Tomorrow’s game story tonight …
The San Jose Sharks won again Monday night, improving their NHL-best record to 8-0-1 to start the season. So did the Colorado Avalanche, pushing their mark to 8-1-0. The Ducks won Sunday, their seventh in a row after a season-opening loss to the Avalanche.
Blink and those three could be well ahead of a very fast-moving pack in the hyper-competitive Western Conference standings in the days and weeks to come. Letdowns, even this early, could mean a long, difficult and possibly futile chase for the Kings.
By the time the Kings got around to dropping a 3-2 decision to the Calgary Flames at Staples Center, they trailed the Sharks by five points in the standings, the Avalanche by four and the Ducks by two. Flames defenseman T.J. Brodie scored a power-play goal with 30 seconds remaining.
Kings center Anze Kopitar was whistled for hooking the Flames’ Dennis Wideman with 2:12 left and the teams deadlocked at 2-all. It was a debatable call, but the decision didn’t go the Kings’ way and they spent the most important moments of the game shorthanded.
Brodie moved into the high slot and unleashed the winner for his first goal of the season.
Must-win games usually don’t crop up until March or April, but this season feels different, these games seem to have an added sense of urgency. With the Western Conference running roughshod over the East, it seems none of the Kings’ rivals are losing.
With that as a backstory, the Kings went to work against the Flames in their first Pacific Division game of the season. The Kings won five of their last six, including Saturday’s 5-2 rout of the Dallas Stars. The Flames lost their first two on a California swing, falling to the Ducks and Sharks.
The Kings took advantage of the Flames’ porous penalty-killing unit, the league’s worst going into the game, with defenseman Drew Doughty breaking a scoreless deadlock at 18 minutes, 36 seconds of the first period.
With the Flames overplaying the left wing, Kings winger Dustin Brown slipped a cross-ice pass to an unmarked Doughty, who drifted into prime shooting range and whipped a shot past Calgary goaltender Karri Ramo for his third goal of the season.
The Kings’ power play went sputtering into Monday’s game with only one goal in 16 chances with the man-advantage over their previous five games. The Flames’ penalty-kill was successful only 69.6 percent of the time (7 for 23) before facing the Kings.
So, something had to give.
The Flames countered with a power-play goal by former Kings center Michael Cammalleri only 2:50 into the second period. Cammalleri made his 2013-14 debut Monday after sitting out since early in training camp because of a hand/wrist injury.
Cammalleri then assisted on rookie Sean Monahan’s sixth goal in in his eighth game, a power-play strike at 13:39 of the second that Jonathan Quick had no chance of stopping after making the initial save on Cammalleri’s point-blank try from near the right goal post.
Defenseman Mark Giordano assisted on both goals.
Jeff Carter rallied the Kings with a shorthanded goal at 16:40 of the second. Mike Richards was initially credited with the goal, but replays showed Carter’s centering pass deflected off the stick of a retreating Wideman and into the net.
The Kings went into Monday’s game without a goal from their centers, including top-line pivot Kopitar, whose struggles extend well beyond the start of this season. Kopitar’s last regular-season goal was last March 25 against the Chicago Blackhawks, a 25-game skid.
Kopitar was as dry as the Sahara, but he did lead the Kings with eight assists before they faced the Flames. Kings coach Darryl Sutter insisted the other night that he wasn’t concerned about Kopitar’s lack of goal scoring, or that of any of the team’s centers.
“It’s not about goals, it’s about winning games,” Sutter said.