The Kings' Christmas gift? Two points, and three spots in the conference standings.
Such is life in the Western Conference this season, in which one victory -- even with the midway point of the season rapidly approaching -- can change a team's fortunes dramatically. That worked in the Kings' favor Thursday night.
Jarret Stoll scored in the sixth round of the shootout, and Jonathan Quick remained perfect in the shootout this season and the Kings gritted out a 3-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers before a sellout crowd of 18,118 at STAPLES Center.
``They're in the bank,'' Kings forward Justin Williams said of the two points for the win. ``We’re in the win column. They’re a team that has got a lot of skill and if you don’t respect them, they’re going to make you pay. Obviously we didn’t have the best game, but at the end we had our big players step up and score some goals and Quickie made some great saves to get two points, two very important points.''
Williams tied the game 1-1 in the second period and Jack Johnson tied it 2-2 early in the third period, just 20 seconds after the Oilers took the lead. The Kings improved to 12-2-1 at home this season and won for the third time in their last four games.
With the victory, the Kings moved from ninth place to sixth place in the Western Conference standings and gave Terry Murray his 100th win as Kings coach. Murray became the fastest coach in Kings history to reach 100 wins, with a 100-76-21 record in 197 games. The previous fastest was Tom Webster, with 211 games.
``I don't know. It doesn't feel any different,'' Murray said. ``It was a good win for us. It was a very hard, very difficult for us tonight. It's the same old thing, though. You come back after a long road trip, five games, and that next game at home is hard. Then you're playing a team that you're supposed to beat easily, and it was a grind.''
Win No. 100 probably isn't one that Murray will remember particularly fondly, given that the Kings were sloppy for much of the game and had to rally from deficits in the second period (1-0) and third period (2-1) but they managed a win nonetheless.
``These points, right up to the All-Star game, are huge in here,'' Kings center Anze Kopitar said. ``After the All-Star game, everything tightens up and points are hard to come by. Right now we’re fortunate to play nine out of 11 at home, and these are going to be big games for us.''
The first game back after a long road trip can be tough on a home team, and they don't get a lot tougher than the five-game, 10-day trip from which the Kings just returned.
That makes it easier to understand how, and why, the Kings might have set an unofficial team record for ``most passes into skates,'' but in the end, Quick was sharp -- particularly in the shootout, as usual -- and the Kings got the one bounce they needed.
After Dustin Brown scored in the third round of the shootout to force sudden death, both goalies made two saves. Then, Stoll had his shot stopped by Devan Dubnyk, but Dubnyk couldn't hold the puck and it trickled behind him and over the line.
Quick then stopped Andrew Cogliano to give the Kings the extra point and the win against an Edmonton team that is in last place in the topsy-turvy Western Conference.
``A lot of guys dug in in the third period,'' Murray said. ``The last three, four shifts of the second period, it started, and carried through for the last 20 minutes. So it's great to get the two points out of it. It was a hard one.''
Points are always important, of course, but given what the Kings will be facing in the near future, having two points in the bank felt even better than usual.
After the NHL-mandated two-day holiday break, the Kings face the rival Anaheim Ducks at STAPLES Center on Sunday. That starts a stretch in which the Kings play four games in five nights -- including two on the road -- and five games in seven nights.
The Kings are back in the conference playoff picture, which is a mental lift, but they know that with the toughest part of their schedule still to come, points at home are important.
``It's just a stepping-stone so far,'' Williams said. ``We’re a little over 30 games in. We’re almost halfway through. The grind of the season is coming up, and this is where I want to contribute the most, and be a very reliable player for us.''
Against the Oilers, the youngest team in the NHL -- in terms of average age -- and one of the fastest, the Kings seemed to struggle to keep pace for much of the game but never totally led Edmonton get control of the game.
After a scoreless first period, and after the Kings failed to score on a power play early in the second period, the Oilers struck first with a power-play goal 1:39 into the second period.
Edmonton rookie forward Taylor Hall carried the puck up the left side and, from the middle of the left circle, fired a wrist shot that went under Quick's pad and into the net. Sam Gagner and Ryan Whitney picked up assists.
``We came out a little slow,'' Kopitar said. ``The biggest thing is, they play with no pressure, they’re in the rebuilding phase and no one expects them to win. Obviously they have a lot of firepower and skill, and when they put it together they are hard to play against.''
The Kings tied the game with a power-play goal at the 8:31 mark.
Williams took a quick pass from Michal Handzus at the blue line and carried the puck into the Edmonton zone with speed, from the right side, and protected it on his backhand. Williams got around Ladislav Smid and scored from close range. Johnson picked up an assist as the Kings tied the game 1-1.
``That's something we've looked at (in practice),'' Williams said, ``but I can't tell you how hard that is, for Zeus to time that, to slow the puck down just enough so that I can skate into it. That's a pretty skilled move, and at the time it was obviously a big goal because they were kind of giving it to us a little bit.''
The teams traded goals within the first five minutes of the third period to make it a 2-2 game.
First, directly off a faceoff win, Theo Peckham fired a shot from the blue line, through significant traffic, and Jean-Francois Jacques was credited with the goal on a deflection in front.
Then, 20 seconds later, the Kings tied the game. Wayne Simmonds carried the puck to the net with speed, then got it back in the corner and fed a short pass to Johnson. Johnson whipped a wrist shot from the middle of the left circle and scored at the 4:45 mark.
``It was a great response on that second goal,'' Murray said. ``Once they had scored to go ahead, we came right back on the next shift. There was a lot of good energy. Simmonds did a nice job to maintain possession of the puck and find Jack for the shot. Then at the end, obviously Quick was huge for us and we got the win.''
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1 - 1 Tie
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