LOS ANGELES — Despite taking a four-game winning streak into Saturday’s action, the Los Angeles Kings were not going to win their remaining 66 games, and even though they put in a strong effort, goaltender Dan Ellis led the Nashville Predators to a 3-1 victory over the Kings in front of an announced crowd of 14,135 fans at Staples Center.
Ellis was often brilliant, stopping all but one of the 34 shots the Kings fired at him and almost single-handedly won the game for the Predators, who beat all three of California’s National Hockey League teams on their current road swing.
“To be honest with you I think that’s the first time we won all three games in California,” said Predators head coach Barry Trotz. “Our overall record in these buildings isn’t very good and we found out a lot about ourselves.”
“Tonight we got some good goaltending real early and we battled through it,” added Trotz. “[The Kings have] a lot of structure and they don’t give you a lot and so we battled through that.”
The Kings dominated play from the opening face-off, hemming the Predators deep in their own zone for extended period. But even though they outshot the Predators in the first period, 12-5, they could not beat Ellis.
It was more of the same in the second period, as the Kings outshot the Predators in the period, 15-9. But it was the Predators who drew first blood when a long clearing pass by Ellis caught the Kings in a bad line change. Predators center Jason Arnott was all alone in front of the Kings net and had an easy re-direction of a pass from Nashville winger Martin Erat at 10:26.
Less than five minutes later, Kings defenseman Kyle Quincey fired a slap shot from left point with heavy traffic in front. The puck hit the right skate of Kings center Michael Handzus and deflected into the net, tying the game at the 15:06 mark.
But that would be it for the Kings as the Predators picked up their game in the third period, which was much more evenly played than the first and second periods.
Late in the period, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty was forced to take a hooking penalty to prevent a scoring chance, putting the Predators on the power play, and they capitalized, with right wing Jean-Pierre Dumont scoring at 17:32 after a scramble around the Kings net.
With Kings goaltender Erik Ersberg, who put in another strong performance despite the loss, off for the extra attacker, Kings right wing Dustin Brown threw a pass from deep in the Nashville zone to a vacant right point. The puck went all the way down the ice and into the Kings net.
The empty net goal was credited to Nashville defenseman Shea Weber, the last Predators player to touch the puck.
After the game, the Kings felt they deserved a better fate.
“I think this was our game,” said Ersberg. “We should’ve won it. We just couldn’t get those loose pucks in front of the net. Especially in the second period. I think we had a lot of pucks lying around, but there defense did a good job too.”
“We played a pretty good game,” said Brown. “Sometimes, you don’t get the result you want. We definitely had the effort. That’s something we have to bring to tomorrow’s game.”
Doughty, whose penalty gave the Predators the power play late in the third period on which they scored the game-winning goal, echoed those comments, noting that his team was able to do what they wanted in the game.
“I thought we were the better team out there without a doubt,” said Doughty. “I thought we played hard. We battled. We definitely deserved better. That was our game to win. They got that power play at the end and they scored. That was the downfall, I guess.”
“Overall, we did all the things we wanted to do,” said Doughty. “We were getting puck in deep, moving the puck early and getting shots on net. Usually, we don’t get too many shots on net. I think that was one of the keys tonight. That’s why we were getting scoring opportunities. I think if we continue to do that, more goals will come for us.”
Kings head coach Terry Murray saw things much the same way.
“We had lots of good looks in the game, especially in the second period,” Murray explained. “We had 27 shots after two periods and probably had a dozen great scoring chances. We just couldn’t find a way to get the job done in the offensive part of it here tonight.”
“You knew the flow of our game was going our way,” Murray elaborated. “I thought we were strong on the puck all night long, we moved our feet very well in the offensive zone on the cycle, we found people in the right place to get the shots through. But there were some loose pucks maybe in the early part of the game that we could’ve been stronger on off rebounds that were lying around. But we started to really focus in on those as the game kept going in the second half of the first period and in the second period.”
Murray pointed to Ellis as being the reason the Predators won the game.
“Their goaltender played great,” said Murray. “Give Ellis a lot of credit. He was the difference in the game, he was the reason why they won tonight.”
“That’s the way it goes sometimes,” added Murray. “We have to regroup and stay positive with our effort and get ready to go play the Ducks tomorrow. The goaltender was good. He made the stops when he had to.”
But the Kings misfired a few times as well.
“[Ellis] played very well,” said Doughty. “We had so many good opportunities. He stopped a few of them and we missed the net.”
“I think [Ellis] played well,” said Brown. “The puck was bouncing a lot tonight. We had some chances right in the slot. It just didn’t bounce our way. He made some pretty good saves as well.”
Murray’s netminder was no slouch, either.
“Ersberg, for his part of it, he made a couple of big stops late in the third period to keep it a 1-1 game,” said Murray. “We had our opportunity on the power play. They had a big kill at a critical time and we didn’t get the job done on our side of it.”
The Predators, who have won both games against the Kings this season, did not get off to the start they wanted.
“It’s not the way we wanted to start it, but we talked about getting back to the basics and getting back to the way we play and that’s just work ethic,” said Arnott. “We were chipping away and tonight we found a way to win and that’s what we got to do every single night we can and try to come away with points.”
NOTES: The Kings are 4-1-1 in their last six games; center Michal Handzus has scored four goals and has contributed four assists for eight points in 16 games. Last season, it took him 31 games to record eight points; The Kings entered the game allowing the fewest shots per game in the NHL (24.1). They allowed 22 shots in this game.
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