LOS ANGELES – Jack Johnson’s excellent adventure to Vancouver and back didn’t take too much out of him. He still had enough energy at both ends of the ice to help the Los Angeles Kings go into the Olympic break with a victory.
Johnson assisted on third-period goals by Anze Kopitar and Oscar Moller in a 3-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night, and also did enough dirty work around his own net to help Jonathan Quick earn his NHL leading 34th victory and second shutout of the season.
Johnson, one of four Kings players who will spend the next two weeks in Vancouver, will be making his second trip to the Olympic village in three days. He took part in the opening ceremony after taking a charter flight to Bellingham, Wash., and then getting driven the rest of the way by car.
“It was the coolest experience I’ve ever had in my life and something I’ll never forget,” Johnson said. “The travel went absolutely as smoothly as I could have hoped. I knew I was going to be back late, but it was worth every minute of it.
“I got to get a lot of rest after the morning skate and went in for a really, really long pre-game nap. I just knew I had to be ready at 7:30, because I had one more game before the Olympics and I had a job to do.”
Johnson became the first-ever American-born NHL player to march in the opening ceremony, and was the only active NHL player to take part Friday.
“It meant a lot for me to get the whole Olympic experience,” the 23-year-old defenceman said. “It’s the opening ceremonies of the Winter Games, so it’s a no-brainer. I mean, if you have the opportunity, why waste it? It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If I’m fortunate enough to play in the next one, it’s in Russia – so I can’t just go over and back.”
Quick, one of Johnson’s Olympic teammates, posted his sixth career shutout with 22 saves in the opener of the four-game season series while matching Mario Lessard’s 1980-81 franchise record for wins.
“If I’m in there 90 per cent of the games, I’m going to have a lot of opportunities to win games – which has been the reason for it,” said Quick, who has started all but six of the Kings’ 61 games. “But those are team wins, and every one is a team effort. Obviously, I owe a lot to the guys working in front of me here.”
The Kings are fourth in the Western Conference with 78 points, one fewer than last season, when they missed the playoffs for the sixth straight time. The Olympic break comes at a bad time for them, because they are on a 12-2-1 surge.
“The Olympic break is a tough thing, especially when you are not playing,” captain Dustin Brown said. “I think it is probably easier for the guys who are going to the Olympics. If anything, the intensity might pick up for those guys. But for the guys who are not going, it is important for them to focus. It can take a toll on you having that much time off.”
Craig Anderson, who lost out to Quick for one of the spots on Team USA, made 20 saves in his 16th consecutive start, which tied the Avalanche record Patrick Roy set in 1998-99. The franchise mark of 26 is held by Ron Tugnutt, who did it in 1990-91 with the Quebec Nordiques.
The Kings, 23-0-0 in games they’ve led after two periods, opened the scoring at 11:19 of the second – less than 1½ minutes after killing off a 5-minute boarding major against defenceman Rob Scuderi for shoving Chris Durno headfirst into the boards in the right corner of the Kings’ zone.
“Right away, the ref called two minutes, but then he saw that (Durno) had a cut. So he had no choice but to call five,” Scuderi said. “That’s fine. I mean, It’s not like I buried him with a cross-check. He kind of took me by surprise and I was kind of almost backing up. But it’s part of it, and I was fortunate the team got the kill.”
Richardson dug the puck out of a scrum along the left boards and passed it back to Scuderi before heading toward the slot and tipping Scuderi’s 50-foot slapshot past Anderson’s glove for his eighth goal.
“We tried to weather the storm in the first period, and we did,” Colorado coach Joe Sacco said. “Then we have a five-minute power play and it seemed to be a big turning point in the game. But we weren’t able to capitalize on it, and they came back on us and scored. It was a big moment shift in the game.”
Rich Clune, playing in his second NHL game, recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Richardson’s eight goal and also assisted on Kopitar’s power-play goal with 16:12 remaining. Clune also got his first fighting major when he was tested by Colorado enforcer Cody McLeod at 2:29 of the opening period.
Kopitar beat Anderson through a screen from with a wrist shot from the right circle while Durno was off for boarding. Kopitar’s has 28 goals, one more than he had in 82 games last season. Moller made it 3-0 with 12:58 to play.
Immediately following the game, a ceremony was held to acknowledge the eight players who will be representing their respective teams at the Olympics. The Kings are also sending Drew Doughty (Canada) and Michal Handzus (Slovakia). The Avalanche will be sending Salei (Belarus), Paul Stastny (U.S.) and Peter Budaj (Slovakia).
NOTES: Salei’s only other game this season was on Oct. 8, when he was on the ice for 19 minutes in a 3-2 loss at Nashville. … The Avalanche were 0 for 3 on the power play, and are just 3 for 35 over their last 10 games.