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Kings Spread It Around in 5-1 Win

Hockey: Five players, including struggling Smolinski, score as L.A. brushes aside the Islanders to remain unbeaten in its last seven games.

November 17, 2000|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bryan Smolinski was concerned with finding his niche with his new linemates when he joined Jozef Stumpel and Ziggy Palffy.

It took him 15 minutes 30 seconds of Thursday night's game at Staples Center.

Smolinski's spot was at the New York Islander blue line, where he gathered in a pass from Stumpel and skated in alone on goalie Wade Flaherty to score the Kings' first goal in their 5-1 victory before 14,744.

Lubomir Visnovsky, Glen Murray, Luc Robitaille and Mathieu Schneider also scored for the Kings, who are 5-0-2 in their last seven games, their longest unbeaten streak since they were 6-0-1 from Jan. 12-31, 1998.

Smolinski had been struggling offensively, so much so that he was benched in Saturday's 2-2 tie with Detroit. A fourth-line center to that point, he came back to practice on Tuesday to find himself a winger with Stumpel and Palffy on the Kings' top line.

"We've been trying to find someone to fill that spot," Coach Andy Murray said.

The discovery was made late in the first period. Visnovsky gathered the puck in the Islander zone, sent it to Stumpel and then got a ice-level view of Stumpel's pass to Smolinski.

By nature, Smolinski is a speed and strength player, but his game apparently has been impacted by this winger business, for he went to Flaherty's right, then pulled back and fired the puck around the goalie's left for a 1-0 lead.

"It wasn't easy," said Smolinski in his first sojourn at left wing since he played a few games there with the Islanders two seasons ago, also on a line with Palffy. "Playing with [Stumpel and Palffy] helps though. All you have to do is get open and you get the puck. . . . And you get a little bit of extra space to work with."

It was his first even-strength goal and fourth goal overall this season, and it was nearly enough for goalie Jamie Storr, who turned back 27 shots in running his record to 9-4-3.

"If there's momentum, it doesn't feel like it," Storr said. "You don't want mountains and valleys. You try to make each game a mountain, so that if you have a bad game, you don't feel like you're having a bad run."

Momentum notwithstanding, Storr is having a great run. He has given up only 10 goals in the unbeaten streak, playing all seven of the games.

Storr's second shutout of the season was spoiled 19 seconds into the third period by the Islanders' Mariusz Czerkawski, who took a pass from Kevin Haller and got past Aki Berg before sending the puck over Storr's glove.

The goal broke a 179-minute 54-second New York scoring drought.

Just over a minute later, Palffy earned what would have been a save when a shot by Kenny Jonsson eluded Storr and skittered goalward, where Palffy was in the crease to chip the puck away.

"I didn't like our game early in the third period, the first six or seven minutes," Andy Murray said, labeling the difficulty a spate of overconfidence. "Who are we to play like that?"

After a four-day respite that followed 19 games in 36 nights, there was some concern that the Kings would come out flat and that was realized, but only briefly. They were strong defensively in the early going, holding New York to five first-period shots and getting Smolinski's goal for a 1-0 lead.

From there, the Kings slowed again offensively, getting only four shots in the first 14 minutes of the second period. One of them was by Visnovsky, who took a puck pushed forward by Kelly Buchberger and beat Flaherty to give the Kings a 2-0 lead at 8:23.

Finally, a flurry of King shots resulted in their third goal, scored by Murray when he redirected a waist-high blast by Schneider past Flaherty at 16:13.

Third-period goals by Robitaille and Schneider--his the first short-handed score by the Kings all season--finished things.

As usual, the Islanders struggled with scoring. They have only 35 goals in their 17 games, and they are 0 for their last 25 on the power play.

"If we can get some power-play goals, maybe we can win some games," said Coach Butch Goring, who shook up the power play for he first of a three-game western trip.

"We liked what the power play did. We moved the puck better."

The Kings kept up their domination of the mild, mild East. They are 6-1 in games against the Eastern Conference.

And they have found a new winger for the top-scoring line.

"We saw a lot of things from Bryan Smolinski tonight," Andy Murray said. "He scored, but we saw other things. He's a good player. The biggest thing for Bryan Smolinski is believing he's a good player."

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