It was almost as though the Kings made a wish list Tuesday morning, and their hopes came to pass.
Scoring from the blue line? A multi-point game from Dustin Penner? Success on the power play? A strong, gritty bounce-back after a potentially devastating blown first-period lead?
The Kings didn’t solve all their issues in Tuesday night’s 4-3 victory over the Nashville Predators, in front of 17,963 at STAPLES Center, but at least they provided themselves with something of a road map. What do the Kings need to do to escape their doldrums? For the most part, what they did against the Predators
In the morning, coach Terry Murray stressed the need for defensive scoring. Well, less than five minutes into the game, Alec Martinez scored his first goal of the season. Less than two minutes after that, Drew Doughty scored his first goal of the season to give the Kings an early 2-0 lead.
Nashville tied the game quickly, with two first-period goals, but instead of folding -- in the middle of a five-game winless streak -- the Kings rebounded and got a boost from an unlikely source.
Penner, with one assist in his first 12 games, got the second assist on Mike Richards’ gorgeous from-a-nee one-timer, which gave the Kings a 3-2. Then came the big goal, as Penner’s shot was deflected into the Nashville net by Simon Gagne, with 7:27 remaining in the second, to give the Kings a two-goal lead.
``Whatever (funk) I was in, I’m glad I’m out of it now,’’ Penner said. ``It wasn’t for lack of trying, and doing everything outside of the game to get ready. There were a few injuries that didn’t help me, and maybe got inside my head, but now everything is feeling great.’’
This time, the Kings didn’t lose the lead -- although the Predators scored a late goal to make it interesting at 4-3 -- and goalie Jonathan Bernier continued his run of fortune against Nashville.
Bernier now has 16 career NHL wins, and five of them have come against the Predators. Bernier, who hadn’t started since Oct. 25 against New Jersey, had lost his two previous starts this season, when he received a combined total of only two goals in support, but it was a different story Tuesday.
Bernier wasn’t at his sharpest early, when he allowed two first-period goals, but then the Predators didn’t get on the scoreboard again until less than two minutes remained in the third period. The Predators had 30 shots on goal but the Kings did a solid job of limiting quality scoring chances after the first period.
``I felt pretty good,’’ Bernier said. ``I’ve been really working hard in practice, to get my game at a high level. It’s not easy, but obviously to get a two-goal lead helps a little bit.’’
Then there’s the offense. The Kings had scored more than two regulation goals in only two of their first 14 games this season, so Tuesday’s four-goal output felt like an avalanche of offense. Penner, Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams each had two assists.
The Kings might have benefited a bit from the fact that the Predators play Wednesday night in Anaheim, so they decided to give backup goalie Anders Lindback his first start of the season, in place of Pekka Rinne, who was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season. The Kings didn’t take long to get to Lindback.
The Kings killed an early penalty, then took the lead with a power-play goal 4:29 into the first period. Justin Williams made a cross-ice pass to Martinez, who shot and scored from the right faceoff dot for his first goal of the season. Stoll also got an assist, for his 300th career NHL point.
Just 1:44 after one Kings defenseman scored his first goal of the season, so did another, as Doughty gave the Kings a 2-0 lead 6:13 into the game. Doughty fired a high slap shot from above the top of the right circle and beat Lindback. Stoll and Kyle Clifford got assists.
``It was about time,’’ Doughty said. ``I’ve had a bunch of chances and the puck just wasn’t going in for me. Stolly made a great play, to find me in the high slot there, and I just fired it on net with a screen and hoped for the best, and luckily it went in.’’
Nashville halved the Kings' lead with 9:19 remaining in the first period with a 4-on-4 goal. A play from behind the Kings' net failed, but the puck stayed free and Matt Halischuk picked it up in the right circle and fired a high shot to the far corner to beat Bernier. Shea Weber got an assist.
The Predators tied the game with a power-play goal with 3:58 remaining in the period. Craig Smith picked off a Kings clearing attempt inside the blue line, took a couple strides and then cleanly whipped a wrist shot past Bernier to tie the game 2-2 with an unassisted goal.
The Kings got the lead back 9:28 into the second period on a counter-attack. Dustin Brown carried the puck up the left side, then passed all the way across the ice. Richards went down to a knee and ripped a one-time shot past Lindback to give the Kings a 3-2 lead. Penner also got an assist.
One second after the end of a power play, the Kings took a 4-2 lead on Simon Gagne's goal, with 7:27 remaining in the second period. Justin Williams worked the puck out of the corner to Penner, who shot from near the top of the left circle. Gagne, in front of the net, deflected the puck past Lindback.
The Predators pulled Lindback in the final two minutes, and almost immediately scored a goal to pull within 4-3. Patric Hornqvist, in front of the net, deflected in Ryan Suter's point shot with 1:21 remaining. Martin Erat also got an assist.
``The effort was really good,’’ Murray said. ``You are playing a game last night in San Jose, a hard game, and you’ve got a team that’s sitting here fresh, watching the game on television, and I thought we came out and played a real good first period. I liked the energy, I liked the compete, I liked the tempo and the attitude that we started the game with, and it had a little ebb and flow, I thought, but at the end of the day the compete was very good.’’