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Los Angeles Kings Spoil Blackhawks “Circus Trip”

LOS ANGELES — Since the Los Angeles Kings moved to Staples Center in 1999, there have been several times when they were forced to go on very long road trips while their arena was being used for other events.

But if you think the Kings are the only National Hockey League team that often has to play second fiddle at their own arena, guess again.

During a matinee affair on Saturday, the Kings handed the Chicago Blackhawks a 5-2 defeat in front of an announced crowd of 16,147 fans at Staples Center.

The loss culminated a 3-2-1 road trip for the ’Hawks, who hit the road with a circus occupying the United Center, their home arena, for two weeks.

The “Circus Trip” is an annual reality for the ’Hawks, who have traditionally struggled on this road swing with a 6-19-3 overall record. Their 3-2-1 mark on this edition of the excursion is the first time since 1997 that they have earned a winning record.

“It’s disappointing the way we concluded it,” said ’Hawks coach Joel Quenneville. “We’re not happy with this ending. That was the worst we’ve been. We have to be better than that.”

“We didn’t play well at all,” said Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook. “We were right there in the third period and stopped doing all the little things.”

“We had a great start to the trip, but it’s how you finish it and we let them off the hook,” added Seabrook. “Good teams will find a way to bury teams and today we didn’t.”

Kings center Jarret Stoll gave the Kings a 1-0 lead just 1:18 into the game, but ’Hawks forwards Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane followed with first period goals, both one-timers from the circles, to give the ’Hawks a 2-1 lead going into the second period.

But that would be all anyone would hear from the ’Hawks on the scoreboard the rest of the way as the Kings pressed their advantage in terms of skating and work ethic.

“We started taking guys on one-on-one and turned the puck over a couple times in the middle of the ice,” Quenneville lamented. “I thought we had perfect control of the game and didn’t advance it. You’ve got to be responsible start to finish in road games.”

“We started poorly in the first ten minutes but finished strong in the first and had the game in our hands,” said Sharp. “Around the halfway point, we let them off the hook. We didn’t really have our best effort in the third. It’s disappointing toward the end of the trip. We can make all the excuses we want, but the bottom line is we lost the game.”

“We had a good opportunity to make it a good road trip and it turned out to be a tough way to finish,” added Sharp. ”We’re not starting the game the way we need to give us a chance to win and we have to have a better effort as a team. It was a disappointing way to end.”

But it wasn’t all bad on the trip for the ’Hawks.

“I guess we can be satisfied with [a 3-2-1 trip], but it’s hard to put a happy face on after a game like that,” said Sharp. “It’s a tough trip every year. The main thing is to put this one behind us and get ready to go home.”

For the Kings, after a royal stinker in Calgary on Tuesday, a 6-2 defeat, they came back with a strong effort in a 2-1 win at Edmonton on Thursday followed by another solid effort in this game, including four unanswered goals starting with right wing Alexander Frolov scoring his eighth goal of the season at 18:58 of the second period, tying the game, 2-2.

“I think we played a great game in Edmonton,” said Frolov, who cleaned up the garbage at the left post on his goal. “We felt good about ourselves and about our game. This was our first home game against a good hockey club. They’re young but really talented, especially up front. We knew what we had to do. We had to play smart, stay within our structure and work hard as a team. I think we did that today. Good things happened for us.”

“When you do the right things—putting the puck deep and just keep cycling, we can do a lot of good stuff in the offensive zone.”

Kings head coach Terry Murray said his team was a bit inconsistent, but the effort was there, especially after a high sticking double minor to rookie forward Oscar Moller at 14:35 of the first period.

“The double minor—they scored and go up 2-1, we hit three posts and it’s still 2-1 for them and finally we get a goal to tie the game up,” said Murray. “But in the middle, there was some indecisiveness. We didn’t know how we wanted to get going. We were not on top of their skating the way we were early in the game. In the middle period, we were turning the puck over in the middle of the ice. We stopped getting it in deep. We were trying hard to do the right stuff to get back into it, but sometimes you start to press.”

“What I liked was the response in the third period,” added Murray. “We settled in and showed a lot of maturity. We started to play the right way. We did the right things with the puck—great management.”

“Whenever you win a game like that, there’s a lot of positives that shows a team starting to mature. It’s always great to win and start to learn good things. It helps a young player and it helps a young team tremendously.”

Center Derek Armstrong, who played in just his thirteenth game of the season, scored his first of the season at 6:16 of the third period, his goal proving to be the game-winner.

For the 35-year-old veteran who has been a healthy scratch almost as many times as he has been in the lineup this season, the goal was his first since February 15, 2008, a 6-3 win over Calgary.

“We showed maturity today,” said Armstrong. “We had a couple of lapses in the game but we found a way to win the hockey game. It was a great team effort.”

At Calgary on Thursday, Murray put Armstrong on a line with Moller and left wing Patrick O’Sullivan and they seemed to be clicking.

“Sully’s been really good,” said Armstrong. “The last couple of games he’s helped me. He’s settled me down and told me to make some plays out there and for a young guy, he’s showed a lot of maturity.”

“I’m supposed to be the old, wily veteran but he’s settled me down out there and made some good plays for me,” added Armstrong. “And Moller, an 18-year-old—same thing. He’s helped me through this time and obviously, winning is the most important thing.”

Despite not getting into as many games as he had been up to this season, Armstrong said that he has accepted his new role.

“It’s definitely tough, but that’s my role right now and that’s what I’ve got to accept,” he stressed. “We’ve got a great team here. It doesn’t really matter what you do, especially when you get older. It’s all about winning games.”

“As you get older, you appreciate winning hockey more than anything you’ve ever done,” he elaborated. “Just the way you see people smile and the way they act when you win games, that’s all that counts. If I can help chip in goals here and there, play as good as I can—I’ll do anything to help win.”

Armstrong seems to have the “team first” attitude clearly in mind.

“[The Kings’ young players are] playing great,” Armstrong explained. “The guys who are playing good should play. That’s the way it is. That has nothing to do with me. Obviously, it comes down to winning and when I can score a goal like that to help the team, that’s all I care about.”

Murray pointed to Armstrong as one of the catalysts to the Kings turnaround from their poor effort at Calgary, as opposed to his shaking up of his forward lines.

“I really don’t think shaking up the lines had much to do with it,” said Murray. “I think it’s some guys getting an opportunity like putting Armstrong and [Brad] Richardson back in. They brought us some good stuff in these two games.”

“When you lose like we did in Calgary—we have some good character in our locker room,” added Murray. “The players knew there had to be a bigger effort, a better effort. They put a lot of pressure on themselves to come back and play well, especially in the game at Edmonton, and then we’re starting off a home stand here. We’ve got some games coming up this week and we wanted to get off on the right track.”

The Kings, who are now 3-1-1 in their last five games, also got a goal from left wing Kyle Calder, who scored on the power play off a rebound in front of Chicago goalie Cristobal Huet at 13:52, and an empty-net marker by O’Sullivan at 17:53.

Kings center Michal Handzus contributed two assists, solid forechecking, strong defensive play and was a consistent factor to be reckoned with in all three zones.

After such a poor 2007-08 season when he was slowed by his recovery from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament one year earlier, Handzus has been a completely different player this season.

To illustrate, Handzus now has five goals and seven assists for twelve points in 21 games. Last season, it took Handzus 45 games to record twelve points.

“The way he’s playing right now is the way he played for us in Philadelphia,” said Murray. “He had some bad luck going into Chicago. Eight games in [the 2006-07 season], blew his knee out. Last year, he had some issues.”

“But this is the player that you want to get when you sign him,” added Murray. “He’s a character player, great experience, very responsible. On the other side of it, he can make plays. He get something done on the offensive side of his game. I’m real happy for him because I know how proud he is of his game and going through the last two years has been very hard for him.”

Handzus has been moved from center to left wing and unlike a lot of players, the move has not fazed him one bit.

“Now he’s on left wing, he made the adjustment with no problem,” Murray explained. “He can read and react off of people. Great checker. That’s the player you want out there on the penalty-kill at a key time. You want him out there late in a game with a face-off in your own zone and he’s got great size and strength. He’s going to be able to battle people along the boards. There’s a lot of qualities that you like in Michal Handzus.”

Back to the ’Hawks…they apparently thought the Kings would be a pushover.

“I underestimated that team today and we had them right where we wanted them and halfway through the game we let it slip away,” said ‘Hawks forward and team captain Jonathan Toews. “We thought it was going to be an easy game and it definitely wasn’t. After we had that lead we didn’t work hard enough to keep it.”

“We’ve always had a lot of good games against them,” added Toews. ”They were strong defensively and they’re a different team than what we ran into last year. They were tougher defensively. They made it tough to get to the net and get scoring chances and we didn’t work hard enough to create them.”

NOTES: Believe it or not, the Kings are 10-9-3 on the season and are above the .500 mark for the second time this season. The last time was on November 13 when they were 7-6-2 after winning a 3-2 decision at Dallas. Prior to this season, the Kings have not been above .500 since September 9, 2007, opening night of the 2007-08 season; Five Kings had multi-point games, including Stoll, Frolov and O’Sullivan with a goal and an assist each, while Handzus and defenseman Kyle Quincey contributed two assists each; Quincey has five assists in the last five games; Kings defenseman Tom Preissing’s assist on Frolov’s goal was his 100th NHL assist; O’Sullivan has scored four goals and has added two assists for six points in his last five games with a +6 plus/minus rating; Frolov played in his 400th game with the Kings and in the NHL; he has scored a goal in three of his last four games; Erik Ersberg got the start in goal for the Kings, stopping 22 shots. In thirteen games this season, Ersberg is 6-4-2 with a 2.29 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage.


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