After a few miserable showings on the road, the Los Angeles Kings finally got what they were looking for. (No, not rocket skates for Matt Greene and Robyn Regehr... though both earned plaudits tonight.) The bottom six came through with three goals to propel the struggling Kings to a 3-1 win over the Dallas Stars.
LA found themselves in a hole just 2:37 in thanks to some neutral zone troubles. All three forwards on the ice (Mike Richards, Trevor Lewis, and Kyle Clifford) got caught on one side of the ice, Jake Muzzin was late getting back, and Jordie Benn's long pass sprung Vernon Fiddler in on the other side for a 2-on-1. Drew Doughty very nearly broke up the pass with his skate, but it got through to Shawn Horcoff, who beat Jonathan Quick on the Stars' first shot of the game. Interestingly, all six of the Kings on the ice ended up having extremely productive games.
Quick strung together 33 consecutive saves after Horcoff's goal, bringing his league-leading (among starters) save percentage to .942. Quick's positioning and movement has been absolutely terrific this year, and it's shown in the numbers even if his record is about the same as usual. The goals he has given up (think of the Hurricanes' goals on Sunday) would have been tough for any goalie, and along with mixing in his usual assortment of athletic stops, Quick has rarely been victimized by the bad goal. He often only needed to be average last season; the Kings have needed him to be terrific this year, and he's delivered.
Tonight, though, his team backed him up. What did the Kings do differently? For one, they won the special teams battle. The power play still wasn't all that great, and the Kings ended their power plays early a couple times due to penalties, but the penalty kill came through in a big way. The biggest moment in the game came a couple minutes into the second period, with the Kings on yet another penalty kill. Jarret Stoll whacked the puck out of midair as Kari Lehtonen attempted to clear the puck along the boards, and Trevor Lewis, absurdly, attempted to knock the puck through Jordie Benn while going around him. It worked to perfection, and Lewis made a great play into an amazing one by deking and scoring past Lehtonen. Suddenly, the Kings were tied up.
LA kept pace with the speedy Stars, though there were quite a few good chances for Dallas early on. Doughty and Alec Martinez each had to break up odd-man rushes before the second intermission as well, but by the time the third rolled around, it felt like the Kings were likelier to find a goal. They got one with Mike Richards centering the third line. Dwight King hounded the Stars D into a turnover, Richards quickly fed Dustin Brown, and Brown tucked a perfect shot inside the post to give LA, yup, their first lead of the entire road trip. Doughty and Muzzin were on for that goal, which provided some of that sweet +/-, but they were also the team's best possession players on the evening.
Stoll and Lewis were back on for the clinching goal, but Kyle Clifford's skate took credit as it deflected in the Lewis pass to provide the final margin with 5:39 remaining. Any potential Dallas comeback was nipped in the bud when Brenden Dillon took a double minor for high-sticking Justin Williams. The stick got under Williams' visor, causing us momentary panic, but Darryl Sutter reassured the media that the stick had missed his eye and cut him around it instead. As such, it's just a small damper on a crucial road win, and one that didn't even require the big guns.