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NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE

Penalties prove to be a killer for Kings to open season

Los Angeles was one of the best when down a man last season and one of the worst at even strength last season. So far, they have struggled on penalty kill and done well even strength.

October 09, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

Last season, the Kings were one of the league's worst teams at scoring while playing five-on-five and one of the best teams at killing penalties.

They've reversed those habits this season, a pattern they reinforced Thursday by scoring five times at even strength and giving up two power-play goals in a 6-3 victory against the Minnesota Wild at Staples Center.

Ryan Smyth, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams contributed four goals and nine points as the Kings (2-1-0) extended their winning streak against their conference rival to five games. That line was superb, scoring off the rush, by going to the net and on a power play at 11:02 of the third period when Smyth's centering pass deflected off the skate of a Minnesota player and past hapless goaltender Josh Harding.

"We seem to be finding a way right now," Smyth said. "The big thing is we're communicating in practice and it's leading into the games."

Entertaining though that was, the Kings' continued penalty-killing woes can't be ignored.

They've allowed opponents to score seven goals in 11 advantages over three games, an alarming rate. Minnesota scored on its first two advantages and again at even strength to cut the Kings' lead to 4-3 at 6:24 of the third, when Kim Johnsson converted the rebound of a shot that Jonathan Quick had stopped.

The Kings roared back with goals by Teddy Purcell and Smyth, his second, within a span of 36 seconds, and a crowd of 14,995 generated enough noise to suggest it was bigger.

Kings' defenseman Jack Johnson said the team is aware of its penalty-killing shortcomings but isn't too worried -- yet.

"It's only the third game of the year," he said. "We're not going to be firing on all cylinders. The big thing is that we're winning games. We'll work on the penalty killing in practice."

Coach Terry Murray took the glass-half-full approach, citing the Kings' kills on their last two penalties.

"It's something we can build on," he said.

Killing penalties is "another issue of composure for a young team when the heat is on," Murray said. "It's coming. It's getting better."

The Kings scored on two of their first three shots. Smyth, in his usual spot in front of the net, was in perfect position to redirect a shot from the point by Johnson at 1:07. Rob Scuderi -- who got his Stanley Cup ring delivered by Penguins minority owner Ron Burkle -- also got an assist for his cross-ice pass to Johnson.

Williams scored his first goal of the season by copying his linemates' habit of pursuing tips or rebounds in front. He was credited with redirecting a shot by Drew Doughty from the right point, with Kopitar getting the second assist, at 3:18.

The Kopitar line struck again at 10:31. Kopitar blocked a shot by Minnesota's Greg Zanon and sent play the other way. Williams passed to Smyth, who slid a beautiful pass beneath a diving Brent Burns and to Kopitar, who scored from deep on the left side.

"The top line carried us tonight," Jack Johnson said. "When your best players are playing well, there's a good chance you're going to win."

But the Kings' penalty killing cost them in the second period.

Sean O'Donnell, back in the lineup after being suspended for the first two games, was sent off for interfering with Mikko Koivu at 6:08. The Wild needed 22 seconds to score, beating Quick when Andrew Brunette made a passout from behind the net to Martin Havlat, who found space inside the right post.

The Kings reestablished a three-goal lead at 11:02. Wayne Simmonds did the tough part by corralling the puck in the right-wing corner and passing it behind the net to Alexander Frolov. The Russian winger slipped a pass to Michal Handzus in the left circle for a quick shot that turned into his first goal of the season.

But the Wild closed within two again on another power-play goal.

Johnson went to the penalty box at 13:28 for tripping Owen Nolan and the Kings paid at 15:05. Nolanthrew the puck in front, hoping for a favorable bounce. Former King Eric Belanger got a piece of it and it bounced to Nolan, who beat Quick with his backhand.

But it all turned out right in the end for the Kings, as they ended their first homestand with back-to-back wins.

"I'm kind of glad we got it together in these last couple of games with a six-game trip coming," Murray said. "It's going to be hard, but it's going to be fun."

And easier if they can kill a few more penalties.

--

helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

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