on the ice for the end of the game, celebrating as the Kings improved to 7-0-0 at home this season and, one month into the season, maintained their hold on first place in the Western Conference. The Kings tied the franchise record for most consecutive home wins to start a season.
``These are big points and it’s going to keep going that way,’’ Kings defenseman Matt Greene said. ``We are playing a lot of teams that are really battling for points, especially in the division here. They've got a tough team, and nothing is going to be easy this year. We knew that going in. That's just the way it's going right now.''
``I think it’s going to be rough all year, when you’re in meaningful games. Teams are here to play, and that’s fine. I think we play good when it’s a physical game. We have some big bodies on this team and that’s what makes it fun. If you’re giving hits and taking hits, it gets you in the game right away and makes it interesting right away.’’
The rough stuff got started in the final minute of the first period, when Dallas’ James Neal delivered a big shoulder-to-shoulder hit on Stoll. Greene jumped Neal immediately, drawing an instigator penalty and a 10-minute misconduct.
In the second period, former Kings forward Brandon Segal took a boarding penalty, then got battered by Kings rookie Kyle Clifford in a fight. Davis Drewiske and Steve Ott battled in the period after Karlis Skrastins’ hit on Dustin Brown.
The third period was basically a penalty-box parade. At one point, 18 minutes’ worth of penalties were handed out in less than three minutes.
By that point, though, the Kings had scored the go-ahead goal, when Williams beat goalie Kari Lehtonen with a wrist shot at the 6:51 mark. Johnson added a power-play goal late, and the Kings killed five penalties to remain perfect on the penalty kill at home.
``That one shift, there were about 10 hits,’’ Brown said. ``We've got a big, strong team, and guys who can answer the bell when stuff like that happens. We go into those games and I think we do pretty well when it's physical like that. Tonight was one of those games, and I think we handled it pretty well.''
The nature of the game led to a legitimate question: are the Kings being targeted?
One of the NHL’s surprise teams last season, when they made the playoffs for the first time in eight years, the Kings entered this season with a different profile. In some circles, they were considered favorites to win the Pacific Division. Are teams trying to intimidate these Kings, push them around?
``The league is set up to be a very competitive league,’’ Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``There are going to be some teams out (of the playoffs) at the end of the year, that are some good hockey clubs, not making the playoffs. Everybody knows the value of what's here right now, and you're going to battle hard for it.
``I don't think anybody is necessarily taking a look at us and saying, `OK, we've got to go after them and try to intimidate them,' and we're not going to be intimidated. We were not last year, and we're not going to be this year.’’
It’s also hard to beat the Kings in the third period this season. They have outscored their opponents 16-8 in the third period this season, and they needed a strong final 20 minutes on Thursday, because the first two periods were a bit uneven.
The Kings played their first game without injured veterans Willie Mitchell (broken wrist) and Alexei Ponikarovksy (broken finger) and weren't always at their best but never trailed against the Stars.
Brown opened the scoring 6:13 into the first period. Scott Parse the puck behind the net to Anze Kopitar who took a peak at a wraparound attempt but instead centered the puck. Brown was there, and roofed a shot past Lehtonen from close range to give the Kings a 1-0 lead.
The Stars tied the game with 2:56 remaining in the first period. Doughty tried to chase down a puck in the defensive zone, but Dallas' Jamie Benn chipped it away from Doughty, picked it up and beat Quick from close range to make it 1-1.
There was plenty of action in the final minute of the first period, after Neal leveled Stoll with what seemed to be a lateral shoulder-to-shoulder hit.Greene jumped Neal and drew an instigator penalty and a 10-minute misconduct.
Stoll skated to the locker room in apparent discomfort but returned to the game at the start of the second period.
The Kings thought they had taken the lead late in the second period, when a deflection by Stoll found the back of the net, but officials immediately waved off the goal, citing goalie interference on the part of Williams, who clipped Lehtonen's pads before the puck reached the crease.
``It’s a pretty consistent call,'' Murray said. ``That happened to Ryan Smyth last year, I remember, in a game against Nashville. It was the same kind of look, where he went for the net. I have no problem with it. The goal was disallowed. You’ve just got to regroup and go out and play.''
The Kings took the lead 6:51 into the third period. Williams shot from the top of the left circle, with Ryan Smyth running significant traffic in front of the net, and the puck got past Lehtonen to give the Kings a 2-1 lead. Stoll and Johnson picked up assists.
After a wild stretch of third-period play, the Kings ended up with a five-minute power play after Adam Burish's hit on Doughty drew a boarding penalty and a game misconduct. The Kings scored, and took a 3-1 lead, when Johnson’s point shot found its way through traffic and beat Lehtonen with 2:48 remaining.
``No team is coming in here not expecting to have a hard game,'' Brown said. ``They’re coming in here with their best because they know we’ve been good, especially in the standings. We’re not going to catch anyone by surprise this year.''
The Kings went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill and have killed 17 consecutive penalties.
``The main thing about it is Quick and (Jonathan) Bernier,'' Greene said. ``They’re just playing extremely well. Quick has been our best penalty killer all year and Bernier, when he’s in the net, is playing great for us too.
``It’s easy when you’re playing in front of the goaltender when you’re not worried about giving up those shots. You can really let the goaltender handle some quality shots that you can give up and protect the rebound. That makes it a lot easier for the defense and the forwards. That’s going to be the key to the PK if he [Quick] keeps playing the way that he is.''
Wrist shot -