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LOS ANGELES- In a game that could have been billed as a battle of the rested, neither team had reason to be tired on Thursday night at STAPLES Center. Both sides had been off since Saturday, with the Kings coming off a 4-1 victory at home against Nashville and the Stars, a 5-0 loss in Colorado.
It was the Stars however, that were unable to capitalize on the four days of rest, as they offered up eight power play opportunities to the top-ranked team in the Western Conference, falling by a score of 3-1 in front of a sellout crowd of 18, 118. The Kings second win against the Stars this season improves their unblemished home record to 7-0-0.
The Stars had hoped to breathe some life into their special teams which has struggled this season, especially away from American Airlines Center. The team entered tonight’s game with the league’s worst penalty kill on the road.
Dallas started off by killing the first four Los Angeles power plays, but for believers of the due theory, the Stars were tempting fate when Mark Fistric took the team’s fifth minor of the game in the third period. The Kings spent their four-day hiatus working on their dismal power play, ranked dead last in the league on home ice entering play. They made sure not to squander their fifth man-advantage, as the team’s leading scorer Justin Williams wristed the puck past a screened Kari Lehtonen to put the Kings up for good.
Williams’ seventh goal of the season extended his point streak to eight games (5-5-10), one shy of his career best, and gave him 15 points on the season. He leads the team in both goals and points along with 14 points (6-8-14) in his last 12 games.
“These are big points and it’s going to keep going that way,” Kings’ defensman Matt Greene said after his team’s victory, “We are playing a lot of teams that are really battling for points, especially in the division here.”
Both teams began the game with some jump and energy, but it was the home team that needed just six minutes to take the lead when Kings Captain Dustin Brown potted his seventh goal of the season. The opportunity came as Anze Kopitar let go a wrist shot from the left circle which Kari Lehtonen stopped, but Brown snapped the rebound high glove-side beating Lehtonen from the top of the crease. Los Angeles improved their record to 8-0-0 this season when scoring the game’s first goal.
Jamie Benn evened the score late in the first period with his third tally of the year. After Mike Ribeiro chipped the puck into the Los Angeles zone, Benn lifted the stick of Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, took the puck and beat Jonathan Quick between the legs to erase the deficit.
For Ribeiro, it was his 14th helper of the season. He finished the evening tied for second overall in the league in assists with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Nicklas Lidstrom, trailing only Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks (16). Karlis Skrastins also picked up his second assist of the season on the play.
The play would prove to be the only blemish on Quick’s night, as the Kings goaltender turned aside 27 of 28 shots earning first star honors and improving his record to 9-1-0 with a .944 save percentage through his first 10 starts.
In the final minute of the first period, James Neal landed a big hit on Kings forward Jarret Stoll along the boards in the Dallas zone. Defenseman Matt Greene took exception and dropped his gloves to chase down Neal. The two each served a five minute fighting major with Greene also receiving a 10 minute misconduct penalty as well as an instigating call. No penalty was assessed for the original hit on Stoll.
Late in the second period, Los Angeles thought they had taken the lead when Stoll converted on a 3-on-2 break. But the goal was disallowed, as the officials ruled that Justin Williams had interfered with the goaltender, Lehtonen, on the play. No penalty was assessed to Williams however.
The call energized both the crowd as well as the players, as the final two minutes of the period were filled with big hits and scoring chances at both ends of the rink. The most dramatic of the hits came from Karlis Skrastins on Dustin Brown in the final 27 seconds. The hit ignited several skirmishes including a fight between Steve Ott and Davis Drewiske that set the tone for the rest of the game.
“It was intense. Second and third period got revved up pretty good,” Kings’ Head Coach Terry Murray said after that game, “You’ve got two division teams and that always adds a bit to it. When you’re going to compete, you’re going to battle. You’re going to make hits and get hit and I thought we played pretty hard. They’re a tough team and that kind of stuff isn’t going to go away.”
Trailing by one after Williams’ power play goal, the Stars had an opportunity to tie the game again with a 19 second 5-on-3 advantage, but their best opportunity came from the right faceoff circle when Loui Eriksson shot the puck wide of an empty net.
“I thought we did a lot of pretty good things to generate, we had a couple of chances. We had that great chance by Loui and he missed it. Usually that’s money in the bank with the puck on his stick in that situation, but he put it over the net and we didn’t get it done” said Stars’ Head Coach Marc Crawford after the game.
The Stars were unable to convert on all five of their power play opportunities against the league’s top-ranked penalty kill unit on home ice.
Los Angeles finished the game one a five-minute power play after Adam Burish received a boarding call along with a game misconduct for a hit on Drew Doughty with four minutes remaining in regulation. The Kings added an insurance goal as Jack Johnson’s shot from the blue line found its way to the back of the net for his first of the season.
“These are two good teams. I mean it was a fun hockey game to play in,” Stars’ forward Adam Burish said, “This game will make us better down the road, I’m confident of that. It almost had a playoff kind of feel to it, just the excitement in the building and the energy.”
The Stars fall to 3-3-0 on the road and 8-6-0 overall this season. Dallas will take on the Anaheim Ducks Friday night at Honda Center at 9pm Central.
Jamie Benn’s highlight reel goal and +1 rating earned him the second star of the game.
Loui Eriksson, the Stars’ leading goal-scorer, was held off of the score sheet, picking a hooking minor.
Brad Richards, Dallas’ leader in points, was also held pointless with a minor penalty and a +1 rating.
Kari Lehtonen turned aside 26-of-29 shots on goal in his fifth loss of the season.
Former King Brandon Segal fought rookie Kyle Clifford midway through the second period in a brief scrap that saw the two tumbled to the ice relatively quickly. It was Segal’s first fight of the season.
Krys Barch was back in the Stars lineup for his seventh game of the season in place of Brian Sutherby.
Brian Sutherby and Jeff Woywitka were both healthy scratches.