NASHVILLE -- Say this much for the Kings: they're never an ``average'' team these days.
Monday's impressive win at Detroit was followed by a dreadful loss Thursday to St. Louis. Saturday? The Nashville Predators served as the proverbial bug to the Kings' windshield, as the Kings scored four first-period goals and won 6-1 at Bridgestone Arena.
Jonathan Bernier made 29 saves in his first start since Nov. 24 and the Kings tied their season highs for goals scored and margin of victory. The Kings did exactly what they didn't do two nights earlier in St. Louis, jumping on a team that played the previous night and essentially putting the game out of reach before it was half finished.
``We were disappointed with our last game, in St. Louis,'' Smyth said, ``and we wanted to come out with a little conviction tonight. I thought we did that right from the outset. Obviously, (getting a goal) 15 seconds into the game, that gives the team a boost.''
The Kings' hard-to-figure road trip rolls on after what was, at least on paper, one of their least likely wins of the season, given all that seemed to be in the Predators' favor.
Nashville entered with an 8-0-2 record in its last 10 games, including five consecutive home wins. Nashville had allowed a total of five goals in its last five games and starting goalie Anders Lindback had allowed a total of nine goals in his previous seven games.
The Predators, coming off a victory over New Jersey the previous night, still had the national anthem ringing in their ears Saturday night when the Kings took the lead, and they never lost it.
Williams scored 15 seconds into the game, the Kings had a 3-0 lead before the first period was half finished and Lindback had a seat on the bench, replaced by rookie Mark Dekanich after allowing three goals on the first nine shots he faced.
``We got some balanced scoring here tonight,'' Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``We needed to get something going. We needed to bounce back from a game that we were not happy with, and everybody started the right way and did the right things throughout.
``What I liked was that through the game, even in the third period, we stayed on page and executed and work on your game. There was a consistency throughout the 60 minutes that was good for us.''
The Kings led 4-1 after the first period -- their first four-goal period of the season -- and led 5-1 less than four minutes into the second period. Because the NHL mandated it, the teams played the final 36 minutes, but little doubt remained as to the game's outcome.
Nashville was the KIngs' third opponent in the last six days, and the three games could hardly have been much different. The only common theme was goal scoring, as the Kings have totaled 15 goals in their last three games, including four power-play goals.
``In the game at St. Louis, we battled back into it, then we just sort of didn't push back when they did,'' Smyth said. ``Meaning all of the forwards. We didn't execute what we were capable of doing. Where we're effective as a group of forwards is behind their net and at their net, and I thought every line was doing that tonight.''
In Detroit, the Kings scored five times and got a brilliant 51-save effort from Jonathan Quick. In St. Louis, they slumbered in all areas of a 6-4 loss and, after the game, an irritated Murray called out his veteran players for their efforts against the Blues.
Saturday's game, to be fair, was against a Nashville team that had played in New Jersey the previous night, but Nashville had been 3-1-1 in the second of back-to-back games.
``It was huge,'' Doughty said. ``We all knew that they played last night and that they had to fly back from New Jersey, so it was definitely in our game plan to jump all over them from the start, from that first shift. We got that early goal and that just kept us rolling. We didn't sit back after that. We just continued to keep staying on them, and that's why the score was the way it was.''
One of the players publicly flogged by Murray after the St. Louis game was Ponikarovsky, who lost his spot as the third-line left winger to Clifford and began Saturday's game on the fourth line with Lewis and enforcer Kevin Westgarth.
Ponikarovsky responded with his strongest all-around game of the season, and his hard work led directly to the goal he scored and the one on which he assisted.
``Well basically, I know what needs to be done,'' Ponikarovsky said. ``I just have to put my mind in it. It's the coaches' decision, and they have to do whatever they can to improve the team. So that's basically the call from the coaching staff, and you have to do stuff on a consistent basis. You just have to react to it and play hard and continue to do that.''
Asked about Ponikarovsky's improved play, Murray noted that linemates don't have to determine how well a player performs on the ice. A fourth-line player can impress, and did.
``I kind of liked that line tonight. I might just keep it together for a little while longer and see if they can build on it,'' Murray said. ``He played well. On the first goal that (the line) scored, he had the puck on his stick for as long as he's had it for quite a while.
``Holding on, using his body, speed, trying to make things happen in the offensive zone. So it was a real solid game from him and the line.''
Smyth also wasn't at his best against the Blues, but responded with his second two-goal game of the season and now has a total of four goals in his last four games.
One of Smyth's goals came on the power play, and he now has three power-play goals in his last four games. The Kings' power play, which had slipped to 27th in the NHL at one point, has now scored four goals in its last 11 chances, which are strong numbers.
Of course, nobody benefitted from all of this more than Bernier, who got to stand at the other end of the ice and watch his teammates celebrate goals every few minutes.
Bernier had to work for stretches in the first period, when the Predators actually outshot the Kings 14-12. But the second and third periods didn't require much from Bernier, who won after sitting out the previous eight games following his Nov. 24 loss to Montreal.
Jonathan Quick is expected to be back in goal Sunday at Chicago, but the Kings would like nothing more than to see Bernier prove himself worthy of more playing time.
``It's been a while since he played,'' Murray said. ``It's very hard to come into those situations, but he played good. Nashville has got a lot of firepower. They've got a lot of big guys on the blue line who can really pound the puck. You've got to work to find (the puck). They get traffic, and he worked hard here tonight. It was a good win.''
Bernier improved to 3-0 all-time against Nashville and has allowed only two goals in nine periods against the Predators.
``You know, I don't feel any different than in other cities,'' Bernier said. ``I guess it just goes that way. Offensively, I think, there were some goals that we scored that, I don't know how they got in, but I think our forecheck was really good. We cycled the puck, and that was our game plan. They played last night and our guys did a good job.''
The Kings, without injured defensemen Matt Greene (upper body) and Willie Mitchell (lower body) had a young corps of defensemen, but it hardly mattered on Saturday.
The Kings wasted little time in taking the lead, as they scored 15 seconds into the game. Doughty made a pass to Brown, who carried the puck up the right side. Williams went to the front of the net and Brown's pass deflected off a Nashville player and onto Williams' stick, and Williams scored from close range to make it 1-0.
You've got to come out with a good start,'' Murray said, ``and Brownie made a powerful play, just carrying the puck down the right wing, getting it to the net to give ourselves an opportunity to get something happening. That was the right attitude, that was the right start and, again, we stayed on page for the 60 minutes.''
The Kings took a 2-0 lead at the 8:49 mark. Ponikarovsky did some strong work down low, then had the puck in the high-slot area. His pass attempt got deflected by Nashville's J-P Dumont, onto the stick of Lewis, who alertly and quickly slipped a shot past Lindback. Kevin Westgarth also got an assist.
The teams then traded goals within 24 seconds in the middle part of the period.
Doughty gave the Kings a 3-0 lead at the 9:59 mark, and chased Lindback from the game. Wayne Simmonds took the puck to the net and a save was made, but the puck came free in the slot and Doughty knocked it in. Michal Handzus also picked up an assist and Lindback was replaced by Dekanich after allowing three goals on nine shots.
Dekanich, making his NHL debut, had barely warmed up when the Predators made it 3-1. After a deflection in front, Steve Sullivan picked up the loose puck and beat Bernier with a close-range backhand shot with 9:37 remaining in the first period.
A power-play goal allowed the Kings to regain their three-goal lead. Jarret Stoll's point shot was deflected by both Brown and Nashville defenseman Kevin Klein on the way to the net before Smyth deflected it into the air and past Dekanich. The Kings had their first four-goal period of the season.
The goals continued in the second period as the Kings took a 5-1 lead at the 3:43 mark. Moller started the play when he stripped Nashville's Shane O'Brien of the puck behind the Nashville net. Moller brought it out front, and Lewis got his stick on the puck in front of the net. Ponikarovsky, stationed in front of Dekanich, knocked the puck down and over the line.
With 3:56 remaining in the second period, the Kings tied their season high with their sixth goal of the game. Smyth, behind the net, fanned on a centering pass, but the puck still found the stick off Stoll in front. Stoll's shot was saved, but Smyth whacked the rebound out of the air and had the puck deflect off Dekanich's pad and into the net. Moller also got an assist on Smyth's second goal of the game.
The Kings outshot the Predators 14-6 in the second period and were able to essentially cruise through the final 20 scoreless minutes.
``That's huge,'' Doughty said, ``because a lot of times, in the past, in my first two years here, we would be up by a couple goals and then we'd start to sit back and we'd let teams back into the game. Tonight, obviously we didn't let them do that. We let them get that one, but right after that we were right back to it, and did the little things that were working for us in the first.''
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