Kings 3, Sharks 1.

Jonathan Quick was going to have to steal a game or two for the Kings to have a chance at advancing to the second round.

A couple more games like Saturday’s, and they could be in business.

Quick’s 51 saves in Game 5 set a franchise playoff record and allowed the Kings to stave off elimination. His counterpart, Antti Niemi, could scarcely have been worse, allowing three goals on the Kings’ first four shots. Wayne Simmonds and Dustin Penner got their first goals of the playoffs, while Kyle Clifford got his third.

The Kings’ 52 shots allowed were also a record, but the Sharks couldn’t do much with them. One reason was the Kings’ success in the faceoff circle: 31-25 as a team, highlighted by a 15-2 record by Jarret Stoll. Another reason was the lack of odd-man rushes for the Sharks, as the Kings succeeded in plugging the holes in front of Quick.

“It was just more of a home plate attitude,” Quick said. “They kept a lot of the guys out — a lot of the shots were from the perimeter, limited their Grade-A chances from last time.”

Mostly, however, it was Quick. Acrobatic at times and always calm, he made 19 saves in the first period, 15 in the second and 18 in the third.

The series shifts back to Staples Center on Monday at 7 p.m.

A few more notes and observations:
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Kings 3, Phoenix 2, shootout.

Of the many questions they have faced this season, the Kings answered the biggest of them all on Wednesday: They will participate in the playoffs.

A dominant victory over a possible first-round playoff opponent would have been a nice luxury. A 3-2 shootout win, in which Jonathan Quick stopped two out of the three shooters and Michal Handzus and Jarret Stoll beat Ilya Bryzgalov, got the job done.

The Kings moved into fourth place in a still-tight Western Conference playoff race, and have the inside track on home-ice advantage for the first round. Stoll also scored in regulation off a terrific Dustin Brown set-up, and Kyle Clifford scored off a terrific Wayne Simmonds set-up.

The Kings finished 3-3 against the Coyotes in the regular season, winning the last two.

Here are a few more notes that won’t make tomorrow’s editions:
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Kings 4, Nashville 2.

The Kings had never swept a four-game road trip before Tuesday, but managed to seal the deal against another Western Conference opponent in Nashville.

Jonathan Bernier made 30 saves on a night when the Predators outshot the Kings 32-18. Bernier improved to 4-1-0 against the Predators. He’s never faced another team more often in his young career, and Terry Murray will keep calling his number against Nashville so long as this continues.

“He worked hard to find the puck,” Murray said of Bernier. “He was really on top of the crease square, and absorbed a lot of those pucks. Strong game.”

“I think it’s just the type of team that gives me a lot of action, keeps me in the game,” Bernier said, and that was certainly true Tuesday. The Kings made more mistakes than Nashville — Murray couldn’t be happy with his team’s 17 giveaways — but also took advantage of their opponents’ miscues.

Anze Kopitar, Alec Martinez, Wayne Simmonds and Dustin Brown scored goals, the latter coming into an empty net with 1:02 left in the game.

Long Beach native Jonathon Blum scored the Preds’ only goal, a long blast that deflected off a Kings player (it looked on TV like Jack Johnson) in front of the net and tied the game 1-1. It was the second goal of Blum’s 12-game career.

Some notes and observations:
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Kings 4, Minnesota 2.

Any later in the season, the Kings’ win Thursday night would be nothing more or less than a straightforward move up in the Western Conference standings.

That special feat deserves its due. It’s not every day that two teams in a dead heat in the standings play each other in a “four-point game.” The Kings have done it twice in the span of two days now, and won both times. In the process they’ve moved up three spots in the standings to fifth.

But my story for tomorrow’s editions — if you got the late edition — focused on the trade deadline, and the man whose two-goal game raised 26 eyebrows in the Staples Center press box. (We journalists aren’t much good at math, but I’m assuming that the credentialed scouts from 13 NHL teams had two eyebrows apiece.)

Wayne Simmonds says he isn’t worried about the deadline, meaning he’s either a cool customer of the Edmonton Journal or he doesn’t read the Edmonton Journal at all. I don’t know how many teams were asking about Simmonds prior to his two-goal game against the Wild, so let’s call that number x. Dean Lombardi might have 3x teams asking about Simmonds between now and Monday, given that 3x 29.

Really, I’m not good at math. Corrections welcome.

Perhaps the lesson from Thursday’s game is that, with the right linemates, Simmonds can be more than just an energy-line forward, for the Kings or whomever his next employer is. Maybe because of Anze Kopitar’s mere presence, Simmonds had plenty of space to fire off both of his goals from a very sweet area of the ice. But he also had the right amount of English on those shots to get them past Kings killer Niklas Backstrom. That wrist shot looked impressive.

Any earlier in the season, and a two-game sequence like Wednesday and Thursday’s could inspire “team-of-destiny” talk. The Kings won by scoring three goals on a season-low 18 shots in Anaheim, then got a 160-foot goal by Kopitar to seal the victory against Minnesota. Defense and goaltending being equal (and they usually are around here), those things just don’t happen.

But the trade deadline is the one point in the season when fans expect their team to upgrade their personnel. Now is not the time to be looking at destiny to carry a team past the first round of the playoffs, but rather the best available forwards on bad teams with attractive contracts.

So the trade rumors will persist, “destiny” and 160-foot goals be damned. That’s why a two-goal game by Wayne Simmonds can’t simply come and go without counting the number of scouts credentialed for the game.

A few more notes:
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Kings 4, Columbus 3, SO.

Jarret Stoll’s shootout goal lifted the Kings to another close win on a road trip that is slowly, surely turning their season around.

Since hitting their low point Jan. 20 at 24-22-1, the Kings have gone 8-0-2 – including 5-0-2 to start their 10-game “road trip.”

Stoll slipped a forehand past the blocker of Mathieu Garon and Jonathan Quick made 26 saves, plus three more in the shootout, to preserve the win. Justin Williams scored his team-leading 20th goal of the season, Andrei Loktionov scored his fourth and Drew Doughty scored his eighth. The Kings (32-22-3) never trailed but never pulled away, allowing the Blue Jackets (28-23-6) to answer each of their goals.

“A conference game and both teams are trying to push themselves into the playoffs,” Kings head coach Terry Murray said. “I liked our first period. I thought that was a good start. Then we started to get away from doing the right things in the second period. We were a little too fancy and a little too cute at times. We lost our responsibility in the checking part of the game. It was back and forth and we are going to need to be more focused as we move through the rest of this trip.”

A few more notes:
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Kings 1, Philadelphia 0. Updates with more tidbits.

Anze Kopitar spotted a streaking Drew Doughty 17 seconds into the second period for the only goal of the game, and Jonathan Quick’s 40-save shutout gave the Kings their seventh win in their last nine games (7-0-2).

Credit Wayne Simmonds for starting the scoring sequence by winning a puck battle behind the net with Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen. Simmonds fished the puck out to Kopitar in the corner, before Kopitar hit the tape of Doughty’s stick as he skated high to low through the right faceoff circle.

The game delivered on the promise of a plot between a Kings team whose GM, head coach and assistant coach were lifted straight from the Flyers organization. It wasn’t a contrast in styles, but a battle of which team could execute the same system better. On Sunday, it was the Kings by a nose.

Former Flyer Michal Handzus also played a pivotal role during a 20-second-long 5-on-3 penalty kill in the second period. Handzus won the initial offensive-zone faceoff, allowing the Kings to clear the puck once, then ventured high into the offensive zone to clear the puck out again and kill the penalty.

The Flyers could not convert any of their four power plays, mustering two shots over a combined 7:40.

That helped Quick collect his sixth shutout of the season, outdueling Sergei Bobrovsky, who had an excellent 24-save performance of his own.

A few more notes …
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Kings 4, Washington 1.

Alex Ovechkin – who else – scored on the Capitals’ first shot of the game. That was the extent of the damage, and after a sluggish first period, it was all Kings.

Rather than squeak out a victory by the skin of their teeth, the Kings scored four unanswered goals and denied the same quality chances on the other end. Anze Kopitar tied the game at 1 in the second period by scoring his first goal since Jan. 15, putting back the rebound of a Wayne Simmonds shot from close range.

Andrei Loktionov put back a rebound at the end of a 2-on-1 rush with Kyle Clifford at 3:36 of the third period to give the Kings a 2-1 lead. Michal Handzus whacked in another loose puck in Semyon Varlamov’s crease at 12:28 of the third, and Jarret Stoll flew up the right wing for a much prettier goal at 13:56.

Jonathan Bernier made 22 saves, buckling down after Ovechkin’s goal 66 seconds into the game.

Going back to Dec. 27, when the Kings first slipped into a 2-10 coma, they had only beaten one opponent by three or more goals (a 5-2 win over Edmonton on Jan. 15). Since Jan. 22, they’re 6-0-2 and now have a decisive win over a good team that was booed heartily by the announced crowd of 18,398 at the Verizon Center.

A few more notes:
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Pittsburgh 2, Kings 1.

Jordan Staal’s forehand wrister with 18.4 seconds left in overtime sent the Kings to a 2-1 loss against a depleted Penguins squad.

After Los Angeles native Brett Sterling got the Pens on the board early, Jarret Stoll capitalized on a Penguins turnover to tie the game at 1 at 17:17 of the first period. Nobody scored again in a tight defensive battle until Staal’s game-winner. Jonathan Quick made 24 saves, and counterpart Marc-Andre Fleury had 32 for the Penguins.

When Quick and Fleury weren’t trading saves – mostly of the routine variety – they got help from their defense. The Kings (18) and Penguins (21) combined for 39 blocked shots, including seven alone by Pittsburgh defenseman Zbynek Michalek. It was the type of game Pittsburgh needed without injured forwards Sidney Crosby (concussion), Evgeni Malkin (knee) and Chris Kunitz (lower body).

It was the type of game the Kings needed, too, given the depth of their recent offensive struggles. In the end, it could have gone either way. This time it went the Penguins’ way.

Optimistically, the Kings added to their point total for the seventh straight game. Pessimistically, even the latest forward permutations couldn’t find the second goal it needed to beat a weakened offensive team.

A few more notes:
Continue reading “Pittsburgh 2, Kings 1.” »

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Simmonds interview

There’s no debate about which player was the surprise of training camp. Wayne Simmonds showed potential 12 months ago, but he seemed to be a raw talent in need of a lot of development. Simmonds came in this summer, starting at the development camp, and impressed team management with his improved strength and puck-handling skills. He earned a spot on the roster and will get third-line minutes when the season opens. Of course, with Patrick O’Sullivan returning, Simmonds will need to immediately show that he should stick in the NHL. Here’s what Simmonds had to say about his memorable training camp…
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Prospect evaluation: Simmonds

Wayne Simmonds
DOB – 8-26-88
Owen Sound (OHL)
– Regular season: 17 goals, 22 assists (39 points), 43 PIM
Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
– Reg season: 16 goals, 20 assists (36 points), 68 PIM
– Post season: 5 goals, 9 assists (14 points), 32 PIM

Reporter Ben Leeson from The Sault Star on Simmonds:

“Simmonds is a tough player to contain because of his speed, strength and reach. He seems to maximize all three when he gets a little fierce and battles hard to get into scoring position and pursue rebounds. His wrist shot is hard and accurate and he uses it well even when driving off the wing under pressure from defenders. He’s strong on the puck and smart away from it. He excels when he has a centre who knows how to find him. His conditioning is superb. He never seems to tire much.”
“Wayne has an NHL frame, but at 175 pounds he could stand to pack on weight if he wants to make the most of it. Sometimes he needs to just let a shot go instead of looking for the nice play. He should be ready for the pro game next year. If he develops at the same rate he has been, I could see him becoming a 20- or 25-goal man at the NHL level.”

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