LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The day before his first game as head coach of the Los Angeles Kings, Darryl Sutter described the current NHL as a “3-2 league.”
He was right.
Dustin Brown scored in the third period and got the deciding goal in a shootout, lifting the Kings to a 3-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night. Mike Richards scored in his return to the lineup from a concussion, Drew Doughty had two assists and Jonathan Quick made 20 saves.
“There’s nothing like game day. I’ve always said that,” Sutter told reporters afterwards in very hushed tones as he began his 13th season behind an NHL bench and first since 2005-06 with Calgary. “Even when I was sitting upstairs (as a general manager), game day is still the best part of the whole game. I was pretty focused all day, but I was thinking more about how to use the players. These young guys are a big reason why I came here.”
Despite their second straight 3-2 shootout win, it was the 13th straight game in which the Kings scored fewer than three goals in regulation—their longest such streak in franchise history. The previous worst was a nine-game stretch under interim coach John Torchetti during the 2005-06 season, when they beat San Jose 4-0 in the season finale.
The Kings are one of six teams to make a coaching change since the start of the season, and the only one that needed an interim coach to bridge the gap until the replacement came on. John Stevens was 2-2 after the dismissal of Terry Murray, who was one victory shy of 500 when he was fired on Dec. 12.
The Kings fired Murray just 12 days after the Ducks fired Randy Carlyle and replaced him with former Washington coach Bruce Boudreau, who is 2-6-2 since taking over—including a 3-2 victory over the Kings that gave him his first win as Ducks coach.
Niklas Hagman and Lubomir Visnovsky each had a goal and an assist for the Ducks, who have lost four straight and are winless in their last 13 road games. Jonas Hiller made 32 saves. Anaheim is 0-9-4 away from Honda Center since its last road victory on Oct. 27, a 3-2 decision over Minnesota.
Anaheim’s Saku Koivu missed his sixth straight game because of a groin strain and linemate Teemu Selanne’s point streak ended at nine games, the longest in league history by a player who was 41 or older.
“We are a little desperate at this point,” captain Ryan Getzlaf said. “We need to take a little bit away from tonight—the fact that we battled hard and responded when we needed to and scored a big goal in the third period. Those are things we have to build on and get ready for a big push at the end of the second half.”
The Kings grabbed a 2-1 lead at 8:02 of the third. Anze Kopitar carried the puck into the Anaheim zone with Brown carefully straddling the blue line to keep from going offside. Kopitar left a drop pass for him in the high slot, and the Kings’ captain snapped off a 40-footer that beat Hiller high to the stick side through a screen for his eighth goal.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Sutter said. “We got off to a good start and did a lot of good things. I liked the way the forwards played in all three zones and we moved the puck pretty good.”
Visnovsky got the tying goal against his former club with 3:11 left in regulation, beating Quick through a screen with a 45-foot slap shot from above the right circle.
Hagman opened the scoring at 13:55 of the second, redirecting a long screened slap shot by Visnovsky for his sixth goal of the season and fifth in 16 games since he was claimed off waivers from Calgary on Nov. 14.
Richards tied it at 16:17 of the period, tipping in a shot by Doughty for his 12th goal overall and 10th in his last 12 games after winning a faceoff deep in the zone.
Richards missed eight games with a concussion, which occurred on Dec. 1 when he was hit in the head by Florida’s Sean Bergenheim. The Kings were 2-6-0 in his absence.
“Mike Richards is a tenacious player and it was good to get him back in the lineup,” Sutter said. “He makes a big difference.”
The Kings have allowed just three goals in 57 short-handed situations over their last 14 games, but are only 4 for 54 on the power play in their last 15 contests. They were 0 for 4 against the Ducks.
Notes: The Kings are 10-11-0 with three ties in their first game under a new head coach, including a 4-2 win over Philadelphia in their inaugural game in 1967 under Red Kelly. Their home record under those circumstances is 7-4-0 with two ties. … The Kings have made the playoffs three times when changing coaches during a season—1982 after Don Perry replaced Parker MacDonald, 1987 after Mike Murphy took over for Pat Quinn, and 1988 after Robbie Ftorek succeeded Murphy. … The Kings will play all three of Sutter’s former teams—Chicago, San Jose and Calgary—within the next 3 1/2 weeks, starting with the Sharks on Friday night at San Jose. … Sutter and Boudreau were teammates briefly with the 1985-86 Blackhawks, on a roster that also included current Ducks general manager Bob Murray. … The Kings were 24-19-5 with five ties against teams coached by Sutter, but finished lower in the Western Conference standings than Sutter’s clubs in seven of his nine full seasons behind the bench. … The last time Sutter coached a game at Staples Center was April 2, 2004, when the Flames clinched a playoff berth with a 3-2 win. … The Ducks and Calgary are the only teams that haven’t scored a short-handed goal.