Was it the return of Jonathan Quick or the return of Alec Martinez which boosted the Los Angeles Kings to victory? Perhaps the departure of Daniel Carcillo made the difference? We may never know. Regardless of who provided the jump, the Kings put forth one of their best efforts of the season tonight, and it earned them a 3-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks.
The Kings got off to a good start... not on the scoreboard, of course, but in terms of getting early shots. LA racked up 17 shots in the first, and they tested Roberto Luongo early. Jeff Carter looked particularly hungry, forcing a good save on a quick wrister early on. Unfortunately, Carter's determination also landed him in the penalty box, after he hooked Henrik Sedin behind the net. Penalties have been the Kings' downfall lately, and Vancouver made sure that this one stung as well. With the penalty kill unit scrambling and Justin Williams going to get his dropped stick, Henrik and Daniel Sedin executed a give-and-go and Daniel fed across to Ryan Kesler. Quick did his patented surge-across-and-pitch-forward lunge, and Kesler beat him up high for a 1-0 lead. Carter came back with Anze Kopitar and Dwight King to generate a couple chances right in front a couple minutes later. Kevin Bieksa defended Carter by whacking him in the head and ripping his helmet off; Carter retaliated with a cross-check and went back to the box. You win some, you lose some.
Darryl Sutter was experimenting with putting Mike Richards with Dustin Brown and Justin Williams tonight, but he swapped Richards with Jarret Stoll in the second period. The change didn't hurt the Kings' possession and shot numbers, as they put another 17 shots on net and continued getting offensive zone time. Richards' new linemates, Tyler Toffoli and Matt Frattin, did get a couple decent looks; one sequence saw Toffoli set up Frattin with a great cross-ice pass, but Frattin's shot was fired into Luongo's chest. Toffoli also laid a huge hit on Dan Hamhuis earlier on, and the line drew a penalty on the same shift. Encouraging from both players, but they weren't perfect; Frattin shot wide on a breakaway later in the second.
The chances kept coming, with Mike Richards and Kyle Clifford among those who had good, clean looks at Roberto Luongo. Luongo, however, wasn't in a mood to allow a goal. Willie Mitchell's deflected shot was the only shot to beat Luongo in the first two periods, and that one hit the post. The "Luuuuuu"s grew louder, as did the cries for Roberto to start for the Canadian Olympic team. Fortunately, those Olympics aren't at the Staples Center, because the third period became just another rough LA experience for Luongo. Thank the reunited Brown-Stoll-Williams line for the first goal; Brown dumped the puck, Stoll tipped it along the boards, and Williams got it on net. Luongo left a sizable rebound, and Brown drove in and emphatically knocked it home.
Brown also ran over Luongo after scoring that goal. You'll probably hear about it if you know someone who doesn't like Brown (and the odds are good that you do!), and it fueled some third period tensions. Tom Sestito tried his best to dish out some payback, but he was unable to get to Quick, and he'd compensate later by taking a run at Justin Williams and going to the box for interference. That power play was unsuccessful, as was Vancouver's earlier man advantage, so the game would be decided at even strength.
Thankfully, the Kings were rewarded for their even strength dominance with the go-ahead goal. We should talk about the play by Dwight King to set it up. Carter chipped in along the boards, and King raced to the puck, beat Jason Garrison to it and lifted his stick, and spun in the corner to deliver a perfect pass back to Carter. Carter happily one-timed the pass above the shoulder of Luongo to put LA ahead with eight minutes remaining.
Then, it was Quick time. Though I didn't talk about him much earlier, he was solid throughout the game, and his flexibility and strength didn't appear to be too shaky after the time off. But the true reassurance came as he shut down the Canucks down the stretch. Jake Muzzin appeared to have sealed the game with an empty-netter, but when it was (correctly) waved off for icing, Vancouver redoubled their efforts to tie. The best chances came after Luongo was pulled for an extra attacker. Henrik Sedin made a ridiculous spinning pass to Daniel Sedin, and Quick had to make two brilliant stops in response. Brad Richardson and Jason Garrison also had decent looks turned away, and Jeff Carter was able to get an empty-netter -- for real this time -- to seal the game.
Other than the obvious "hey, we won!" happiness, plenty of good things to take away from this game. Quick looked solid. The Kings' power play didn't score but looked all right. Alec Martinez and the Kings' defensemen were very good all night. And the forwards only got two on Luongo, but they dominated the shot battle and pressed until they broke through. All in all, it was a good way to end the five-game losing streak.