Drew Doughty made it a personal mission Thursday to shut down Tampa Bay center Steven Stamkos, a friend and fellow member of the 2008 NHL draft class.
It was a tall order. Stamkos is the NHL's top scorer, the Lightning was ranked No. 1 in the Eastern Conference, and Doughty was playing for the first time since he suffered a concussion on Oct. 20.
But Doughty and the Kings accomplished their task, staying atop the NHL standings with a 1-0 victory before an announced sellout crowd of 18,118 at Staples Center.
In a rugged game that boiled over to produce a third-period fight between Willie Mitchell and Tampa Bay's Steve Downie after Downie hit Doughty, the Kings (9-3) extended their home record to 5-0-0. Goaltender Jonathan Quick stopped 24 shots to earn his first shutout this season and ninth of his career.
"This was one of those games where everybody had a big part," Kings center Anze Kopitar said. "Obviously Quick back there was amazing for us, yet again. We haven't played a lot of one-goal games as of lately but it feels good to see if we could pull it together."
The only goal resulted from a fortunate bounce for the Kings.
Mathieu Roy's attempted pass to Lightning teammate Dana Tyrell caromed off Tyrell's skate and to Kings winger Ryan Smyth, who found linemate Justin Williams with a fine pass. Williams had his back to the net but pivoted to get the puck to his forehand, drawing goaltender Mike Smith down to the ice and giving himself plenty of space to lift the puck into the net.
Williams has a four-game goal-scoring streak, matching a career-high. He also has points in six straight games, with four goals and seven points in that span.
"It was a high-energy game. Everyone was playing the body along the boards, in front of the net, everywhere," Quick said after improving his save percentage to .942 (243 of 258) in his nine starts.
The physicality of the game was fine with Williams.
"I thought it was great, a really fun game," he said. "Everyone was yelling on the bench.
"It was important to also show we can shut it down defensively."
Stamkos and Doughty were the first and second picks, respectively, in the 2008 entry draft, the reward for Tampa Bay ranking 30th in 2007-08 and the Kings' finishing 29th. Each team has reversed course fairly quickly, and the Kings' victory — though early in the season and not sure until the final buzzer — has some significance as another example of the progress they have made.
The first period was scoreless and testy, with several scrums breaking out at stoppages. But the key for the Kings was that they had a five-minute power play and failed to capitalize, taking only two harmless shots.
They gained that advantage at 8:59, after Lightning defenseman Mattias Ohlund hit Kings captain Dustin Brown from behind and drove Brown's head into the glass. Brown — who turned 26 on Thursday — got up slowly but came back to play on the second power-play unit.
"I'm still confused how he stays in the game," Brown said. "I know the league is sensitive to headshots but checks from behind have been very bad from the start."
There was no scoring in the second period, either, though each team had a power play. The Kings had a good chance while shorthanded, with Kopitar taking a shot that Smith went to his belly to stop.
Kopitar had fans gasping at 15:15, when he fell heavily into the end boards behind the Tampa Bay net. Mathieu Roy was penalized for interference on the play, but the Kings got only two shots on the ensuing power play.
Doughty played 24 minutes 44 seconds in his return and teamed with Mitchell to limit Stamkos to three shots. More good news for the Kings on a night that built their confidence.