LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The Los Angeles Kings walked the purple carpet amid camera flashes and cheers during a glitzy pre-game arrival ceremony. When they finally got into their skates, they listened as former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash pounded out the U.S. national anthem.
And two periods later, the Kings finally lived up to the Hollywood hype around their home opener.
Ryan Smyth scored the tying goal and set up Jarret Stoll’s go-ahead goal in the opening minutes of the third period, and the Kings rallied for a 3-1 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday night.
Smyth added an empty-net goal and Jonathan Quick made 31 saves for the Kings, who began a season of uncommonly high expectations with two scoreless periods before a late flurry led by Smyth. The veteran leader realizes the Kings face several months of gruelling work after this celebratory evening.
“We’ve got to make sure we answer and dig in deep every night, and this was a great way to start that,” Smyth said. “Winning like that at home in our first game is huge for momentum, for our fans, everything.”
A few months after the Kings ended an eight-year playoff drought with their young, largely homegrown roster, they returned to Staples Center to play before a raucous sellout crowd that loved the big finish in Los Angeles’ first win in a home opener since 2006.
The Kings hit a handful of posts before Smyth finally scored their first goal on a rebound. A few minutes later, he passed ahead to Stoll for a shot that knuckleballed off Atlanta defenceman Ron Hainsey’s stick and past Chris Mason.
Chris Thorburn scored for the Thrashers, who opened the three-game California swing of a four-game road trip. Atlanta pressed the action late, but Quick was outstanding in his return after winning a franchise-record 39 games last season.
“To walk the purple carpet and see all the fans, obviously there’s a little nerves after that,” Quick said. “But once you get going, you do the things you need to do. You had a feeling in the third period that we were going to get one sooner or later, the way our forwards were going.”
They got going just in time.
After scoring just two goals during their two-game season-opening road trip in Western Canada, the Kings again struggled through the first two periods against Mason. The veteran stopped 32 shots in his second start in place of recovering Ondrej Pavelec, who posted his first NHL shutout against Los Angeles last November.
“We’re still new. I mean, the first game we all played together was the first game of the season,” Mason said. “So we’re all still trying to understand concepts and trying to work through some things. Tonight is not the way that we want to play, but we’re getting there.”
Thorburn scored an impressive unassisted goal in the second period, taking the puck from Brad Richardson and splitting defencemen Davis Drewiske and Jake Muzzin before scoring on his own rebound.
Left-wing Evander Kane thought the Thrashers executed roughly half of coach Craig Ramsay’s game plan.
“Rammer is real keen on getting pucks to the net,” Kane said. “Getting 30-plus shots a game is definitely key for us. I thought we had some quality chances tonight, but we gave up some quality chances, too, which we can’t do. If we’re getting 30 shots, we can’t have the other team getting 30 shots.”
The Kings have trailed heading into the third period of all three games this season, but they finally broke through with 16:07 left in the third when Justin Williams hacked away at a loose puck in front of the Atlanta net. Smyth sneaked in and flicked a backhand past Mason.
Moments later, Hainsey deflected Stoll’s shot collided with his stick blade, only to watch it flutter past Mason.
“We were all yelling on the bench what a great play Hainsey made with his stick, and then the puck ends up in the net,” Ramsay said. “That’s disheartening, because the kid has played so hard. He makes a good play, and then the goalie’s stuck.”
Bryan Little had a prime opportunity for Atlanta on a 2-on-1 break with 5½ minutes to play, but he broke his stick while taking an unblocked shot.
Smyth completed his three-point night—the 39th of his career—with a backhand from mid-ice.
NOTES: Atlanta LW Fredrik Modin finished last season with the Kings, scoring three goals in 20 games after they acquired him in a playoff-stretch trade with Columbus. Los Angeles showed little public interest in keeping the veteran Swede, who signed with the Thrashers last month. … D Willie Mitchell also got an assist on Stoll’s goal for his first point with Los Angeles. … Veteran Kings play-by-play announcer Bob Miller celebrated his 72nd birthday.