LOS ANGELES – When Los Angeles Kings defenceman Tom Preissing was benched for four games last month by new coach Terry Murray, it was to send a message to the five-year veteran that he had to earn his ice time.
Florida Panthers rookie coach Peter DeBoer is thinking about doing the same thing with some of his players.
Preissing got the message and has stepped up his play during his first three games back in the lineup, including Thursday night, when his power-play goal helped the Kings beat the Panthers 3-2 and end a five-game losing streak.
“There’s more purpose to his game,” Murray said. “He knows that there’s an accountability and he’s playing harder. He’s always been a smart player. He sees the ice well and he does a lot of things with the puck, but I think his play without it has been stepped up. When he plays with that kind of attitude, he can help any team.”
Brian Boyle and Dustin Brown also scored for the Kings. Defenceman Drew Doughty, the second overall pick in the draft, had his first two NHL assists. Through his first 12 NHL games, Doughty has a plus-minus rating of plus-7.
Anthony Stewart scored and Nathan Horton added a short-handed goal for the Panthers in their fifth straight loss. It was their first meeting with the Kings since Feb. 3, 2007, when they put 40 shots on Sean Burke and lost 7-0. Florida has lost the last four meetings by a combined 16-5.
“We’re just not good enough – bottom line,” DeBoer said. “We didn’t have a good first period. It’s inexcusable, and you’ll have to ask the leadership group in the room why. We’re at the point in the season now where you have to earn your ice time or you’re not going to play. Unfortunately there were too many guys to sit tonight to use benching as a motivation.”
Boyle opened the scoring at 16:27 of the first period. Teammate Patrick O’Sullivan tried to carry the puck out from behind the net and was tripped by Gregory Campbell, but Boyle beat defenceman Jay Bouwmeester to the loose puck and whipped his first goal of the season past Tomas Vokoun.
The Kings, 4-for-41 with the man advantage in their previous eight games and coming off their third shutout loss at home, made it 2-0 at 18:38 of the first period. Anze Kopitar faked a wrist shot at the top of the right circle to get Vokoun’s attention, then made a cross-ice pass to Preissing, whose one-timer beat the goalie to the glove side while Bryan McCabe was off for tripping O’Sullivan.
“To come out flat like that is not acceptable,” said centre Stephen Weiss, who returned to the Panthers’ lineup after missing four games because of a groin injury. “We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and figure out why that was. We just didn’t have any legs, or anything, really. It’s not the coaching staff’s job to motivate players. It’s our job to make sure we are ready to play.”
Erik Ersberg made his second straight start in goal for the Kings after sitting behind Jason LaBarbera for the first 10 contests. The 26-year-old Swede, who stopped 26 shots in a 1-0 overtime loss to Anaheim on Wednesday, had a relatively easy time of it as his teammates outshot the NHL’s lowest-scoring team 12-3 in each of the first two periods and 32-15 overall.
“I liked the defensive work, but that was a result of what the forwards were doing with their hard work. That’s a big part of playing defence,” Murray said. “There were a lot of good things in the offensive zone.”
The Panthers got on the board with their first shot of the third period. They were able to keep the puck in the zone with some aggressive forechecking near the left boards and the puck bounced to Stewart, who took a quick 50-foot wrist shot that surprised Ersberg and beat him to the stick side.
“It’s tough to get your rhythm going when you get one shot and then you’ve got to wait seven minutes or something for the next one. But that’s your job, and you’ve got to be ready when the shot comes,” Ersberg said.
Brown restored the Kings’ two-goal margin with 8:37 to play, beating Vokoun to the glove side with a deflected 35-foot wrist shot as McCabe stuck his stick out to try and block it.
“We had a good game tonight from top to bottom and we really supported each other in our defensive zone,” Brown said.
Florida got its second goal with late in the third period, as Horton scored from the top of the right circle while Bouwmeester was serving a hooking penalty.
Notes: Murray coached the Panthers for three seasons, including 1999-00, when they set franchise records with 98 points and 43 wins. … Stewart’s third goal in 52 NHL games snapped a 42-game drought dating back to Nov. 9, 2005 against the New York Rangers. … McCabe missed the previous 10 games because of a lower back strain. He was injured during a season-opening loss at Carolina. Campbell was back in action after sitting out five games with an injured hip. … Florida LW Cory Stillman, who has five of Florida’s 27 goals through their first 12 games, did not make the trip because of a concussion and a broken nose he sustained during Sunday’s 5-3 loss in Atlanta.