Justin Williams skated along the right wing early in the Kings’ 3-0 homecoming victory over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night at Staples Center. Head down, legs churning, arms pumping, he carried the puck a long way before anyone noticed him.
Williams unleashed an uncontested shot from the right faceoff circle that hit the back of the night only 1 minute, 29 seconds into the game.
Or so it seemed less than two minutes later, when Jeff Carter made a similar lonely trip along right wing to score the Kings’ second goal and force the Wild into a goaltending change after two shots beat Niklas Backstrom after only 3:07 had been played.
So much for any thoughts of a letdown after the Kings returned from a five-game trip with a 3-1-1 record. The Kings found their legs worked just fine in the opening minutes, with no hint of lethargy in their first game at home since a 1-0 loss March 23 to the Vancouver Canucks.
First-period leads usually mean victories for the Kings, who were 14-1-2 when scoring first. The Kings kept skating purposefully in the second period, too.
Williams slipped behind the Wild’s defense, catching them in a line change and accepting an alert breakout pass from teammate Anze Kopitar. Williams whistled a shot past Darcy Kuemper, Backstrom’s replacement, to extend the Kings’ lead to 3-0 only 3:52 into the second period.
Williams extended his scoring streak to five consecutive games, a career high.
The Kings had only nine shots on goal in the first two periods, but they made the most of them. Carter’s goal was his team-leading 21st. Only the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steven Stamkos, with 25, and the New York Islanders’ John Tavares, with 23, had more going into Thursday’s games. Williams increased his total to a relatively modest 10.
Robyn Regehr made Williams’ second goal happen by breaking up a Minnesota rush in the neutral zone, with the puck landing on Kopitar’s stick. Regehr, a veteran defenseman, earned his first assist in his first game with the Kings after a trade Monday from the Buffalo Sabres.
Regehr also was on the ice for Williams’ first goal of the game. He also was credited with six hits and two blocked shots and played 18:25. He started out with Keaton Ellerby as his defense partner, but was later paired with Drew Doughty in the second period.
“Really, really happy for a few different reasons,” Regehr said Wednesday of joining the Kings, who sent second-round draft picks in 2014 and ’15 to the Sabres. “First of all, being in a position to win again with a team it proved can do it in the past and wants to do it again. I’m very excited about that.”
Regehr played for Kings coach Darryl Sutter when both were with the Calgary Flames.
Sutter started Jonathan Bernier in goal rather than Jonathan Quick, who was in net for the Kings’ last seven games. Quick started the Kings’ 4-3 shootout loss to the Wild on March 30 at St. Paul, Minn., when Minnesota’s Matt Cullen won it.
Quick was so angered by Cullen’s goal and the Kings’ collapse from a 3-1 lead that he smashed his goalie stick against the post. Bernier had no such frustrations Thursday, stopping 23 shots for his first shutout of the season and the sixth of his career.