In spite of Williams’ injury (sustained during practice), the Kings looked good at the beginning of last night’s game. Breaking up the first line that’s combined to score 35 points in the Kings’ 9 games was certainly not something Terry Murray looked forward to doing. After the game, he credited GM Dean Lombardi with the idea of putting Wayne Simmonds on the top line. Clearly, Simmonds’ goal and assist support this decision (even though the goal was scored in a 4 on 4 situation and assisted by Frolov). Alexander Frolov had two assists in the game and looked much better than he did before he sat out as a healthy scratch. Perhaps Fro got the point and will be more dedicated in the future. I wouldn’t recommend that Kings fans hold their breath for that to happen, though everyone would love to see it.
The Kings started out very strong at Staples Center against the Stars. Anze Kopitar’s first goal was a great hard goal – a goal even Terry Murray said Kopitar would not have scored last year. Simmonds scored with a nice 4 on 4 goal at the end of the first and less than a minute later, the Stars cut the lead in half by when Neal scored his own 4 on 4 goal (unassisted). This wasn’t really a reason for the Kings fans to worry. Their team looked strong in the first period and they had every reason to think that would continue in the second period. It did.
The Kings scored two unanswered goals in the 2nd period, extending their lead. Anze Kopitar scored his first career NHL hat trick. The 4th Kings goal is definitely a goal that Auld wanted to have back. He bobbled the puck and it still got by him. Oddly enough, Turco almost allowed a similar goal the previous night against the Ducks in Anaheim, but managed to make the save.
A two goal lead is often said to be the most dangerous lead in hockey. Kings fans are probably thinking the three goal lead is up there on the list. By 8:30 into the 3rd period, the Stars had cut their deficit to one and they tied the game with almost 3 minutes left in the third period, sending the game into overtime.
I’m sure most Kings fans were wondering what hit them. They’re not used to the Kings giving up leads like that against the Stars. In fact, they typically do quite the opposite where the Stars are concerned. Though they didn’t make the playoffs last season, the Kings had a winning record against the Stars, including one come from behind win. The fans don’t want to see the reverse happen in their own building – especially not when their team has shown such promise.
Fortunately for Kings fans, Handzus scored less than a minute into overtime giving the Kings the win.
In spite of the collapse the Kings faced in the third period (brought on mostly by a couple of soft goals allowed by Jon Quick), the team did not give up. They stuck with their game and won the game in overtime. It’s my opinion that Kopitar’s first goal isn’t the only thing that would have been a lot less likely last season. I seriously doubt the Kings of last season would have won in overtime after giving up a 3 goal lead in the third period. Most likely, they would have buckled under in the overtime period or shootout and been happy that they escaped with a point.
This year, the guys in the locker room were definitely singing a different tune than they would have last year. They talked a lot about the fact that giving up a 3 goal lead in the third period is something they can’t do. They realize that getting two points is the most important thing, but they also know they can’t allow a team to catch up and just assume that they’ll still be able to win in overtime. The main difference is that the Kings expect to be playing in the postseason this time around. They don’t expect to go home early in April 2010. The Kings are ready for playoff hockey (which many of the Kings would be playing for the first time, not just their first time in a Kings uniform) and playoff teams can’t allow themselves to think losing a three goal lead is acceptable. Once you get to overtime, it’s anybody’s game. That’s not a risk a team that expects to win wants to take.
Now the team heads to Phoenix for Saturday’s game for the first of many quick road trips before heading home to host Columbus on Sunday. The way Quick bounces back after the collapse in Thursday’s game will tell Kings fans a lot about what they can expect from their team this season.