Anger and confidence: a dangerous combination. The Los Angeles Kings have been rock-solid at home this year, and Jonathan Bernier has been rock-solid in general. And from the looks of things, the players were just as angry as we were about coming up short on Thursday. The combination boosted the Kings to a much better effort in their second showdown against the San Jose Sharks, and after losing 5-2 three times in March, they triumphed 5-2 on Saturday night.
Over the course of the 2013 season, the first period has been the worst period (nice rhyme, me!) for the Kings. Thursday's first period was better despite allowing an early goal, and on Saturday, the Kings got rewarded for a strong opening frame. San Jose didn't get a shot on goal in the first ten minutes, and while Los Angeles only had two, the first one went in. Tyler Toffoli's first NHL shift was a great one, as the second line ended a long spell of possession with Toffoli setting up Jeff Carter for a good chance. Carter's shot was blocked, denying Toffoli an assist. But a few seconds later Kyle Clifford took the puck below the right circle and beat Antti Niemi five-hole with a bad-angle shot. Two and a half minutes in, the Kings were off to a dream start.
Ten minutes later, it got better. Jonathan Bernier made a big save on Tommy Wingels (foreshadowing!), and Dustin Brown took the puck the other way and played the puck up the boards to Justin Williams. Niemi made a glove save on his first attempt, but Williams got to the rebound and chipped the puck across as he crossed the goal line off to the side. After a deflection off the back of Brad Stuart, LA had a 2-0 lead and Staples was rocking. Shots were 12-5 in the first, and the only downside was watching Toffoli come tantalizingly close to his first NHL goal on a tip-in late in the period. Toffoli actually had four shots miss the net, more than anyone else, but I suppose we'll give him a pass tonight.
Jonathan Bernier had a little more work to do in the second period, and when Patrick Marleau scored off of Joe Thornton's blocked shot 35 seconds in, it looked like it wasn't going to be easy to hold on. Clifford followed up a strong first by fighting above his weight class against Douglas Murray, and somehow held his own. But like that showdown, the next few minutes favored San Jose. Wingels had his stick broken from behind by Toffoli on a breakaway and was awarded a penalty shot. (Credit to Toffoli for the good backcheck though. How many players can say they forced a penalty shot in their first game?) Bernier calmly stopped the ensuing attempt with his glove, and he kept stopping them even as San Jose ratcheted up the pressure.
Niemi wasn't so good, and as was said in the game thread, the next goal would be "against the run of play." Jarret Stoll entered the zone and gave Trevor Lewis a drop pass before charging in. The attempt by Lewis was deflected, but Stoll was right there to backhand the loose puck through the five-hole of Niemi. Dustin Penner then showed off his speed after a Kings clear, leaving Justin Braun in the dust and getting a breakaway chance in the San Jose zone. Though he didn't have enough time to do much more than push the puck towards Niemi, the goalie couldn't cover the puck and Kyle Clifford poked the puck in for his first career multi-goal game. Cue the goaltender switch, as rookie Alex Stalock came in to replace Niemi.
With 1:04 in the second, the Kings wrapped the game up. Stoll and Lewis forechecked behind the net, and Stoll eventually won possession and hit Dwight King, who sent a wrister through Stalock to establish a 5-1 lead at the intermission. The third period was a formality, with Matt Irwin's very late power play goal doing little besides hurting the Los Angeles PK%. But the fat Bailey had flexed his pipes long before that, as the Kings took home a comfortable win over their division rivals.
Few downsides to speak of; the first, third, and fourth lines all got on the board, and while the second line could have done better with their chances, they played a major role in Goal #1. The team defense was great and the individual D-men limited their mistakes. Bernier kept up his steady play. And Sutter had a chance to spread the ice time around, as other than Drew Doughty, not one King played more than 20:31. It was a good night to do it as well; a back-to-back with Phoenix awaits.