LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Although the Vancouver Canucks still haven’t quite shaken their Stanley Cup finals hangover, a few days of team bonding in sunny Southern California cleared their heads a bit more.
Sami Salo and Andrew Ebbett scored power-play goals in the opening minutes, and Roberto Luongo made 28 saves in the Canucks’ 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night.
Aaron Rome also scored in the first period of the defending Western Conference champion Canucks’ fifth stop on a six-game road trip that ends Friday night in Anaheim. Vancouver has won eight of its last 11 regular-season meetings with the Kings.
Vancouver has hovered around .500 this year after falling short of the franchise’s first Cup in Game 7 against Boston last June, but the Canucks are gradually building back to the form that resulted in the NHL’s best regular-season record last year. Their veteran core remains largely intact—and it doesn’t get scared by a slow start to the season, or by 44 scoreless minutes against the Kings after taking an early 3-0 lead.
“We’re a good team, we know that,” said Luongo, who stopped 14 shots in the third period. “It’s just a matter of getting it together, executing on the ice and working hard. We didn’t win the Presidents’ Trophy last year for nothing.”
The Canucks haven’t scored much at even strength during their trip, but their potent power play was too much for another opponent even in the absence of Alex Burrows, who missed his second straight game with back spasms. Vancouver worked on special teams during its three-day break in Los Angeles after last weekend’s win in Chicago.
“Sometimes you need a little quality time together at the start of the year,” Luongo said. “We can’t take things for granted. Our power play has been really good as of late, and we just tried to play our game.”
Drew Doughty scored and Jonathan Quick stopped 29 shots for Los Angeles, which couldn’t climb out of its early hole after penalties to Trevor Lewis and Doughty. Mike Richards scored while Quick was pulled for an extra attacker with 1:10 to play, but Vancouver held on.
“It’s very hard to dig out of a hole like that against that kind of a team,” Kings coach Terry Murray said. “They’re just too deep, too good.”
The Kings are in a 2-5-2 skid—including just one win in their last seven—after a 5-1-1 start.
“You don’t want to get down one or two goals like that against any team,” Quick said. “The next 50 minutes we were trying to get out of the hole we got ourselves in, and we just came up a little short, but I thought we fought hard to get back into the game.”
The Kings are still struggling to score consistently after adding Richards and Simon Gagne in the off-season. Los Angeles has managed more than two goals in just two of its last 11 games, with no goals all season from Dustin Penner and a seven-game goal drought for captain Dustin Brown among their many offensive woes.
“We should be scoring more, especially myself right on top of the list,” said Justin Williams, who has just three goals in the first 16 games of his four-year, US$14.6 million contract extension. “We need to find ways when we’re down in games to come back. I felt the spirit on the ice when we were down a couple of goals, and we still had the fight. That’s a good sign. We need a comeback win, just for our psyche and our confidence to know that we can come back.”
After scoring five power-play goals while beating the Blackhawks four days ago, the Canucks got a five-minute power play early in the first period when Lewis’ elbowing penalty left Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa spitting blood onto the ice. Doughty then committed a foolish cross-checking penalty 2 1/2 minutes later, and Vancouver capitalized twice.
The Kings killed 76 seconds of a 5-on-3 disadvantage before Salo rifled a slap shot over Quick’s stick shoulder. Ebbett then got credit for his first goal of the season when his centring pass deflected off Kings defenceman Willie Mitchell’s skate with 31 seconds left in Lewis’ penalty.
Rome added a goal on another slap shot late in the first period, but Los Angeles trimmed the lead on a power-play goal midway through the second by Doughty, the Kings’ $56 million defenceman. Doughty got off to a terrible start with a nine-game goal drought after holding out for his new contract, but the 21-year-old now has goals in consecutive games.
NOTES: Rome has scored goals in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. … Before the game, Los Angeles activated C Colin Fraser for his Kings debut. They acquired Fraser from Edmonton in late July after Ryan Smyth demanded a trade back to the Oilers, but Fraser hadn’t fully recovered from a broken foot, sparking a bitter dispute between GMs Dean Lombardi and Steve Tambellini. Fraser won the Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010.