Kings Win Number One, Dispatch Coyotes 4-2
The defending Stanley Cup Champions finally have a win to call their own. It appears as though head coach Darryl Sutter was right all along—there was nothing to be overly concerned with. Except that power play, which once again failed to register a tally, bringing the team’s total man-advantage record to 0-23.
The Kings (1-2-1) defeated division rival Phoenix (1-4) by a score of 4-2 thanks to a number of offensive contributions at just the right time. That may seem a bit obvious and with a twinge of ease as they went against a career mediocre backup goaltender in Jason LaBarbera. Starter Mike Smith continues to nurse an injury. His return to play is uncertain at this point.
Anze Kopitar scored his first of the season less than a minute and a half into the second period to give his team a 1-0 lead. A shifty, top-heavy move influenced LaBarbera to fall out of position just before the puck reached the back of the net. One tying-score by the opposition a few moments later gave way to another goal from the Slovenian sensation to place Los Angeles back in the driver’s seat. This one came as a result of a well-timed trailer at the end of an offensive rush. A Justin Williams near-breakaway produced a seemingly innocent rebound until Kopitar had found his way to the puck for a relatively simple deposit and his second on the short season since returning from injury. It was these two goals from two almost entirely different chances which saw a fire being lit under the Kings’ collective butt. If it wasn’t obvious that Kopitar remains the engine that drives this vehicle or the wind beneath their wings before…it certainly is now. A healthy #11 in the line-up changes the entire complexion of the game.
Of course, a little more offense doesn’t hurt as well. Before the second period had reached its conclusion, Jeff Carter added another score for a 3-1 lead as the teams prepared for intermission. Phoenix Head Coach Dave Tippet has continually found new and advanced ways to motivate his perpetually cash-poor players, and one wonders what sort of speech he had ready for that pause in play. It’s important because a scant twenty-two seconds into the final frame saw a goal from captain Shane Doan on one heck of a twisted wrister. Suddenly the Coyotes were back on their game and forcing Quick to play an unrelenting, solid force of nature in order to keep the score the way it was.
Last year’s Vezina Tropy runner-up refused to wilt under the pressure, however. He stopped thirty-one of the thirty-three shots he faced to bring his goals-against-average down to a very round 3.0 per game. Even the most ardent of Kings’ doubters have little reason to believe that number won’t go down even further as the season grows older. Defenseman Jake Muzzin collected the first goal of his NHL career on Saturday night which proved to be the final trace of icing on the cake. Kyle Clifford and Davis Dreweskie picked up assists after working hard to get free the puck from a trapped endboard. The shot itself was not very strong, certainly not how Muzzin dreamed the experience may have eventually gone. It was enough however, to fool LaBarbera for the only split-second that was necessary. He ultimately stopped twenty-four shots in what will only come as a learning experience moving forward.
With Kopitar’s two goals, he brings the top line of Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Williams to a much better plus/minus rating than before. The trio had previously combined for -7 in three games.
For obvious reasons, a win is huge for this team regardless of the scuffling opposition it comes against. Undisciplined hockey was still rampant, if one is looking for negatives to draw from the contest. Eight power plays were handed to Phoenix over the course of three periods, with the team being able to score the first of those goals on the advantage. For now though, it wouldn’t appear to be the sort of problem that severely limits a team’s ability to contend for a cup. There is no doubt a pure and crisp style of play will be lacking for every team over the first few weeks. It’s the changes that are made going forward which will ultimately determine a squad’s fate.
The Kings will return home for a game against Vancouver (2-2-1) on Monday night.