Final: Kings 5, Sharks 2

Tyler Toffoli made a quite an auspicious NHL debut. Kyle Clifford scored two goals in a game for the first time in his career and also got into a fight, his more familiar method of operation. The Kings chased San Jose Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi in the second period.

All of which propelled the Kings to a commanding 5-2 victory Saturday night in their Staples Center homecoming after losing to the Sharks 4-3 on Thursday night in San Jose and by 5-2 to the Phoenix Coyotes in Glendale, Ariz., on Tuesday.

The Kings had a few moments of uncertainty and indecision in their rematch with the Sharks, but for the most part they took the game to the visitors. They led 2-0 by the end of the first period and then by 5-1 going into the third, showing their strength in all the right ways.

Toffoli, a 20-year-old forward who scored 28 goals in his first 55 minor-league games, skated his first NHL shifts alongside veterans Jeff Carter and Mike Richards and didn’t look out of place in his much-anticipated and long-awaited debut with the Kings.

Clifford gave the Kings a 1-0 lead with a shot from a difficult angle from the right wing only 2 minutes, 27 seconds into the game. Justin Williams then banked a centering pass intended for Dustin Brown off the rear end of retreating Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart for a 2-0 lead at 12:19.

It looked like it might be a long night for Niemi, who was under siege from the opening minutes. Niemi made several excellent saves in the first period or the Kings might have led by three or four goals before the first intermission.

Patrick Marleau needed only 35 seconds to take all the momentum away from the Kings, scoring after teammate Joe Thornton’s shot struck the skate off a King and landed on Marleau’s stick. The good times didn’t last for the Sharks, although they had a great chance to tie the score at 2.

Toffoli chopped the stick of San Jose’s Tommy Wingels into kindling on a partial breakaway at 7:58 of the second period. Goaltender Jonathan Bernier gloved Wingels’ penalty shot, calmly preserving the Kings’ 2-1 lead.

It didn’t stay that way for long, however.

Jarret Stoll shoveled a rebound past Niemi to give the Kings a 3-1 lead at 11:15 of the middle period. Clifford jammed a rebound of a Dustin Penner shot past Niemi to make it 4-1 and force Sharks coach Todd McLellan to pull his starter in favor of backup Alex Stalock.

Dwight King then beat Stalock, making only his third NHL appearance, for his third goal of the season to extend the Kings’ lead to 5-1 with a little more than a minute left in what turned out to be a disastrous second period for San Jose.

The Sharks didn’t exactly go down without a fight. Hulking defenseman Douglas Murray fought an extended battle with Clifford only moments after Marleau’s goal. The two traded a number of punches before Clifford scored a crowd-pleasing takedown.

It left Clifford only an assist shy of a Gordie Howe hat trick.

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Second period: Kings 5, Sharks 1

Patrick Marleau scored for the Sharks to cut the Kings’ lead to 2-1 only 35 seconds into the second period. Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier stopped Tommy Wingels on a penalty shot at 7:58 of the second after rookie Tyler Toffoli slashed Wingles’ stick in half on a partial breakaway. The Kings then took command with goals from Jarret Stoll, Kyle Clifford (his second of the game) and Dwight King to make it 5-1 going into the third. It was Clifford’s first multi-goal game of his career.

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First period: Kings 2, Sharks 0

Kyle Clifford scored only 2 minutes, 27 seconds into the game, and Justin Williams banked in a second goal at 12:19 of the opening period as the Kings dominated play against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night at Staples Center. The Kings outshot the Sharks 12-5. The score would have been far more onesided if not for the play of San Jose goaltender Antti Niemi, who made several excellent saves in the first. Rookie forward Tyler Toffoli made his NHL debut for the Kings and just missed scoring his first goal on a charge to the net. Jeff Carter set him up with a superb pass from the left wing, but Toffoli couldn’t convert late in the period. Toffoli had a team-leading 28 goals in 55 games with the Manchester (N.H.) Monarchs of the American Hockey League. He played 4:19 in the opening period, skating six shifts.

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First period: Blues 2, Kings 1

The Kings and the St. Louis Blues played an eventful first period Tuesday night at Staples Center. The Blues took a 2-1 lead on goals from Alex Pietrangelo and Vladimir Sobotka and skated as if on a mission. They also were willing to drop the gloves and engage the Kings, who swept them from the playoffs last spring. There were three fights in the first period, including a clear decision for the Kings’ Kyle Clifford over the Blues’ Roman Polak. Rookie defenseman Jake Muzzin scored the Kings’ lone goal in the opening period.

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Kings’ best line? Maybe it’s Kyle Clifford and any two teammates

Kings coach Darryl Sutter didn’t answer definitively when asked after Friday’s victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets whether the Kings’ best line was Kyle Clifford and any two teammates playing alongside of him. Sutter praised Clifford, who scored the team’s first goal and is halfway to his career high of 14 points in a season after only 12 games.

“We just need his energy,” Sutter said after the Kings’ grinding 2-1 victory over the Blue Jackets. “We need his physical presence. If you look at it, he’s not even had a shot a game and we’ve been talking to him about shooting pucks more instead of looking off (and passing). If you shoot the puck, sometimes good things happen.”

Clifford continues in his role as the Kings’ enforcer and one of their most-feared hitters, but he’s earned additional playing time because he’s been so productive. He benefited by playing several games with the Ontario Reign of the ECHL during the NHL lockout, playing on the power play at times during his stay in the Inland Empire.

“Yeah, maybe I should start the year there every year,” he joked when reminded of his play with the Reign. “I think it was good for me.”

Clifford has two goals and five assists for seven points, one behind team leader Anze Kopitar. He’s tied with Jeff Carter for second.


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Doing the left wing shuffle.

The Kings held a relatively routine morning skate at Toyota Sports Center this morning. Here are the line rushes:

Dustin Brown – Anze Kopitar – Justin Williams
Simon Gagne – Trevor Lewis – Jarret Stoll
Jordan Nolan – Colin Fraser – Kyle Clifford
Dwight King – Brad Richardson – Dustin Penner

Brad Richards and Jeff Carter took the optional morning off. They’ll be in tonight, but who will skate at left wing on their line remains a question mark; more on that in a bit.

The D pairs were fluid — Rob Scuderi took the optional too — but you can expect the usual configuration against the Ducks tonight in Anaheim:

Rob Scuderi – Drew Doughty
Slava Voynov – Alec Martinez
Davis Drewiske – Jake Muzzin

Richardson and Andrew Bodnarchuk are the expected scratches.

Clifford is the team leader in points, as I pointed out in my game preview. Head coach Darryl Sutter wasn’t exactly effusive in his praise of the young winger, however.

“Our left side has a grand total of two goals this year in six games,” Sutter said. “He’s got one. Brown’s got one.”

Will Clifford slot in with Carter and Richards again? “We’ll see how the game goes,” Sutter said.

The coach also attempted to temper the high expectations for Dwight King, who made a memorable impact during the Kings’ run to the Cup, but has been all but invisible this season. The second-year left wing was demoted to the fourth line this week.

“He didn’t get here until January last year and he didn’t really do much until playoffs,” Sutter said of King. “We brought him up here because the team was struggling on left wing. We brought him up here and he played in the playoffs and he played well. He went back to the American League and leveled his game out and now he’s got to get his intensity back to the NHL level.”

If Dustin Penner stays in the lineup as expected — regardless of which line — expect King to be the odd man out. For now, it seems like less a comment on any individual than on Sutter’s dissatisfaction with the left wing position in general.

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Jeff Carter offers his thoughts about playing on a line with Kyle Clifford

Jeff Carter, a vetern forward, said new linemate Kyle Clifford benefitted from playing during the NHL lockout with the Inland Empire’s Ontario Reign. Here more from Carter about Clifford, the Kings’ resident tough guy who has found his scoring touch:

“I think it was great for him. He was here with us (skating in El Segundo) for a while before he went (to Ontario). He’s a guy you don’t have to worry about coming in, in shape and being ready to play. Maybe he played a little different role than he was here. He was used on the power play and all situations.

“I think you’ve seen his play. He’s got more confidence with and without the puck. He’s on it. He’s skating. He’s looking good. He creates a lot of room for us. I don’t know if it’s a reward or a punishment. He’s playing great. From Day 1, he’s been on his toes. He’s been making plays. He’s turning pucks over hard on the forecheck. When you do that, it’s going to get noticed, the coaches are going to notice it. He’s definitely earned his shot at playing more minutes.”

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Trent Hunter to sign pro tryout contract.

Veteran forward Trent Hunter will join the Kings in training camp on a pro tryout contract. The 31-year-old forward has spent his entire NHL career with the New York Islanders, for whom he played only 17 games last season before tearing the medial collateral ligament in his left knee Nov. 24.

Hunter can provide a physical presence from the right wing at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, but also brings some scoring touch. He had never scored fewer than 11 goals in an NHL season before 2010-11, when Hunter scored just one. In 459 career NHL games, he has 99 goals, 229 points and 201 penalty minutes.

The Kings already signed a similar player, albeit with less offensive upside, in Ethan Moreau. Forward Colin Fraser is also in the mix for a bottom-six role along with Kyle Clifford, Brad Richardson, Trevor Lewis, Scott Parse and Kevin Westgarth. Jarret Stoll seems to have the third-line center position locked down, so that means Hunter will likely have to beat out one contracted player for a roster spot.

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A lot of talk about hockey deaths, and a little action.

Sunday’s Hockey Fest at Staples Center was announced as a sellout – 3,000 tickets sold. If all those Kings fans continue to show up at the turnstiles, it can be considered a success for the team’s marketing department.

In any other year that might be enough, but this time the event seemed to serve a greater purpose: It brought the focus back to hockey.

Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, Wade Belak and the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team — including former King Pavol Demitra –all left Earth far too soon, their abrupt and unfortunate deaths overshadowing the usual summer headlines about trades and free agents and the like.

“It was shocking,” Kings forward Kyle Clifford said. “It’s always tough to see someone go. The hockey community is one big family. You know guys who know them, or you know them, and it’s difficult. You have to pay your respects and move forward.”

But how?
Continue reading “A lot of talk about hockey deaths, and a little action.” »

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Off-season training starts early for Kings prospects.

Manchester Monarchs forward Ray Kaunisto shared an interesting tidbit on his blog today. From

This week, starting Tuesday, the Kings let us come down to Detroit to workout and shoot with some of the development guys. It is just a two day camp that shows us how to properly shoot, stick handle, and other on ice skills, as well as helping us out with learning the kings workout.

The guys here are Kozun, Schenn, Toffoli, Dowd, Clifford, Czarnik, Weal, Nolan, and Muzzin. The days consist of two off ice sessions per day and two on ice sessions per day. Everything is pretty tough to do but it makes us better really quickly. A lot of good ideas for shooting and practicing are being passed on to us this week from some really good former NHLers. As always it’s an honor to be here and be around so many world class players and coaches.

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