DALLAS – The mood, as one would expect, was a little quiet in the Los Angeles Kings’ locker room on Saturday inside the American Airlines Center. But it wasn’t a state of complete disappointment.
Sure, the Kings lost 3-2 in a shootout with the Dallas Stars. But they did skate away with one point. That certainly beats the contrary, which is where the game appeared to be headed after Dallas (19-17-7) took a 2-1 lead 18:48 into the third on a Mike Ribeiro goal.
But with 16.9 seconds left on the clock, Kings leftwing Alexander Frolov found himself wide open on a wrap-around pass through the crease from Anze Kopitar and found the back of the net to send the game into overtime.
After five more minutes of scoreless hockey, and after one collective sigh by the Kings (17-20-7) when a last second effort by the Stars went array, the game headed for a shootout, where Stars goalie Marty Turco stopped Frolov, Dustin Brown and Jack Johnson in succession to uphold Mike Ribeiro’s lone shootout goal.
“Tonight we got that one point, and I think that’s a big step for this team,” Brown said. “Getting that goal after they scored [late], I think that’s the first time we’ve gotten that big goal at a key part of the game. That’s something that we haven’t done all year and it should give us confidence.”
Swift passing from left wing Kyle Calder and defenseman Sean O’Donnell allowed the Kings to break a scoreless tie late in the third period. After receiving the puck from O’Donnell, Calder, skating down the left side, screamed a pass to Brown, who notched his 15th goal of the season at the 6:45 mark of the third from the bottom of the right circle.
It didn’t take long for Dallas to even things up. Playing on the offensive for most of the game, the Stars finally broke through with their 27th shot on Kings goalie Erik Ersberg at the 11:29 mark with a goal by Jere Lehtinen, who squeezed by three Los Angeles defenders for his second goal of the season. He also scored vs. the Kings on Nov. 11.
Just when it looked like the game would head for overtime, Ribeiro snuck a goal past Ersberg 18:48 into the third, setting up Frolov's late goal.
“It’s a better result, I don’t know if it’s one we want obviously,” Brown said. “We had a 1-0 lead with 15 minutes left, that’s one we want to keep. But we responded with a late goal, which should help the mindset of this team.
“For us, this is our season. This is where teams start separating. We have a tough schedule, but everyone has a tough schedule at this time, fighting for points. It’s key for us to have good performances like we did tonight. Obviously, we didn’t play our best hockey, but the effort was there. If we put in 100 percent and lose, I can deal with that.”
JOHNSON IMPRESSIVE IN RETURN
Kings defenseman Jack Johnson received rave reviews from Kings coach Terry Murray in his first game back with Los Angeles since he suffered a shoulder injury on Oct. 12, 42 games ago.
“I really like his game tonight,” Murray said. “Jack responded extremely well. He was real big below the tops of our circles on our end, played strong, closed fast and kept the game pretty basic when he had possession of it. He was looking to get the puck up ice.”
Johnson played 20:14 and had two shots on goal. He also had a chance to even the shootout, but was denied by Turco.
“At the end, on our 4-on-4, he hits the goalie (with the puck). If that’s another two inches high it’s in the net. He played as good as I’ve seen him, including training camp.”
Brown agreed with Murray’s sentiments.
“He obviously provides a physical presence for us,” Brown said. “He’s an all around good player, moves the puck around and can skate. He had a few great opportunities and played great tonight in his first game back.”
It wasn’t the result he would have liked, but it was a marked improvement from the last time Kings goalie Erik Ersberg took his place between the pipes.
Then, on Monday, Ersberg (8-7-3) was pulled for giving up three goals on seven shots in 25:48 minutes during a 3-1 loss to Tampa Bay. Today, he stood tall against a furious Dallas surge that knocked on his doorstep all day long.
“He played good, goalies are supposed to play good,” Murray said. “When you get on the road there’s going to be a lot of desperation on both sides and the goalies have to respond. Ersberg had a solid game. There was time in our zone, especially with Dallas in the first period where they came out with lots of fire. They were taking it to us there at times and Ersberg held the fort. He did a good job.”
Ersberg stifled several Dallas attempts including one on Lehtinen 14:30 into the second period, which saw Ersberg, on his back side, lean to stop the puck inches from entering the net with a host of suitors nearby. Ersberg made another big save on a Mike Ribeiro wrister three minutes into the third after the Dallas center stole the puck between the circles and was left one-on-one with the Kings netminder.
“We kind of needed two points, but I’ll take one point with us scoring with 15 seconds left after they score with a minute left,” he said. “It was very nice for the guys to get one back. I feel like it was important for the team to feel like we can get back in games. It was a big point, but we needed two.”
Ersberg stopped 32-of-34 shots, but was beat stick side by Ribeiro during the shootout.
“He kept us in it and made some key saves,” Brown said. “When we got to the shootout, he made a big save (on Lehtinen). We just couldn’t score on Turco tonight. He kept us in it.”
“I think we played a better game today than we have the last couple of games,” Ersberg said. “We want desperate, but in a good way. We played with more heart today so that’s something to build on.”
DOUGHTY RETURNS, PLAYS A LOT
Drew Doughty logged a game-high 27:06 minutes in his first game back since suffering a thigh contusion on Monday that caused him to miss Thursday’s game against Detroit. Doughty left the game with a bruised right thigh after receiving a hard but clean check against the glass by Tampa Bay’s 6-foot-5, 260-pound Evgeny Artyukhin in the right corner of the Lightning zone at 10:43 of the second period.
MAYBE NEXT TIME
Kings forward Kevin Westgarth will have to wait at little longer to make his NHL debut. Los Angeles head coach Terry Murray had him “penciled in” to the lineup before the first faceoff, but the 6-5, 241-pound enforcer was announced as a scratch before the game along with center Derek Armstrong and defenseman Tom Prissing.
Westgarth was called up on Wednesday from Manchester of the American Hockey League.
Here is Murray’s pregame quote on Westgarth: “We have him penciled in to the lineup right now. The area that we are talking about right here before the game with some of the gray areas we have on the blue line with Doughty coming back, (Matt) Greene is banged up a little bit. So do we go with the seven defensemen or do we go with six with Jack coming in for his first game in almost 40 games. We are pushing that around right now.”
QUOTES FROM HEAD COACH TERRY MURRAY
On today’s game:
“Well there is such a thing as a good point. If you take a look at our last three games, we let some things slip away. We were playing with a little less confidence, but tonight I think we recaptured some of that. We seemed to be more assertive, more desperation on the checking side of the game. From that side of it, it was pretty good. It was real important point to get.”
On why he chose to play seven defensemen:
“Well there were a couple of other issues. The decision was not to have seven because of Jack Johnson. We had to wait and see after the warm-up to see how some guys were doing. We just felt like it was the right thing to do and I’m glad we went with that decision.”
On how important this point of the season is:
“We are looking at these three games before the All-Star break. We need to get some games on the road and play well. The focus tonight was on the checking part of the game, play the right way with our structure and with our system. Everybody had to dig in. The last few games I don’t think we were digging in deep enough as far as our team is concerned. It was a good response by the team tonight.”
Los Angeles has two games left – both on the road - before Jan. 25th’s All-Star game in Montreal. The Kings have a few days rest before they head to Minnesota on Tuesday (5 p.m. faceoff) and then to Colorado on Wednesday for a 6 p.m. drop of the puck…The Kings have lost four in a row…During the four-game losing streak, the first three coming at home, Los Angeles has been outscored by a combined 15-4…Los Angeles is 4-1-1 in their last six games against Dallas...The Kings defeated the Stars in both games of a home-and-home on Nov. 11 and Nov. 13 by the same 3-2 score. The first game, at home, came via a shootout…These two teams will meet three more times this season, with their next game in Los Angeles on March 5. The Kings will return to Dallas on March 26 and then will end the season series with the Stars two games later in Los Angeles on March 31…Frolov's goal was the 300th point of his career.
Compiled by William Wilkerson | Special to LAKings.com