LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Justin Williams finished his pirouette in front of the Tampa Bay net with a dramatic flourish, firing the puck past Mike Smith.
Although the goal was just about the only moment of beauty in a gritty, grinding game between conference leaders, it was enough to keep the Los Angeles Kings on top of the NHL.
Jonathan Quick made 24 saves in his ninth career shutout, Williams scored with 14:40 to play and the Kings remained unbeaten at home with a 1-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.
With a tight-checking win in their only meeting of the season with Tampa Bay, the Kings remained atop the overall standings with their ninth win in 12 games to open the season, including five victories at Staples Center to extend their longest unbeaten start to a home schedule in 30 years.
Los Angeles also beat the Lightning at home for the first time in 13 years.
“I don’t look at it as a statement game,” Los Angeles coach Terry Murray said. “It’s just a big game that you have to respond to. … There were a few hits, a few confrontations, a little old-time hockey.”
And just one goal—but thanks to Quick, it was enough.
“It was pretty intense for a game against a team you only see once a year,” said Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, the NHL scoring leader.
After two scoreless periods, Tampa Bay defenceman Mathieu Roy’s outlet pass deflected off Jarret Stoll’s stick to Ryan Smyth, who made a quick backhand pass. Williams appeared to have trouble controlling the puck—although he claimed he had it all along—and did a full spin in front of Smith before scoring a goal in his fourth consecutive game.
“It just happens instinctively,” said Williams, the Kings’ leading scorer with six goals and six assists. “It was kind of the way the pass led me, and I felt that was the best move for me. Luckily (Smith) went down, and I was able to slip it in there.”
In their return from a four-day break, the Kings thrived in a defence-dominated meeting with another surprising young team. Quick hadn’t lost his focus during the recess, finishing his first shutout of the season with six saves in the third period.
“Everybody is reading off each other very well,” Quick said. “Everyone is moving together on defence. We’re winning faceoffs, clearing the puck, doing everything well.”
Smith stopped 25 shots in his first defeat of the season, losing to Los Angeles for the first time in his career. The Lightning have managed just five goals in the first three stops of their four-game road trip, which included a 3-2 loss at Anaheim one night earlier. Philadelphia passed Tampa Bay atop the Eastern Conference standings earlier Thursday.
“That was a real playoff game,” Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said. “It was a real hard-fought battle. Nobody was going to give each other an inch, and there wasn’t much out there for either team to get some offence. We’re similar teams, in that we don’t give much to the opponent. It was going to come down to who was going to make the mistake, and we made that little mistake and they capitalized on it.”
Kings defenceman Drew Doughty returned from a six-game absence with an apparent concussion.
The 20-year-old Norris Trophy finalist played nearly 25 minutes, and he flattened Tampa Bay forward Steve Downie with a check from behind with 13½ minutes to play.
Downie then attempted to fight Doughty with 6:59 left, but instead fought Doughty’s defensive partner, Willie Mitchell.Downie, who has been suspended and fined numerous times for various shenanigans during his short career, drew an additional misconduct penalty for continuing to scrap after linesmen separated the two.
“Downs plays on the edge, and he’s been doing a great job this year of staying disciplined, but he’s still not getting the respect around the league for his discipline because a lot of people are still hung up on the past,” Stamkos said. “It’s tough when a lot of people remember someone just for the past. I mean, he’s got offensive skills, but he showed a lot of emotion tonight.”
Although their trips have been infrequent, the Lightning had been improbably successful in Los Angeles, going 10-1-2 in franchise history heading into this trip. Tampa Bay hadn’t lost here since before Staples Center was even built—on Nov. 6, 1997, at the Great Western Forum.
Notes: Wayne Gretzky watched the game from a seat near the glass. … The Kings formally activated Doughty and RW Scott Parse from injured reserve before the game. Los Angeles has no injured players for the first time this season.