LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Once Ilya Kovalchuk made his deal with the Devils, the Los Angeles Kings realized they had to rely on the players they had if they hoped to make a second straight trip to the playoffs.
So far, they’re getting by just fine.
Jarret Stoll had a goal and two assists, and Jonathan Quick made 39 saves to lead the Kings to a 3-1 victory over New Jersey on Saturday night. Los Angeles is off to an 8-3-0 start, the best record in the NHL.
“It feels good,” Stoll said. “We know we have a good team. We’ve got a lot of positives and a lot of character, so we have a lot of good things going. But all that is talk unless you win out there.”
Justin Williams added a goal and an assist, and Michael Handzus scored a power-play goal for the Kings, whose 4-0 home start is their best since the 1988-89 season.
Kovalchuk played in Los Angeles for the first time since he spurned a US$80 million, 15-year offer from the Kings and re-signed with New Jersey. He was loudly booed by the sold-out crowd every time he touched the puck.
“I’ve played in a lot of places where I got booed. It’s their choice to boo or not,” Kovalchuk said. “The Kings are one of the teams that tried to sign me, and the (recruiting) trip here was more for my wife, because she’d never been in L.A., and she wanted to go see it. So we went. But there’s no point in talking about it anymore because I’m proud to be with the New Jersey Devils.”
Kovalchuk recorded only two shots in more than 20 minutes of ice time. He has three goals and three assists in his first 11 games after averaging 42 goals through his first eight NHL seasons.
He signed a US$100 million, 15-year contract to stay with New Jersey.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with the contract. I think it has to do with us not winning games,” Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner said of Kovalchuk’s slump. “He wants to win and that’s why he stayed here. That’s where he’s feeling the pressure. If anything, maybe he’s trying too hard.
“I’m sure he’d like to be scoring more goals, but he’s doing the best he can. But I don’t think we try to rely on any one guy. We all have a job to do here and we all have a role we have to play. All of us need to pick up the slack when it’s not going well for someone else.”
Matt Taormina scored and Martin Brodeur made 18 saves for the Devils (3-8-1), who are off to the worst start in franchise history.
The Kings recorded their 800th regular-season victory on Mattias Norstrom Night. The team’s former captain and defenceman was honoured before the game for his 12 seasons with the club. The first goal was scored by Williams, who wears Norstrom’s old No. 14.
Ryan Smyth, who didn’t record a point during the Kings’ 3-2 road trip, started the play that led to Williams’ fifth goal at 6:52 of the opening period. He passed the puck to Stoll, who dropped a pass to Williams for a wrist shot from the right circle.
“He knows that as a second line centre iceman the secondary scoring is very important,” Kings coach Terry Murray said. “One of the strengths that Stoll has is shooting the puck and carrying the puck with speed, and we want him to take advantage of that shooting ability more often.”
The Kings didn’t get their first power play until 8:33 of the second period, when Devils defenceman Colin White batted a fluttering puck over the glass. Handzus scored about a minute into the advantage, converting a rebound after Brodeur stopped Stoll’s one-timer from the left point.
Taormina got New Jersey on the board at 10:38 of the second, but Los Angeles restored its two-goal margin 24 seconds later. Rob Scuderi took a long slap shot off the end boards that caromed out to Stoll, who backhanded the puck inside the left post with Brodeur out of position.
“We played a pretty good game, but they got solid goaltending,” Kovalchuk said. “We just need to get more traffic in front of the net.”
Notes: Devils LW Zach Parise sustained an undisclosed lower body injury and was sent back to New Jersey. New Jersey placed D Anton Volchenkov (neck) on the injured list and recalled C Brad Mills from Albany (AHL). … Participating in Norstrom’s ceremony were a number of former teammates including Luc Robitaille, Rob Blake, Mathieu Schneider and Philadelphia Flyers RW Ian Laperriere, who is sitting out this season because of post-concussion syndrome. … New Jersey was 0-for-2 on the power play and is an NHL-worst 3-for-39. The Kings have allowed just five goals in 48 short-handed situations, and none in 15 at home. … The Devils are 0-8 when trailing after two periods, and haven’t scored more than three goals in a game. … The last time the Kings won their first four home games in regulation was in the 1980-81 season when they were 7-0.