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Kings Get a Bit of a Buzz

They win home opener, 3-2 over Phoenix, and hope it generates some positive word-of-mouth.

October 07, 2005|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

Jeremy Roenick jumped Craig Conroy in the dressing room, trying to give him a big smooch during a television interview that followed the Kings' 3-2 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday night.

"I have had J.R. hit me on the ice before," Conroy said. "I prefer the kissing."

Marge Kinsler, a 73-year-old fan from Bel Air, had a year without hockey, and that was a year too much.

"We're so happy it's back," Kinsler said. "I hate summer because it's not hockey season."

Shawn Hunter, the Kings' president, looked at a lively Staples Center and admitted some surprise.

"I was one of those who thought it was going to be hard to get fans back," Hunter said. "We have the die-hard fans back."

These were the happy sounds, at least from the Kings' side of the fence, that came from a gritty victory before an announced 18,118 in their home opener.

The immediate impact was a palate-cleansing exercise for the Kings, who blew a four-goal lead in losing to Dallas on Wednesday.

The Kings worked more and obstructed less, staying out of the penalty box for the most part. They did survive two late penalties and were rewarded with a victory that ended a 12-game losing streak dating back to the 2003-04 season.

The long-term effect is still to be seen. But fans came, they cheered, they stood at the end to acknowledge Coach Andy Murray's 179th victory, the most by a King coach, in the first of nine October home games.

"We need to create a buzz," forward Sean Avery said. "Yeah, we need to win games, get off to a good start, but we also have to get more people interested in our team."

The Kings' game production crew was beehive-busy, trying to please every fan's taste Thursday. The play list included a Partridge Family song outside Staples Center and Zakk Wylde, Ozzy Osbourne's guitarist, playing the national anthem inside the arena.

King fans were treated to a similar type of variety during the game.

There was old school. Luc Robitaille whizzed a shot into the upper left-hand corner of the net for his 543rd goal as a King, seven shy of Marcel Dionne's team record, to tie the score, 1-1, 15:58 into the game.

There was new wave. Alexander Frolov, the 24-year-old who the Kings hope will someday pass both Robitaille and Dionne, swept in a rebound to break a 1-1 tie 8:28 into the second period.

"You have to thank the fans, they filled the house tonight," Roenick said. "The energy they had, we fed off. We could feel it and it carried us through."

Kinsler, 73, had a year's worth of energy to let out. She attended the first King game in 1967 and spent the lockout craving the NHL.

"Well, I tell you, it was awful," said Kinsler, who attended Thursday's game with her nephew, John Grindstaff of Camarillo. "I had withdrawals. I'm so glad it's back. It's the best thing that could have happened."

King management was equally pleased, especially with ticket sales. They are approaching 12,000 season tickets, Hunter said. Whether the Kings, and other NHL teams, can sustain the interest is to be seen.

"We have to find a way to keep the momentum going," Hunter said.

Winning would help.

The Kings' flop Wednesday was due in large part to penalties, which led to two power-play goals by the Stars. The skate was on the other foot Thursday. The Kings scored twice on the power play, the last coming at the end of a 3-on-2 rush, with Pavol Demitra chipping in a shot for a 3-1 lead 11:28 into the second period.

As a parting gift to fans, Murray appeared to have handed them something to talk about -- a goaltender controversy.

Mathieu Garon was acquired in 2004 to be the Kings' top goalie, but Murray has said in the last week that he would not name a No. 1 goaltender, at least for now.

"There really isn't a controversy. [Coach] Jacques Lemaire has alternated goalies in Minnesota since he got there, so I don't know if there is a right way," Murray said. "Garon definitely has not changed his status. If anything, he has elevated. Our goaltending hasn't been a topic for us."

Still, it might become a theme after Murray chose to start Jason LaBarbera Thursday. His evening was a little rocky at the start, when Krystoffer Kolanos managed to slip the puck between the post and LaBarbera's right leg for a 1-0 Coyote lead 9:22 into the game.

LaBarbera, playing in his sixth NHL game, improved considerably from that point, stopping 26 of 28 shots. That included stoning Boyd Devereaux on a point-blank try to keep the Kings ahead, 3-2, late in the second period.

"That's just Andy's philosophy, wanting to keep things competitive," General Manager Dave Taylor said. "We feel good about both goalies. We project Mathieu as being a No. 1 in this league. We signed Jason to be No. 2 goalie who will compete for the No. 1 spot in time."

*

Forward Jeff Cowan left Thursday's game after re-injuring his groin. ... Forward Mike Cammalleri did not play Thursday, a coach's decision.

Times staff writer Lisa Dillman contributed to this story.

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