The Los Angeles Kings answered a lot of questions since Darryl Sutter took over behind the bench, but Saturday at STAPLES Center, they had no answer for Curtis Sanford.
Despite eight power plays that included a four-minute penalty and a two-man advantage, the Blue Jackets held the Kings at bay and rallied around the play of Sanford, who was named the game’s No. 1 star. His 31 saves were both pedestrian and impressive in nature, and the veteran netminder earned his first goose egg since Oct. 28, 2008 against the Ottawa Senators when he was a member of the Vancouver Canucks.
Sanford needed only Grant Clitsome’s fourth goal of the season to garner two points for the Blue Jackets, who snapped a two-game skid and were rewarded for strong play early in their California road trip.
Coaches and players pointed two things after the game that helped seal the victory: their perfect penalty killing, and the outstanding play of their goaltender.
“Certainly, Curtis was the big story there,” Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel said. “I thought he was outstanding and made the big stops. I have to give a lot of credit to our team; we blocked a lot of shots and the kill did an outstanding job.
“They did get shots, but we really took away any of the back-door, tap-in things. If there were rebounds, we cleared them out of there. Tonight, our (penalty kill) was the best I’ve seen it this year.”
And the key moment of the game, Arniel said, was the early-third period penalty kill that saw players blocking shots, getting sticks in passing lanes and “boxing out” to eliminate second-chance opportunities. On most occasions, the Kings got one shot at Sanford and that was all.
“It was such a big lift after the kill, it gave us a boost – the guys were doing a great job and pushing each other after the (last) kill. You could tell once one guy blocked a shot, it wasn’t just 5-on-5. We were really into the game.”
Sanford had to be ready right from the start, as the Kings come out with a strong opening push and used their four lines to establish a flow. The penalties helped disrupt their rhythm, but the Blue Jackets did their best to make a difficult game as easy as it could be for Sanford.
He made a pair of key stops late in the third period, including a dazzling glove save on Anze Kopitar just as a Los Angeles power play had expired.
“The guys were allowing me to see the puck, and there were a lot of huge blocked shots at the end,” Sanford said. “They were coming, and when you start the period on the PK for four minutes, you’re on your heels already.
“It’s hard to reestablish and get back on your toes when they’ve got some momentum. We stuck with it, we did what we had to do and we got the penalty kills when we had to.”
For a team that has struggled with its special teams as the Blue Jackets have, to see their hard work pay off was a big reward for the players.
R.J. Umberger said the team’s attention to detail during special teams portions of practice has given them renewed confidence on the penalty kill, and they had to rely on it to wrap up a win against the Kings.
“Our penalty kill really dug in tonight,” Umberger said. “It was nice to see our penalty kill finally win us a game. We’ve been doing a lot better here (on the kill) the last few games and building momentum.
“Tonight, in the third period, it was really critical for our PK to step up. For us to close the game and our PK to do the job, it was a good team game.”