Going in, we knew the day would belong to at least one King. Three-time Most Inspirational Player and longtime LA hero Ian Laperriere was honored before the game; you can view the ceremony via Kings Vision here. Though Laperriere was forced to retire after a concussion and finished his career in Philadelphia, seeing the former assistant captain back on Staples ice was a great sight for anyone who followed the Kings during their leaner times. Laperriere praised the team and the fans in the aftermath of the Stanley Cup, thanked his friends in the organization, and gave a shout-out to the behind-the-scenes guys, as well as his breed of fourth-liners who "don't normally get this opportunity, to be recognized."
It was a great start to another afternoon of hockey at Staples Center. The Kings have a history of afternoon struggles, and the last time the Kings went through a pregame ceremony, they were picked apart by the Chicago Blackhawks But unlike last time, there was no letdown; instead, the Los Angeles Kings put together another complete performance and easily handled the Colorado Avalanche at the Staples Center, 4-1.
The Kings opened the game very well, and throughout the first they had extended zone presence and a strong forecheck. The first goal, however, came on an initial entry into the zone, and it only took 58 seconds. Justin Williams passed the puck into the O-zone, and Anze Kopitar reached out and got his stick on the puck to keep it in. At that point, Williams had moved up to join the play, and he put a cross-ice pass on the stick of Dustin Brown, who had crept into the slot and one-timed the puck into the top corner past Semyon Varlamov. The Kings only had six shots in the first, but they forced the Colorado defense to stay in their zone for long stretches of time and limited the Avs' scoring chances.
That may have contributed to goal #2, as the second line matched the goal chipped in by the first line earlier. It was pretty much what you would have expected, as Mike Richards started the play and Jeff Carter finished it off. Carter's wrist shot has been hell on opposing goalies this year, and with the middle left open the entire night, he was only too happy to take the pass and send a quick shot through the Avs goaltender. The 2-0 lead held up through the end of the period, thanks largely to a big save on Paul Stastny by Jonathan Quick with 45 seconds left. But bad penalties by Davis Drewiske and Jake Muzzin put the Kings on a 4-on-3 kill at the beginning of the second, and Milan Hejduk finished off an efficient power play with a high shot past Quick. Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog marked his first game since January 26 with an assist on the play, but was otherwise still showing signs of rust after his recovery from a concussion.
The Kings took back control with a huge shorthanded goal a minute and a half later, and wasn't it appropriate that they channeled Ian Laperriere to do so? The Kings were busy killing Muzzin's penalty, and the puck came to Tyson Barrie, as this time Colorado tried to take advantage of an open high slot area. Barrie uncorked a huge slapshot, but Jarret Stoll slid in front and, even though he was basically facing Barrie head on, blocked it. The puck proceeded to bounce to Trevor Lewis, who gloved it down and rushed down the ice. With Stoll coming back into the play, Lewis took the shot and Varlamov let it through his five-hole for the Kings' first shortie of the season (and a soft one, at that). Stoll even got an assist for his selflessness.
Later on, the Kings seized an insurmountable three-goal lead. Dwight King dumped the puck in for a line change, and Dustin Penner got down the ice to forecheck as Varlamov couldn't get to the puck in the trapezoid. Penner took the puck all the way around the back, and once along the sideboards he delivered a great backhand pass to the middle of the ice. LA took advantage of space in the middle the entire game, and this time it was Kopitar who took the feed. Varlamov was totally to blame for the previous goal, but he couldn't be blamed for this goal as Kopitar rifled a wrist shot off the post and in.
Not too much to talk about after that, as the Kings applied the "boa constrictor" method of protecting their lead in the third period. More long periods of possession, limited opportunities for Colorado, and a few decent chances for either team sprinkled in. At least for me, the drama was limited to whether Penner or Doughty would score their first of the year (they didn't though both were pretty solid tonight) and whether there would be a meaningless fight (there was, between Keaton Ellerby and Chuck Kobasew).
The 4-1 win put Los Angeles in eighth place in the Western Conference, as well as putting their goal differential above 0 for the first time and getting them back to a "true" .500 record (eight wins, eight losses). A third of the way through the 2013 campaign, the Kings are right where they finished the 2011-2012 regular season... not such a bad place to be, eh?